A campaign to save Canadian media will be launched this week in Surrey by the watchdog group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.
“Without action from the federal government, much of Canada’s media landscape could soon disappear, taken out by Facebook, Google and other foreign internet giants with help from Ottawa,” said Friends’ Executive Director Daniel Bernhard.
The campaign coincides with the run up to the federal election scheduled to take place in October next year. Friends is launching similar local campaigns in swing ridings across the country. In Surrey, this grassroots campaign is focused in the riding of South Surrey-White Rock.
“Politicians tend to listen more intently to their constituents come election time, especially in ridings where the outcome of the election is too close to call,” Bernhard said.
Friends’ supporters from the Surrey area will be assembling this week to discuss campaign strategy and sign up volunteers.
While the Trudeau government says it is serious about protecting Canadian media and journalism from imminent extinction, recently announced measures do not address the root causes of this crisis, and the federal government continues to spend most of its advertising budget online.
“It’s bad enough that disgraced companies like Facebook are polluting Canadian democracy,” says Bernhard, “Ottawa is helping them to do so at the direct expense of Canadian media outlets, eroding our last line of defence against fake news and foreign interference in Canadian democracy.”
Friends’ research has found that Google and Facebook now control nearly 80% of the digital advertising market in Canada, a market which has historically financed credible, Canadian journalism that secures Canada’s democracy.
“If the government was serious about protecting truthful, trustworthy, Canadian journalism, they would stop showering democracy-killing companies like Facebook with billions of dollars in tax breaks and regulatory exemptions,” Bernhard said.
Since the 1960s, companies advertising with foreign media have paid tax penalties for doing so, but Ottawa has neglected to close a loophole that exempts internet advertising from these provisions. The result is $1.3 billion in annual tax breaks for companies that advertise with Google and Facebook, against the spirit of Canadian law.
In addition to giving Facebook and Google a free ride, Ottawa also bestows special status on foreign companies like Netflix which flood Canadian screens with foreign shows while enjoying tax-free status and no obligations to fund Canadian programs.
Analysis by Friends shows that Ottawa spends nearly twice as much to finance subsidies and exemptions for internet giants like Google, Facebook, and Netflix as it spends on the CBC.
“If these are Ottawa’s priorities, Canadian democracy faces a bleak future,” says Bernhard, adding that “Canada seems unwilling to apply the law to the big tech companies. Why are we helping the richest companies on Earth to get even richer while they undermine Canada’s way of life?”