Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt says the federal government’s new plan to help bolster the news industry could lead to biased journalism and further reduce Canadians’ trust in the media.
The Liberal government announced Wednesday that it will help bolster the struggling industry with tax credits and tax incentives valued at nearly $600 million over the next five years.
The government said it will establish an independent panel of journalists to define journalism standards and determine eligibility for the tax benefits.
Raitt spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about what the Conservatives are calling a media bailout. Here is part their conversation.
The finance minister says this is about defending journalism because it’s essential to our democracy. Why do you doubt his words?
The issue that we’re having with respect to the bailout that we’re seeing is that there are so many other things that need attention in the country as well — and one of them, I would submit, is what’s happening in Alberta and Saskatchewan — that including in this economic financial update such targeted measures for the media, it does make us concerned about what is the purpose of it and whether or not this is going to impact how media is going to be putting together their reports.
But you’re concerned that this is happening just before the next election. Is that your issue?
It is of concern and it does seem to point to the fact that friendly coverage may come because the government has been favourable to the people who are writing the news.
They’re going to have an independent panel comprised of news and journalism industry people who will choose which organizations get the benefit of this package. So that’s an arm’s-length relationship, is it not?
You have to put an eye on exactly who is going to be appointed to this kind of committee and who the individuals are going to be, and that will guide what the results will be, I think.
The board of directors of the CBC and its president are chosen by the government. And this is a Crown corporation, funded by taxpayers. Is it not possible that arm’s-length agencies can be trusted to be free of political interference in their journalism?
CBC is different. CBC is fully funded by the government, and that’s how the money flows through. So it’s not necessarily a function of board appointments. It’s the fact that there is already money that’s coming by appropriation from the federal government.
This committee that this government is saying that they’re going to be setting up, you know we don’t know who is going to be on it yet — and they’re going to have a lot of latitude in giving out a significant amount of money.
Arm’s length may seem that they’re going to be objective as opposed to subjective, but the reality is it also means that they are an arm’s length away from accountability.
Maclean’s journalist Paul Wells once warned the Liberals [in a Toronto Star column] that before setting up a fund for journalism, they should imagine [Conservative MP] Pierre Poilievre running it.
Would you think that there is a way of doing this, that there is a way to have a board or a committee, a panel that you wouldn’t worry was going to be subjective in its selections?
I’m not going to comment on Paul’s [column], but I think Pierre would do an interesting job for sure if he were in charge. (Laughs) But you can insert anybody’s name in there and realize these decisions do take on different complexions, I guess, when you change the figures who are in charge in Ottawa.
Just finally, a lot of discussion as to who would be defined as a journalist and how you choose who gets to have access to this. Just a question — do you think that [far-right media site] Rebel Media should be included?
I’m going to leave the definitions and all that to the people who are going to be determining what the project looks like.
But what you point out is exactly the issue, right? It’s picking winners and losers, who you deem to be appropriate, who you deem not to be appropriate based upon what kind of content they may be giving out or what kind of perspective that they’re given.
Now if you put [Rebel founder] Ezra Levant on that committee, maybe you’ll end up getting a more fulsome concept of where the money is going — but that’s just simply not going to happen.
Ezra Levant and Pierre Poilievre, you think that would be a good committee?
[Laughs] I can guarantee you that is not a committee that Prime Minister Trudeau will put together.
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Canadian Press. Produced by Kevin Robertson. This Q&A has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.