Publications such as Maclean’s, The Logic, select Postmedia and Black Press papers, Daily Hive, and The Epoch Times benefited from emergency funding the Trudeau government has provided during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the news outlets that received the latest round of tens of millions of dollars in 2021 emergency funding have not been disclosed to the public. The funding initiatives add to other government funding pools some of the recipients were already benefiting from.
An emergency relief fund was created in 2020 near the beginning of the pandemic that gave over $60 million to Canadian outlets. The amounts given out last year were disclosed, and some of the larger payouts are highlighted below. (The full list is provided at the bottom of this article). In late June, a month and a half prior to the current Canadian election being called, the Ministry of Heritage announced a new “Recovery Fund,” giving away over $30 million.
The ministry did not answer questions about the identities of the recipients of the most recent funds.
Per a July letter to the Commons Heritage Committee first reported by Blacklock’s, Minister Steven Guilbeault said the funding was intended to help news outlets give readers the “timely information they require from their government.”
Some of the news outlets receiving funds in 2020 took as much as a 75 per cent wage subsidy for employees by claiming the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). Eligible employees were provided with a wage subsidy of 75 per cent under the CEWS, up to a maximum benefit of $847 per week. The CEWS is continuing to give financial relief to businesses until October. The CEWS registry discloses recipients but does not make public the total amount of money that companies receive.
As a Canadian business eligible for the wage subsidy program, Canadaland registered for the CEWS, but has a policy of not applying for any media-specific programs.
Canadian journalism historian Marc Edge believes the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for Canadian journalism since 2019 compromises the fourth estate’s independence in covering government.
“Hardly any media are reporting on all of the press bailouts … or on the fact the opposition leader has promised to cancel the $595 million bailout,” said Edge. “This is starting to smell very bad indeed. Canadians are not stupid.”
“Like most Canadian businesses, Maclean’s experienced huge challenges during the pandemic,” said St. Joseph Communications (SJC) Media content and creative vice-president Maryam Sanati. “We are enormously grateful for the support of Canadian Heritage and the Canadian Periodical Fund, which allowed us to continue our work.”
Five of SJC Media’s other publications [Canadian Business, Flare, Chatelaine (English), Chatelaine (French), and Today’s Parent], received a combined total of $700,267 from the 2020 emergency fund. These publications accessed $2.1 million under the CPF. SJC Heritage, separate from its registration of CEWS for Maclean’s, registered for the wage subsidy program.
Some news outlets that took funding from this emergency fund are designated as Qualified Canadian Journalism Organizations (QCJOs), which allows news outlets to claim the media bailout funding started in 2019. QCJOs can apply to receive the Canadian journalism labour tax credit for their subscriptions to be eligible for the digital news subscription tax credit, and, if they are a non-profit, for “qualified donee” status as a registered journalism organization, which means they can issue tax receipts for donors.
Black Press received $183,265 that was split between 30 news outlets and $5 million distributed to 48 news outlets from a second phase of the emergency fund. The Lake Cowichan Gazette (a news outlet affiliated with Black Press) claimed the CEWS, but it appears none of its other publications did.
Earlier this year, a story in Canadaland found Black Press updated a story after it had been published without issuing any corrections, and former journalists working for the conglomerate described it as an understaffed content mill.
Postmedia had $355,871 given out to 21 news outlets and $946,140 provided to 27 news outlets in a second phase. This conglomerate had select news outlets eligible for tax credits under the media bailout.
Ming Pao Newspapers had $928,510 distributed to 10 news outlets and $111,010 was provided to six news outlets in a second phase. A report from the Center for International Media Assistance in 2013 found Ming Pao attempts to accommodate Chinese Communist Party sensibilities.
Sing Tao Newspapers had $199,192 split between two news outlets. Sing Tao claimed the CEWS. This conglomerate publishes consistent pro-CCP stories.
Another large 2020 emergency recipient was the Epoch Times, at $455,097. The Epoch Times claimed the CEWS. The Epoch Times is affiliated with the Falun Gong, a Chinese religious movement the CCP claims is a cult, and this news outlet has spread COVID-19 misinformation and conspiracy theories.
The Daily Hive received $553,903 of the 2020 emergency fund. This news outlet took the CEWS.
The Logic received $218,049 of the 2020 emergency fund. David Skok, the editor-in-chief at the Logic, first opposed the media bailout, but shifted his position because he did not want competitors accessing government funds to have an unfair financial advantage. The Logic claimed the CEWS and is eligible for tax credits under the media bailout.
“The Logic was founded on the belief that journalistic independence comes from financial independence,” said Skok. “As I wrote in a 2018 column, if we don’t apply for government grants available to the company, we are putting the Logic at a severe disadvantage in retaining talent and securing investment in a marketplace distorted by government and big tech intervention that rewards incumbent firms.”
Daniel Savoie, a spokesperson at the Ministry of Heritage, said the objective of the emergency fund is to provide additional relief to organizations struggling with operation viability because of the pandemic. The ministry published guidelines for news outlets containing eligibility criteria. Any news outlet that met this criteria could receive funding.
“A free and independent press is a cornerstone of democracy,” said Savoie. “It is important that Canadians continue to have access to a variety of news sources and that the broadcasting system is an important source of news for many Canadians.”
Overstory Media Group (OMG) is a digital news company that has found success with newsletters covering local issues in cities, such as Capital Daily in Victoria. OMG is expanding and aiming to have a roster of 250 employees and 50 news outlets across Canada by 2023. OMG covers news in the same local markets as some of the newspaper chains receiving the media bailout and the emergency fund, such as LMP Publication Partnership’s news outlet Burnaby Now receiving $196,400 in the same local market as OMG’s Burnaby Beacon. (OMG is a venture of Andrew Wilkinson, whose foundation is an investor in Canadaland.)
“We’re building media outlets in these communities because we’ve heard there is a need for local reporting that is actually local, and not a repeat of a press release or syndicated content,” said OMG CEO and former co-owner and editor-in-chief of Daily Hive Farhan Mohamed. “We don’t see ourselves as a competitor to the legacy news conglomerates in place, rather a resource filling a gap in these communities.”
Mohamed also said he has no issue with Canadian media looking for government support, but that the funding should go directly to journalism and the process should be “fair and equitable.”
The Trudeau government’s 2020 emergency cultural fund — officially titled the Emergency Support Fund for Cultural, Heritage, and Sport Organizations — was distributed in two phases.
Phase One used a formula-based top-up funding to recipients of the Aid to Publishers (ATP) component of the CPF, which many of these print publications accessing the emergency fund were collecting in annual grants. There were 572 periodicals given a total of $15.4 million. Phase Two of the Emergency Support Fund provided a formula to reward investment in editorial content to assist free, digital, and small circulation magazines and community newspapers that do not receive funding from ATP. There were 792 recipients funded at about $45 million.
In the last two previous elections, the Liberals committed to supporting the media industry. The 2015 Liberal election platform promised the party would reverse cuts former prime minister Stephen Harper made to CBC/Radio-Canada, and once in power, the Trudeau government renewed $150 million in annual funding. In 2019, in the leadup to that year’s election, the Liberals unveiled a $595 million bailout for select news outlets.
In the 2021 election, the Liberal Party of Canada has promised that if re-elected, they would introduce legislation in their first 100 days to require social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to give revenue to designated news outlets for users sharing content.
Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole said that if his party wins power, he will end the media bailout.
The New Democratic Party of Canada has promised to extend support to Canadian media to assist them in making a digital transition.
“In the short term, it may have saved or created a few media jobs and thus boosted journalism, but only at the cost of credibility,” said Edge. “Many Canadians now think the press has been bought off by the Liberals.”
Top image: a Google Maps rendering of the Department of Canadian Heritage headquarters in Gatineau.