Canadian News Sep 29, 2021 9:08 AM EST

Lobbyists for 'bailout press' endorse Trudeau's internet censorship

Lobbyists representing the bailout press endorsed cabinet censorship of the internet. News Media Canada called itself the nation's "most precious guardian" of free speech.

Lobbyists for 'bailout press' endorse Trudeau's internet censorship
Alex Anas Ahmed Calgary, AB

Lobbyists representing the bailout press endorsed cabinet censorship of the internet. News Media Canada called itself the nation's "most precious guardian" of free speech.

Lobbyists proposed the Department of Canadian Heritage extends censorship to critics who use legal but hurtful words against media.

"This is not about limiting democratic expression," Paul Deegan, CEO of News Media Canada. wrote in a submission to the Department of Canadian Heritage. "It is about protecting it and its most precious guardians, journalists. And it is about ensuring all publishers including internet intermediaries are held accountable for harmful content."

Cabinet has said it will reintroduce Bill C-36, An Act To Amend The Criminal Code that lapsed in the last Parliament. C-36 would ban legal online content "likely to foment detestation or vilification of an individual or group" under threat of $70,000 fines or house arrest,

News Media Canada endorsed the censorship bill, reported Blacklocks. "As a business, the news publishing industry remains under threat from the unregulated and unchecked social media and other online communication service providers," wrote CEO Deegan, formerly a lobbyist for Canadian National Railway Company.

Deegan said the bailout press faces "harassment," "defamation," and "threats" but provided no examples. "Our journalists including female and Black,  Indigenous and people of colour journalists and our customers face online harm," he wrote.

The media lobby cited a 2020 UNESCO study Online Violence Against Women Journalists. The study described harassment of reporters in countries like Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Nigeria. Canada was not mentioned.

"We recommend the Government of Canada explicitly recognize online threats to journalists directly into the Act," wrote Deegan. "Journalists should be afforded 'exceptional recourse' to online threats. News Media Canada submits online platforms should act upon reports of harassment from news publishers and journalists within 24 hours."

News Media Canada in 2019 successfully lobbied Parliament for amendments to the Income Tax Act that created a $595 million press bailout fund. Media approved by cabinet are entitled to payroll rebates of up to $13,750 per newsroom employee and 15 percent tax credits for subscribers.

Cabinet initially rejected the press bailout in 2017. "Our approach will not be to bail out industry models that are no longer viable," said then-Heritage Minister Melanie Joly.

However, News Media Canada received the bailout after hiring lobbyist Isabel Metcalfe, a campaign fundraiser for Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna. Access To Information records showed Metcalfe held 79 separate meetings on the publishers' behalf, including closed-door conferences with political aides in the Prime Minister's Office.

The Canadian Heritage Ministry admitted a half-billion-dollar bailout to media, and other newspapers did not create jobs as promised.

Despite the massive subsidy, staff counted a continued net loss of thousands of jobs. The findings contradict what publishers said, who claimed increased readership during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The decrease in advertising revenues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic led to service reductions and newspaper closures resulting in the loss of more than 2500 jobs," said a briefing note Improving Federal Support For Journalism. The department said it knew of "the hiring of 342 journalists" but only because the bailout subsidized 100 percent of wages under a $50 million Local Journalism Initiative.

Forty-one daily newspapers have disappeared in recent years, and 10,000 jobs have been lost, indicating a "crisis" for the struggling industry.

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