Big Journalism in Canada Campaigns for the Liberals

Photo Credit: Twitter @unifortheunion

Photo Credit: Twitter @unifortheunion

Context

 

Unifor is the national union for news media employees in Canada and a self-described tight-knit community of workers within the larger labour movement, representing over 12,000 members across the country, working at industry giants Bell Media, Postmedia, Corus, and others.

 

Unifor cites employment in newspapers and digital news publishing at 34,350 workers across the country (down 41 percent from 2010) and says approximately one in twenty-five of its members work in the media sector. With above-average levels of union representation, Unifor’s 12,600 media members are distributed across two hundred bargaining units in nine Canadian provinces, with nearly 60 percent of the total working in Ontario, and roughly one in four workers covered by a collective agreement.

 

‘Unifor in the Canadian Media Industry: Select Unifor Employers Approximate Number of Members’

 

·         Bell Media: 2,100

·         NABET 700-M: 1,125

·         Corus: 830

·         Winnipeg Free Press: 700

·         Postmedia: 600

·         Rogers Communications: 550

 

Canadian PM Trudeau Gives CAD $595 Million Tax Relief to ‘Eligible’ News Media

 

Less than a year ahead of Canada’s next national election, and as part of the federal government’s economic update in late November 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the government will give CAD $595 million over the next five years in a fifteen percent non-refundable tax credit to “eligible” news outlets. Eligibility is to be determined by the government and government-established panels, which critics argue will erode journalistic independence, and political and news media figures described as corrupt.

 

The tax credit will take effect January 1, 2019 and apply to the labour costs associated with producing original content and will be open to both non-profit and for-profit news organizations. It includes tax breaks for consumers who purchase subscriptions from news media outlets, refundable tax credits for news media outlets’ operational costs, and the extension of charitable status to non-profit news media organizations. Registered charities with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) can issue charitable receipts to donors and benefactors for donations.

 

Highlights:

 

  • A temporary, non-refundable 15 percent tax credit for qualifying subscribers of “eligible” digital news media to help support digital news organizations achieve a “more financially sustainable business model”;

  • A new tax category of “qualified donee” for non-profit journalism organizations allowing them to issue receipts for donations from both individuals and corporations and foundations to provide financial support;

  • A refundable tax credit for qualifying news organizations that “produce a wide variety of news and information of interest to Canadians.”

 

There was nearly unanimous positive response from mainstream media, who praised the announcement. Chair of Torstar, which owns the Toronto Star, John Honderich said, “I am very encouraged by these positive steps. They should significantly help the media sector as it transforms to a sustainable digital future.” John Hinds, president and CEO of News Media Canada, which represents 800 daily, weekly, and community newspapers, called the measures “substantive” and said, “They listened to us in terms of the types of investments, they focused it on journalism. There’s lots of details to be worked out and we will continue to do that. The biggest issue was recognizing the challenge.” Hinds praised the government for not “picking out business models.”

 

The Conservative Official Opposition were critical saying government aid would taint journalistic independence. Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Peter Kent, a retired journalist, said, “It certainly gives the impression of potentially affecting, not necessarily individual journalists, but the organizations, the companies, the employers that they work for. When the media, or media organizations, or in fact, individual journalist jobs are dependent on government subsidies that is the antithesis of a free and independent press." MP Pierre Poilievre said taxpayers’ money should not be used to support media organizations, especially in an election year. “We think that media should be independent from the government, we should not have a situation where the government picks a panel that then decides who gets to report the news,” he said on Parliament Hill, and “The media should be free and independent from the government.”

 

Protectionism, political advocacy, and strategic voting

 

Unifor has explicitly supported left-wing political politics for decades and their Twitter feed is full of anti-right-wing political posts. In 1988, Canadian Auto Workers (CAW, which later became Unifor) President Bob White withdrew support from the New Democrats (NDP) when he condemned the Free Trade Agreement with the United States (U.S.) and has since supported the Liberal party by advocating strategic voting to remove and prevent Conservative governments. Leading up to the 2015 federal election, Unifor’s Canadian Council endorsed strategic voting to defeat Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his majority government.

 

In 2014, Justin Trudeau was running for Leader of Canada’s federal Liberal Party and invited to address Unifor members at their annual convention, where Unifor President Jerry Dias introduced Mr. Trudeau by denouncing Prime Minister Stephen Harper with the claim PM Harper genuinely did not like Canadians. Newly-elected Prime Minister Trudeau was invited to speak in November 2015, promising a “new partnership with Labour” and again addressed Unifor members in 2016.

 

On September 30, 2018 a new free trade agreement was reached between the United States, Mexico and Canada to replace the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Prior to Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland settling on the final terms with United States (U.S.) trade representative Robert Lighthizer, she called Mr. Diaz for his opinion, reportedly telling him that she would not proceed with the deal unless he and Unifor supported it.

 

In the union’s Media Policy, they state the fact that journalism is essential to democracy, claiming this is the first commandment of Canadian media and at its best, journalism holds the powerful to account, whether they are governments or private interests.

 

However, the public does not know which journalists are influenced by the positions of their union from those who are not union-members. Unifor states: “Ownership is decisive in the character of media that is offered to Canadians. Owners of media set editorial policy, often determining specific content and promoting personal views. Owners determine the level of commercialism in media, and the influence of advertisers. They set the ideological, professional and business tone for the media that they control.” What Unifor fails to distinguish, however, is their own role in determining editorial policy for Canadian news, as is determined by both owners and editorial staff, whether or not they are Unifor union members.

 

Unifor’s media policy

 

The following are excerpts from Unifor’s Media Policy, outlining Unifor’s partisan position and political activism (emphasis added). Unifor actively lobbied for elements of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent tax credit announcement for “eligible” news outlets.

 

Read the full policy here

 

Unifor states their “end goal is a more diverse and locally sustainable media industry that is reflective of Canada’s multiculturalism, its Indigenous heritage and is driven by quality content and professional journalism.”

 

Unifor believes “Canadian culture has survived over time thanks to a mix of government support measures including provincial and federal tax credits for producers and advertisers.”

 

Their use of language is specific, whereas diversity = diversity of culture = Canadian culture = anti-international = the antithesis of American culture = left-wing political policy.

 

“Through ongoing political action, lobbying, membership outreach and community engagement work, Unifor will strive to achieve its goals and the provisions of this policy, encapsulated in the following core guiding principles, including:

 

  • That news is a public good and essential to democracy;

  • That Unifor supports a healthy media ecosystem consisting of large, small, public, private commercial, non-profit and alternative press;

  • That Unifor supports a strong Canadian creative sector;

  • That Unifor supports a strong commercial printing industry;

  • That Unifor supports political action to resist the erosion of news and Canadian Content rules resulting from global trade agreements, foreign ownership, or market domination by foreign media companies;

  • That disruption of “legacy” Canadian media by American technology and media firms requires an urgent government public policy response;

  • That Unifor will advocate for government policy intervention from time to time within the guidelines of this Media Policy and under the direction of the Unifor Media Council Executive.”

 

“Unifor commits to:

 

•         Advocate changes to tax laws that allow governments to begin collecting sales tax on foreign OTT media and that extend the advertising expenditure tax write-off (under Section 19 of the Income Tax Act) to include online media;

•         Advocate changes to tax rules on philanthropic endowments of journalism;

•         Advocate for tax incentives and credits for readers, viewers and subscribers of news services, thus supporting strong journalism without direct government subsidies.”

 

Journalism Code of Principles

 

The following excerpts from Unifor’s Media Policy outlines the standards to which they hold their members accountable, yet in practice do not always follow (emphasis added):

 

“Journalists report, analyze, and comment on the facts that help their fellow citizens understand the world in which they live. Complete, accurate and diverse information and commentary are necessary for the proper functioning of democracy.

 

“The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognizes this by guaranteeing freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Journalists must defend the freedom of the press and the public’s right to information; they must fight any restrictions, pressures and threats that aim to limit the gathering and dissemination of information. Facts and ideas that are in the public interest must circulate freely.

 

“Our legal traditions give media privilege and protection. We must return this trust through the ethical practice of our craft. We must also hold ourselves to the highest possible standards of truth and integrity, particularly as we respond to the mounting and politically-motivated attacks against professional journalism, and claims that mainstream news sources deliver “fake news.”

 

“The rights and responsibilities of a free press apply to both individual journalists and to news organizations that employ them.

 

“Journalists must take their role seriously. They must demand of themselves the same ethical qualities they demand of newsmakers; in other words, they cannot denounce other people’s conflicts of interest, and at the same time, accept their own.

 

“Therefore, Unifor members engaged in journalism and newsroom management shall commit to: truth, honesty, fairness, independence and respect for the rights of others. To achieve these goals, the following

principles shall govern our activity in the collection and dissemination of news and opinion.

 

“Principles

 

1.       We shall at all times defend the principle of the freedom of the press and other media in relation to the collection of information and the expression of comment and criticism.

2.       We shall strive to eliminate distortion, news suppression and censorship.

3.       We shall strive to ensure that the information disseminated is fair and accurate, avoiding the expression of comment and conjecture as established fact and falsification by distortion, selection or misrepresentation.

4.     We shall give an accurate account of what people say. Quotations, editing, sound effects, etc., and the sequence in which they are presented, must not distort the meaning of people’s words.

5.       We shall rectify promptly any harmful inaccuracies, ensure that correction and apologies receive due prominence and afford the right of reply to persons criticized when the issue is of sufficient importance.

6.       We shall give people or organizations that are publicly accused or criticized prompt opportunity to respond. We shall make a genuine and exhaustive effort to contact them. If they decline to comment we will say so.

7.       We shall tell sources who are unfamiliar with the media that their remarks may be published or broadcast and thus communicated to a large group of people.

8.       We shall obtain information, photographs and illustrations only by straightforward means. The use of other means can be justified only by over-riding considerations of the public interest. A journalist is entitled to exercise a personal conscientious objection to the use of such means.

9.       We shall ensure that photographs, graphics, sounds and images that are published or broadcast represent reality as accurately as possible. Artistic concerns shall not result in public deception. Edited images and photographs shall be identified as such.

10.   We shall always credit the originating news organization or reporter so that readers/viewers know the sources of their information.

11.   We shall never plagiarize. If we use an exclusive piece of information that has been published or broadcast by another media organization, we shall identify the source.

12.   Subject to the justification by over-riding considerations of the public interest, we shall do nothing that entails intrusion into private grief and distress.

13.   We shall respect everyone’s right to a fair trial. We shall respect the presumed innocence of everyone before the courts. When we have covered an incident where individuals have been incriminated and prosecuted, we will continue to follow the story as closely as possible, and ensure the public is informed of the end result.

14.   We shall identify sources of information, except when there is a clear and pressing reason to protect anonymity. When this happens, we will explain the need for anonymity.

15.   We shall endeavor to protect confidential sources of information, but since there are no shield laws protecting journalists in Canada we may be ordered by a court or judicial inquiry to divulge confidential sources upon threat of jail. Therefore we must convey that clearly to our sources.

16.   We shall not accept bribes nor shall we allow other inducements to influence the performance of our journalistic duties.

17.   We shall not lend ourselves to the distortion or suppression of the truth because of advertising or other considerations.

18.   Columnists shall be free to express their views, even when those views are contrary to the editorial views of their organization, as long as the content does not breach the law.

19.   We shall only mention a person’s age, ethnic background, colour, creed, illegitimacy, disability, marital status (or lack of it), gender or sexual orientation if this information is strictly relevant. We shall neither originate nor process material that encourages discrimination, ridicule, prejudice or hatred on any of the above-mentioned grounds.

20.   We shall not take private advantage of information gained in the course of our duties, before the information is public knowledge.

21.   We shall not use our positions to obtain any benefit or advantage in commercial transactions not available to the public.

22.   We shall not by way of statement, voice or appearance endorse by advertisement any commercial product or service save for the promotion of our own work or of the organization that employs us.

23.   We shall clearly identify infomercials so they are not in any way confused – even by their layout – with information.

24.   We shall cover events sponsored by our own organizations with the same rigor we apply to every other event.

25.   We shall not act as police informers or as agents for any country’s security or intelligence services.

26.   We will not allow our by-lines or authorship to be published in connection with purported editorial content that has been reviewed prior to publication by an advertiser or sponsor.”

 


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