GATINEAU, QC, March 21, 2019 /CNW Telbec/ - The 2019 Federal budget held very little for Quebec's Minority Language weekly newspapers, according to the Quebec Community Newspapers Association (QCNA). "Last autumn, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said strong journalism is essential for a healthy democracy and that more details would be in the federal budget," explains QCNA Executive Director, Sylvie Goneau. Today, the government came through with more details on the Federal tax credit for journalists. Surprisingly, the government missed the target if it is trying to help ensure the financial viability of local news, and especially the viability of smaller newspapers serving minority language communities. ''The budget announcement comes at a crucial time for our members,'' adds Lily Ryan, interim QCNA president. "We were confident the government would help strengthen smaller newspapers. Many local papers have closed in recent years, and some are barely hanging on. When a local paper closes the community at large suffers."
The only section for media in today's announcement by Minister Morneau came in the form of a tax credit for labour. The following details are outlined in the budget; to benefit from the tax credit, a newspaper is required to regularly employ two or more journalists in the production of its content, dealing at arm's length with the organization, and it must not be significantly engaged in the production of content. "The problem is with the conditions and limitations of the program. Some of our member newspapers do not have the resources to employ more than one journalist and often, the editor also writes news articles. With today's announcement, small newspapers are at a greater dissadvantage as the corporates gain a tax credit, with nothing for the most precarious ones," explains Sylvie Goneau Executive Director of QCNA.
The preliminary information received say that the government still has to choose members of the population to form a committee of experts. The committee will define elements of the program, then set it up through a Secretariat before looking at requests. A process expected to take us well into 2021 before newspapers see the first reimbursement. "The government has forgotten the urgency of the matter and is under-estimating the fragility of local newspapers across Quebec. If we are to survive and thrive in the digital era, we first must have the financial stability to produce news, and that is something more and more difficult for the smaller newspapers in minority communities," says Ms. Ryan.
The Quebec Community Newspapers Association represents close to 30 English newspapers across Quebec, delivering local news to over 700,000 readers. Most of the papers provide information to communities that would otherwise receive very little or no news about their localities. Recent studies show that 80 % of households that receive a local paper, read it cover to cover. ''The local newspaper is very close to the community, and we are often the only reporters at municipal council meetings. Political programs do not influence our news, but we do need programs so we can continue reporting and keep our communities informed about politics and cultural activities, including local school events,'' explains Ms. Ryan. 'It's not too late for the government to revise the tax credit criteria to make the initiative helpful to all media, including the official language ones serving minority language communities," concludes Ms. Ryan.
SOURCE Quebec Community Newspapers Association (QCNA)
For further information: Sylvie Goneau, Executive Director QCNA, [email protected], 819-893-6330