News and democracy – in decline and under threat
By David Lafreniere
The decline of traditional media, looking for news to support a view and the rise of fake news pose a growing threat to our democracy, according to a new report.
The Shattered Mirror: news, democracy and trust in the digital age, commissioned by the government, has spurred discussion in the media industry. The report, produced by the Public Policy Forum, is meant to offer insight into the state of news and the crisis it faces. It also gives ideas for how to respond.
“We hope it will stimulate a necessary debate and necessary action,” said Edward Greenspon the report’s author and CEO of the Public Policy Forum. “This report is not about the journalists, with whom I feel great solidarity, but rather the role they play and what we may be putting at risk if we are inattentive.”
The report calls for an overhaul of the part of the Income Tax Act which currently blocks tax deductions when Canadians take out an ad in foreign-based media. It effectively changes the current dynamic where Google and Facebook get the majority of the revenue generated from ads. Google is sharing an infographic arguing against the recommendation.
The report also calls on the CBC to focus on its civic-function mandate and stop selling digital adds in an era where, it says, much news is tainted.
Manny Paiva, news director at CTV News Windsor said that would make life a little bit easier for the private news companies like CTV. There are strong opinions, debate, conversation and feelings about whether the government should be in the business of funding the CBC. He said he does not have a position, but wants competition in the community.
“It will make everyone better at finding compelling stories and different sidebar stories that must be told in our communities,” said Paiva.
The report makes several recommendations to support civic-function journalism at the local level and calls for The Canadian Press, a private company that provides news stories to media outlets to have a public mandate to provide journalists to cover local news at places such as city halls, courts and boards of education.
“The Canadian Press – they don’t necessarily have to put people on the streets of Windsor. They can rely on the people who are already in Windsor to supply stories to them,” said Paiva. “There are really good stories that can be shared with media across the country.”
There has been a decline of local journalism both in its volume and its quality, according to Blake Roberts, the Program Chair for the University of Windsor’s journalism program.
“I would support that (local journalist from CP), but how do you maintain it?” said Roberts. “How to you make it sustainable?”
There is a crisis in the news media, according to Roberts. He said if you define traditional media as news where you have enough resources to research, balance opinion and address different aspects of a story then it is in crisis.
He said others would argue that traditional news, or “real news” has an inherent liberal bias and that it is not a bad thing that it is in decline.
Paul McDonald, AM 800 broadcast journalist and former news director said the internet and social media have created a new frontier and it is a world that is somewhat lawless.
“The effect on mainstream media is a struggle between being first and being right,” said McDonald. “I would rather be right first than be first. It is part of the problem that some of the stuff on ‘so-called’ news sites are held to a different standard.”
McDonald said there may be some bit of truth in their fake news, and it has put pressure on mainstream media to run with or quote it. He said journalism must get back to fact checking, making sure stories are accurate and objective.