Liberal budget explores new avenues for media funding in digital age

Finance Minister Bill Morneau delivers the federal budget in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb.27, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA - Communities bereft of local media could see the return of homegrown news, thanks to an injection of funds in Tuesday's federal budget.

The Liberal government is proposing $50 million over five years to support independent, non-governmental organizations who will spur on local journalism in under served communities.

And for those in large towns and cities whose media outlets are also struggling with the pace of change, the Liberals are promising a review of funding models available to them as well.

Tuesday's budget says the government will spend the next year exploring models that would allow private giving or philanthropic support for non-profit journalism and local news.

Dozens of hyper-local newspapers have closed up shop in recent months while broadcasters have announced rounds and rounds of layoffs and buyouts.

The blame is placed on everything from fewer advertising dollars to the ongoing encroachment of online content providers into territory long held by Canada's traditional broadcast outlets.

The role that online content services — think Amazon or Netflix — are playing in the Canadian economy is also up for some scrutiny.

"It has become clear that the government needs to fill gaps in knowledge for new and emerging cross border services industries, such as content streaming services, which are becoming increasingly important to the Canadian economy," the budget says.

To that end, it proposes $15.1 million over five years to Statistics Canada to address data gaps in international trade in services, including digital offerings.

One impact digital services are having is that contributions from the broadcast sector to the Canada Media Fund have started to decline as TV and radio companies themselves make less money.

The fund helps develop and finance Canadian content, and to ensure its viability, the budget proposes to provide $172 million over five years to maintaining the level of funding at the 2016-2017 level.


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