Trust in journalism is crumbling while government funding of the media ramps up

Kris Sims: Trust in journalism wanes as government funding surgesTrust in journalism is crumbling while government funding of the media ramps up.

The Trudeau government is currently in a spat with tech giants Google and Facebook which could cost taxpayers big money.

Bill C-18 is forcing internet companies to pay media corporations when links to news stories are posted. In retaliation, the companies vowed to block news links from their services.

The brass from media companies say that if their news links are banned, they will lose out on millions of dollars.

What happens if Big Tech refuses to pay?

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This Trudeau government is eager to have a place in the newsrooms of the nation.

“We have to make sure that newsrooms are open, that (journalists) are able to do their job and (they) have the resources necessary,” Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez told reporters.

In government speak, “resources” means taxpayers’ money.

It’s time to set out a fundamental truth: having the government sign the paycheques of journalists who are supposed to cover that very same government impartially is a massive conflict of interest.

Columnist Andrew Coyne penned it well back in 2019 when the so-called media bailout was first being hatched: “Taking money from the people we cover will place us in a permanent and inescapable conflict of interest; that it will produce newspapers concerned less with appealing to readers than to grantsmen.”

Fast forward four years, and those media bailout deals are coming up for renewal, with the funding set to run out at the end of the fiscal year.

According to the heritage minister wielding the taxpayer piggybank, it sounds like more government-funded media is on the way.

That’s the last thing we need.

The CBC already gets more than $1.2 billion in taxpayers’ money every year, and the feds budgeted $595 million for the media bailout over the past four years. Extra taxpayers’ cash for so-called local journalism and emergency funding topped another $120 million.

This means taxpayers have poured about $5.4 billion into the CBC and private-sector newsrooms over the last four years.

That kind of money would buy a year’s worth of groceries for about 330,000 families. It could cover the annual income tax bill of about 490,000 people – more than the population of London, Ontario. It could buy about 7,500 homes.

This government-funded media scheme isn’t just a waste of money, and it’s not just a conflict of interest – it also isn’t supported by Canadians.

More than 59 percent of Canadians surveyed said the government should not fund newsrooms “because it compromises journalistic independence.”

That “journalistic independence” is an endangered species.

A Trudeau government committee is deciding what a journalist is, what a qualified newsroom is, and the government is paying journalists.

The term “free press” doesn’t mean newspapers were free to take off a newsstand. It means the press is free from government influence and censorship.

Journalists should not be paid by the government. Newsrooms should rely on money from advertising, subscriptions and free-will donations from people who support them.

Under Trudeau’s bailout program, newsroom employees get 25 percent of their salaries covered by the government, up to a maximum of $13,750 per person.

Imagine being a journalist and knowing a big chunk of your paycheque is covered by the same government you are covering.

That’s like referees saying they can call the game fairly while also making bets.

Even the perception of corruption or bias erodes trust and a majority of Canadians have lost trust in journalists.

According to a longstanding survey that gauges trust, 61 percent of Canadians think “journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead them on purpose by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.”

For journalists who believe their craft is a calling and that speaking truth to power is a nearly sacred task, that distrust is very tough to hear.

But we must listen. We can’t afford not to.

Kris Sims is the Alberta Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and a former member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

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The opinions expressed by our columnists and contributors are theirs alone and do not inherently or expressly reflect the views of our publication.

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