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Canada’s subsidy for news backfires

“The Canadian example will become a negative one, cited regularly by those arguing that governments should stay out of the news business and let the chips fall where they may.”

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigns for re-election, his 2018 decision to bail out Canada’s faltering newspaper industry will poison the relationship between newsreaders and journalists. Any piece of favorable, or even neutral coverage of him will be seized upon by adversaries as evidence that the Liberal government has successfully bribed Canada’s professional reporters, who have already been dubbed #JustinJournos since news of the media subsidy broke. The indignant responses from those reporters at the very notion that they could be influenced by Trudeau’s lifeline will further estrange them from the public they serve.

A barrage of attacks on media credibility will result in permanent defensiveness and self-censorship on the part of journalists, and a steady erosion of public confidence in establishment news organizations, regardless of whether or not most newsreaders believe that the press has in fact been bought off.

The effect will be twofold: It will expedite the migration of conservative newsreaders to extremist misinformation sites, and it will nudge middlebrow audiences away from Canadian news and towards increasingly popular American and British coverage of Canada. Ironically, this will conjure into reality the very scenario that the news subsidies were designed to prevent: Homegrown mainstream news media will lose stature and influence and Canadians will increasingly be getting their information from foreign sources and a myriad of special interests of dubious origin, disguised as “news.” And while the bailout will succeed in preventing previously failing newspapers from going under, it’s unlikely any will grow or improve while on welfare, and their enduring presence will largely have a negative impact on the news ecosystem, blocking news startups and keeping professional reporting talent off the market. The Canadian example will become a negative one, cited regularly by those arguing that governments should stay out of the news business and let the chips fall where they may.

Jesse Brown is the publisher of Canadaland.

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