Did you know that Justin Trudeau has promised a $600 million bailout for news outlets in Canada? This may seem like a reasonable measure considering that the world's economy is being held hostage by a deadly pandemic. But here's the thing: this bailout was announced in 2019, and the media outlets being bailed out are the most privileged, establishment players in Canadian journalism.
Despite the need for a bailout and mounting losses, Canadian media companies such as the Toronto Star continued to pay top executives at high salaries. The folly of that methodology is now clear.
That 2019 bailout was worth the equivalent of $115,385 a week for the Toronto Star, including $13,750 in payroll rebates per newsroom employee, as reported by Blacklocks Reporter.
Torstar Corp. sent a note to shareholders that read “We recorded an estimated benefit of $3 million for the first half of the year in respect of a new refundable labour tax credit for qualifying journalism organizations.”
Though these federally funded subsidies were not meant to offset losses, Torstar recorded second quarter losses in 2019 of $17.4 million. They noted too that there were “continued modest declines in print subscription revenue” that was “expected to be relatively flat.”
Torstar recorded losses of $31.5 million in 2018, while the nation’s largest newspaper company, Postmedia Network Canada Corp, lost $33.9 million in 2018. Postmedia’s annual bailout share, per their note to shareholders, is “between $8 million and $10 million.”
There was opposition to the $600 million media bailout when it passed into law last year. And for good reason. Many thought that it was a bad look for seemingly independent media outlets to take government funds from an administration upon which they sycophantically report. The media Trudeau supports is the media Trudeau approves.
Perhaps the most Trudeau-friendly media outlet of all is the Toronto Star. Despite the fact that Torstar’s stock has, for the last five years, been on a steady and sharp decline, those who run these papers with such high bottom lines want the Trudeau government to continue making sure they can’t fail.
Leadership at the Postmedia has taken the step of reducing CEO Andrew MacLeod’s salary by 30 percent, noting that while others had volunteered to reduce their pay, he wanted to wait and see. McLeod’s total compensation package is reported to be about $2.4 million in 2019.
That these outlets were bloated before the pandemic is not in doubt. Their ability to weather a storm of the ferocity and magnitude of the economic implications of the coronavirus work stoppage and lockdown was already in question when they asked for the bailout last year. Media companies are not getting new money as part of the pandemic funding measures, per Blacklocks Reporter.
The Vancouver Courier and Canadian Jewish News of Toronto shuttered their doors, though both had benefited from 2019 subsidies. The Quebec chain Le Groupe Capitales Media, Free Press in Winnipeg, and Black Press in British Columbia enacted layoffs, as did SaltWire Network, which operates Halifax Chronicle Herald and Charlottetown Guardian, which also suspended their weekly papers.
A free and fair press is one of the most valuable, essential aspects to any democracy. Democratically elected leaders must be held accountable to their voting public, and the way that accountability is assessed is through the media, which reports and analyzes what’s happening in our nation and our world.
But the pandemic is not the cause of Torstar’s failures, nor is it the only reason for declining revenue among these outlets. The company has been on the ropes for decades, and its best days are long behind. Which leads one to wonder why their top executives were getting paid such large salaries.
Legacy media outlets have known since the dawn of the internet that print was facing its sunset years. And now, due to policy designed to keep the old companies in tact while handicapping new media start-ups, the fact is that most of Canadian mainstream media is paid with funds allocated by the Prime Minister.