Category Archives: Media

Groupe Capitales Médias files for creditor protection — What’s next?

Updated Aug. 21 with news of Métro Média’s interest.

Groupe Capitales Médias, the newspaper company started by Martin Cauchon when he bought six daily newspapers from Gesca in 2015, made good on rumours that it wouldn’t make it to the end of the month, filing for creditor protection on Monday.

The newspapers continue producing while their journalists await their fate:

  • Le Soleil in Quebec City
  • Le Nouvelliste in Trois-Rivières
  • Le Quotidien in Saguenay (which also publishes the weekly Le Progrès)
  • La Tribune in Sherbrooke
  • La Voix de l’Est in Granby
  • Le Droit in Ottawa/Gatineau

The stakes are serious, because there isn’t a lot of competition in this space. Quebec City has Le Journal de Québec, but Trois-Rivières, Saguenay and Granby don’t have other daily newspapers. Sherbrooke and Ottawa/Gatineau have English dailies but no other French ones. And Le Droit represents not only francophones of the national capital region, but Ontario francophones as a whole. Simply put, except for Quebec City there is no direct competitor that will take these newspapers’ places.

Without them, a lot of news will simply go unreported.

The Quebec government has stepped in with an emergency $5-million loan, which will get it to the end of the year. By that time, a new plan will need to be in place. That likely means new ownership, but in what form?

There’s no end to speculation about the group’s future. So let’s break down the suggestions and analyze them here:

Quebecor

The media empire is reportedly in talks with GCM. It makes sense on a few levels: Quebecor is already in the print media space, it owns TV stations in Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Saguenay and Trois-Rivières (and has an affiliate in Gatineau) that could benefit from news synergies.

But Quebecor has already owned regional newspapers, back when it was a competitor to Transcontinental in the community newspaper wars. That war ended with Quebecor selling all its weeklies to Transcontinental, and later Transcontinental selling all its papers to local owners for peanuts. Quebecor tried expanding to Saguenay with a Saguenay edition of Le Journal de Québec, but that edition quietly closed. (Quebecor also owned a weekly in Saguenay, but locked out its employees and later saw it disappear entirely.)

There’s also the competition concern in Quebec City, where Quebecor would own both daily newspapers. It’s unclear what the government would do about this. The Competition Bureau had no problem with Postmedia buying Sun Media, and owning both daily paid-subscription newspapers in Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton. But it’s still investigating the community newspaper deal between Postmedia and Torstar, in which newspapers were swapped and immediately shut down.

If Quebecor did buy the chain (or the chain minus Le Soleil), it would be an admission that having a media empire is better than having no local media at all.

La Presse

These six newspapers used to belong to the same company as La Presse, which was at the time owned by Power Corp. But as La Presse shifted to a tablet-based publication, and the others maintained their print products, at some point it was decided to separate them, and Cauchon (with a source of funding that remains unclear) stepped in and bought them (for an amount we still don’t know).

Despite the separation, the publications maintain links, including content sharing (which would disappear if Quebecor was the buyer).

The big advantage is that it would be the closest to maintaining the status quo. But La Presse isn’t swimming in cash either, and is making similar demands to governments for financial aid.

Le Devoir

Quebec’s only independent daily newspaper wants to help, but it doesn’t have the money. It has a particular affinity for Le Soleil. And Le Devoir has a strong presence in Quebec City already with its sizeable bureau in the National Assembly press gallery. They also have existing business partnerships — Le Devoir is going to use GCM’s software for its tablet edition, and GCM sells national ads for Le Devoir.

If Le Devoir took Le Soleil and Quebecor took the rest, that might solve competition concerns. But we’re still back to the same problem that Le Devoir doesn’t have the money to buy a newspaper, much less an entire chain.

Local owners

It’s the feel-good option: break up the chain and find local owners in each community to take control. It’s what Transcontinental did when it decided to get out of the community newspaper business. But owning a daily newspaper is much more of a financial commitment than a community one.

And selling to local owners is no guarantee. Those owners generally get their money from other industries, and are more likely to compromise their ethics when it comes to promoting those industries. And even if they’re purely altruistic, once that good will wears off, those papers could end up shutting down anyway.

Plus, selling to a series of local owners would be complicated and take time. This needs to be figured out in a matter of months.

The Journal de Montréal talked to two of the companies that bought Transcon newspapers, and both say there’s no interest in taking over the money-losing company. (Transcontinental itself also is not interested.)

Métro Média

One group that bought newspapers from Transcontinental is interested, though. Métro Média, the group owned by businessman Mike Raffoul and which purchased Montreal’s Métro daily and community weeklies in Montreal and Quebec City, is interested, it told La Presse.

Such a takeover would provide some synergies in the national capital, and create a chain that had a presence in both Montreal and Quebec’s other large cities. But Métro Média is still new, and less experienced in paid subscription newspapers.

Employee co-op

CSN says its unions are interested in taking over the papers and having them be employee-run. It’s another feel-good option, in the same vein as a non-profit. But would an employee-run (or union-run) shop be willing to make the staffing cuts necessary to stay in the black? Would it have the financial capacity to make major investments when necessary? Would it have the courage to stand up to the CSN if that union is its de facto owner?

Maybe. None of these things are dealbreakers, but the co-op model isn’t a magic solution either.

Cogeco

La Presse said they were interested, but Cogeco has repeatedly denied it on the record. Cogeco owns radio stations in most of these markets, so there’s some synergy sense there, but considering its experience with TQS (it was an owner of the TV network when Quebecor was forced to sell it to buy Videotron and TVA in 2001, then it went bankrupt before being bought by the Rémillard family), it’s unlikely the company wants to gamble away a bunch of money for little gain.

Postmedia (or other anglo Canadian chain)

No one has seriously suggested this, but it should be included in such a list. As much as I’d love to have sister newspapers across Quebec (and Le Soleil used to be owned by Conrad Black’s Hollinger chain), the biggest problem is that Postmedia, Torstar et al don’t have any French-language news assets, so don’t stand to gain much in terms of synergy. And, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, they don’t have a lot of money lying around.

The government

Nationalizing GCM sounds like a bad idea, and the Quebec government has already ruled it out.

It doesn’t really matter

In the end, though, regardless of who buys GCM and its newspapers, the business needs to change. Even a rich owner isn’t going to cover deficits forever. That means there will need to be cuts to staff, or new revenues, or direct government support, or some combination of all those things. Le Devoir’s Brian Myles talks about following his paper’s model, focusing more on subscription revenues. The Quebec government will be expected to consider more direct support when it conducts hearings next week. And the Canadian government is putting in place a tax credit system to help. There are also proposals like taxing telecommunications companies and using that money to support news media.

Speculating about potential new owners is fun, but the real problem is that this is a broken business, and someone needs to come up with a plan to fix it.

Media News Digest: APTN French news, radio rebrands, newspaper chain in trouble

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Virgin Radio 95.9 fires Freeway Frank, Natasha Gargiulo, brings in Cousin Vinny and Shannon King

Updated with announcement of new hosts.

“Freeway” Frank Depalo and Natasha Gargiulo in 2011.

Until Wednesday, these were the two big faces of Montreal’s Virgin Radio station. On Thursday the station was pretending they never existed. Standard operating procedure in the industry, unfortunately.

“Freeway Frank” Depalo and Natasha Gargiulo, who have been together on the morning show since shortly after The Beat launched in 2011, disappeared from the station’s website, Mike Cohen noticed yesterday. They confirmed the news in a video posted on Thursday.

Thursday morning, in their place on air were Lee Haberkorn and Kelly Alexander, hosting the nameless “Virgin Radio Mornings” with no mention of the previous hosts, talking about various lifestyle topics like nothing changed.

Cousin Vinny and Shannon King in their new publicity photo.

On Monday morning, Virgin announced its new lineup, finally confirming the rumour that it had hired Cousin Vinny Barrucco back from The Beat. He’s being paired with Shannon King, who comes from Kiss radio in Sudbury.

Barrucco left The Beat six months ago and promised recently he would soon announce where he’s going. So apparently his non-compete clause is six months.

Bell Media did not respond to my request for comment about the firing, and made no mention of Freeway and Natasha in its announcement of its new lineup. None of the remaining Virgin personalities have commented publicly on social media about their departed colleagues, likely because they were told to by management, which makes them seem heartless to some listeners.

Also in the new Virgin lineup:

  • Lee Haberkorn, who was the third person on the morning team, gets promoted to afternoon drive host, where he’ll do a shift from 3-8pm.
  • Charli Paige gets the entire daytime to herself, going from 10am to 3pm weekdays. This puts an end to the experiment where a syndicated Ryan Seacrest show aired during the weekday. It started in 2012 after Virgin filled the hole that Barrucco left by hiring Andrea Collins.
  • Adam Greenberg, who was hosting afternoons, switches with Haberkorn and becomes the third guy on the morning team as content producer for the show and its social media.

Going with a three-show lineup between 5:30am and 8pm, each one about five hours long, shows Bell Media will still be stretching the shifts of its announcers — The Beat has four shifts in that time and starts its evening show at 7pm.

The new lineup announcement doesn’t mention Kelly Alexander, who has been with the station since 2007 and seems to have been passed over for a promotion to a more prominent (and stable) job once again. She’s currently hosting weekends.

Virgin also recently parted ways with program director Mark Bergman, who surprisingly resurfaced at The Beat. He has been replaced by Blair Bartrem.

Virgin Radio’s loyal audience, like any other, isn’t pleased with two personalities they have spent a decade getting to know suddenly disappearing without a word. A video posted to Facebook teasing the new show generated more than 200 comments, mostly negative. A video announcing the new hosts generated 180 comments in three hours, and 89 “angry” reaction emotes.

Firing on-air talent is never easy, but perhaps it’s time for radio stations in particular to re-examine how they go about it. You never want to put someone you’ve just fired in front of a live microphone, but in the age of social media, they kind of have one anyways. A little heart can go a long way. And the fact that Virgin has had this in the works for six months just makes it worse.

Listeners will be wondering why this change was made. The most logical answer is ratings. Virgin slipped behind CHOM and even CBC Radio One in the last ratings book, and the morning show, though not always the highest rated, tends still to be the anchor of the schedule. With the trend against The Beat continuing its slide, a change had to be made. At first, when The Beat climbed above Virgin in the overall ratings, Virgin could content itself to owning the 25-54 demographic, but even that slipped away as the two continued to diverge.

I’m not sure how much this will change things. The music tends to come first, especially when daytime announcers are limited to breaks of only a few seconds between songs. But we’ll see.

UPDATE: I wrote about the change for the Montreal Gazette. Bell Media isn’t making anyone at the station available for an interview.

Bell reaches deal to buy V network

Megacorporation BCE has filled one of the holes in its vast media empire, announcing this morning it has reached an agreement to purchase Quebec’s French-language V network of television stations, along with its video platform noovo.ca.

The deal, whose financial terms were not disclosed (but will be when it gets to the CRTC), does not include V’s specialty channels, ELLE Fictions (formerly MusiquePlus) and MAX (formerly Musimax). That’s because those channels were originally sold to V by Bell as a condition of getting regulatory approval for Bell’s purchase of Astral Media in 2013.

Bell buying V has been one of those transactions that’s been rumoured for a long time. Bell doesn’t own a conventional television network in French, but it does own many French-language specialty channels. V, though it has undergone a renaissance since the Rémillard brothers bought it from Cogeco in 2008, is still a struggling network trying to find a way to make money going up against the Quebecor-powered TVA and taxpayer-funded Radio-Canada.

It’s far from certain Bell will convince the CRTC to approve the deal. Though the addition of the V network would not increase subscription revenues, which Quebecor has fiercely complained about, it would add significantly to Bell’s audience share, which is how the CRTC judges market dominance in television.

According to Numeris data, V has about a 7% share overall among Quebec francophones. TVA has a 24% share, and Bell’s CTV a 1% share. Quebecor’s specialty channels, which include TVA Sports, LCN, CASA and Yoopa, have a 13% share, and Bell’s specialty channels a 16% share.

Overall:

  • Quebecor: 37%
  • Bell: 17%
  • V (not including specialty): 7%
  • Bell + V after transaction: 24%

The CRTC is normally inclined to approve transactions when the combined market share is less than 35%, but I suspect they’ll take a closer look at this anyway.

Expect some serious opposition from Quebecor to this deal, and from CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau in particular.

A net good, or a net bad?

For opponents of vertical integration, this deal seems bad, putting yet another independent broadcaster in the hands of one of the big players. After the disappearance of Astral and Serdy as independent players in the Quebec French-language marketplace, consumer choice is getting more and more restricted.

But Bell’s big pockets could also revitalize V and make it a more formidable competitor to Quebecor’s TVA. Under Bell, V would presumably no longer get special treatment from the CRTC, meaning it would probably see an increase in its requirements for local news and would no longer be eligible for its $3 million share of the $22-million Independent Local News Fund, which would be reallocated to other independent stations like CHCH, NTV, CHEK, and affiliates owned by Pattison, Thunder Bay, Télé Inter-Rives and RNC Media. (The fund will be up for re-evaluation in 2021.)

It’s not clear if V would have survived without this transaction (or will if it’s denied). In Bell’s press release, Maxime Rémillard talks about needing to “ensure the continuity of this success”:

“After 10 years of ensuring V’s success as an independent conventional channel, I am proud to have found in Bell Media a partner to ensure the continuity of this success,” said Maxime Rémillard, President and Founder, Groupe V Média. “The industry in which we are evolving is constantly, deeply and rapidly changing. This was true when we took over the reins of TQS and allowed the network to survive; it is all the more true today. As it is increasingly difficult to ensure the sustainability of a conventional channel within a non-integrated group, I have made the best decision for the future of V. Bell Media will certainly allow V to continue to evolve and reach out to the Québec public on a massive scale.”

There’s also the question of what happens to the two specialty channels if this deal goes through. On one hand, being specialty-only might be good for the bottom line, because specialty channels generally make more than conventional ones. On the other hand, V loses its biggest marketing vehicle, and its specialty channels are hovering around the break-even point, according to CRTC data.

V owns the following five stations:

  • CFJP-DT Montreal
  • CFAP-DT Quebec City
  • CFKM-DT Trois-Rivières
  • CFKS-DT Sherbrooke
  • CFRS-DT Saguenay

In addition, there are three affiliates of V owned by other companies that are not part of this transaction, but would benefit from changes in network programming and from re-allocation of the Independent Local News Fund:

RNC Media:

  • CFGS-DT Gatineau
  • CFVS-DT Val-d’Or

Télé Inter-Rives:

  • CFTF-DT Rivière-du-Loup

The transaction requires CRTC approval, and likely that of the Competition Bureau, before it can close. Once the CRTC application is published, it will be open to public comment.

UPDATE: Try to contain your shock at the news that Quebecor doesn’t like this deal.

See also: Some analysis from the Globe and Mail’s Konrad Yakabuski.

Loopholes in the written journalism bailout panel report

It’s called the Journalism and Written Media Independent Panel of Experts. Eight people proposed by organizations (two of them unions) hand-picked by the federal government, who were supposed to set the criteria for how to determine what are “Qualified Canadian Journalism Organizations” that would be eligible for a tax credit on labour and another one on news subscriptions, part of a $595-million bailout package over five years.

This week, the panel submitted its report to the government. It sets some criteria for how to judge whether an organization is doing real journalism (or real enough to deserve a tax credit), but it also leaves me with a lot of questions. The headline to the report is that the panel thinks the funding is insufficient and is calling on a lot more to be added to the budget (this is not something it was asked to look at in its mandate). It also demands the government greatly increase its ad spend on newspapers and newspapers’ websites, and change the Copyright Act to force digital giants (presumably Google) to compensate news organizations, more things it was not asked to comment on.

As someone who enjoys finding loopholes in rules, I’d like to go through the report and point out some of them.

Preamble: Journalists aren’t accredited

It might surprise a lot of non-journalists to hear this, but there is no central authority that decides who is and is not a journalist. There are organizations, like the Parliamentary Press Gallery or the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec that set criteria and will authenticate journalists in some way, but there are many professional journalists that are part of neither, whose only credentials are given by their employer and have no legal powers attached to them.

This is by design. In Canada, anyone can be a journalist. The profession is not regulated, and allowing the government to decide who can and cannot practice it would be a Very Bad Idea.

So when we talk about giving money to journalism, we have to define what that is. Hence the panel, set up for the sole purpose of laying down some criteria, which would be applied by others. It’s not an easy job, and any rules you set only lead to more problems, as we’ll see below.

Let the CRA decide, or maybe journalism professors

In the interests of moving quickly, we have recommended that the tax credits be implemented and administered directly by the Canada Revenue Agency. We have recommended that the Government appoint an advisory body, with members drawn from the faculty of post-secondary journalism schools across Canada, to assist the Minister of National Revenue with this program.

The panel proposes that rather than a new government bureaucracy, the Canada Revenue Agency itself make calls on whether an organization should qualify for a tax credit. This is a good idea. The CRA is independent of partisan interests, and staffed by accountants who can be trusted, at least more than a politically-appointed body, to apply the criteria objectively.

But then, if the CRA is unsure (and I would be pretty unsure about a lot of organizations here), it can turn to an “advisory body” made up exclusively of journalism professors. The panel makes the assumption that such professors would be similarly objective (perhaps even more so). I’m not sure why. University professors have a reputation of being more left-wing, and that might not sit well with more conservative media outlets.

“It has published at least 10 editions in the last 12 months”

This makes sense for print media, and for edition-based outlets like La Presse+. But what does “edition” mean in terms of a website? How many “editions” has this blog put out? Or CBC.ca? Or the National Observer? Or iPolitics? These organizations wouldn’t be eligible anyway for other reasons, but this line alone seems to betray the fact that this isn’t about saving journalism as a whole or written journalism, it’s about saving newspapers and former newspapers.

“…in the case of web sites that offers video and audio files, at least 60% of the content is written.”

This makes sense until you ask yourself the obvious question: How do you quantify audiovisual content in a way that can compare to written content? Is it by file size? That’s unfair because video is so much larger. Is it by time spent consuming it? Then you’d have to establish some average reading speed. Or maybe one story = one video or podcast, regardless of length of either?

Even if we could establish some proper criteria for this, it encourages a gaming of the system, by finding a cheap source of written content and/or artificially restricting the amount of multimedia content.

“Journalistic processes”

To determine what qualifies as “original written news content,” a phrase used in the legislation for both the labour tax credit and the digital subscription tax credit,  the committee provides these “processes and principles”:

Journalistic processes and principles include:

  • a commitment to researching and verifying information before publication;
  • a consistent practice of providing rebuttal opportunity for those being criticized and presenting alternate perspectives, interpretations and analyses;
  • an honest representation of sources;
  • a practice or correcting errors.

These sound great (well, except for that unfortunate typo in the sentence about correcting errors). And most serious news organizations follow these principles. Most of the time. But how do you enforce this? Leave it to the CRA to determine whether enough errors were corrected by a publication, or whether enough research and verification was done on enough stories? There is no central body regulating written media, and even if you made membership in an organization like the National Newsmedia Council a condition for getting the tax credit (and it’s not), such bodies act only on complaints and have no real power.

Content mix

Content not considered as editorial content: advertisements, listings, catalogues, directories, guides, financial reports, schedules, calendars, timetables, comic books, cartoons, puzzles, games and horoscopes. Advertisements include promotional content, sponsored content, branded content (any content where a third party, advertising client or business partner, participates in the development of the concept or directs or gives final approval to a large portion of the content) as well as stories produced primarily for industrial, corporate or institutional purposes.

This is interesting, and at first glance it would seem to mean that publications that have large amounts of listings, ads or cartoons wouldn’t qualify. But the point of this paragraph is actually to exclude all this content from the calculation of how much editorial content is original to the publication, and seems specifically designed to tilt the scale in favour of newspapers and other publications that have a lot of advertisements and other non-news content.

The original news content (or original editorial content) is the content for which research, writing, editing and formatting are conducted by and for the organization. This original content should represent more than 50% of the publication’s editorial content, over the course of the year. The rewriting, translation, reproduction or aggregation of news from external sources (including articles from news agencies or any other publication) is not considered original news content. The publication of this type of content must not represent the principal activity of the journalistic organization, in order for it to be eligible.

There’s a lot to unpack here:

  • What is “the organization”? A lot of newspapers are part of chains. Does the organization mean the individual newspaper or the chain?
  • Does “editing and formatting” mean that newspapers that outsource things like page layout would be ineligible?
  • If a publication is more than 50% wire content, it would not be eligible. But how is this counted? By number of stories? By number of words published? How do you calculate that for a website that might have automated feeds of wire stories?
  • The paragraph makes “rewriting” and “aggregation” of news not count towards the quota. But how strict are these definitions? If a newspaper matches a story from a competitor with one of its own, or a column summarizes something reported elsewhere, does this not count as original content?

Democratic institutions

To be considered as an eligible QCJO, the publication must regularly cover democratic institutions and processes.

Democratic institutions include legislatives bodies, municipal councils, courts of justice, school boards, etc.

Democratic processes has a broader scope, and includes all issues of public interest that may come before government or any other public decision body.

Another clause that nudges us toward traditional newspapers and away from specialized media, this one requires eligible organizations to “regularly cover” (another undefined term) legislatures, courts or school boards (or other unspecified “etc.”). This might seem obvious, but we live in a world where many legislatures aren’t covered by journalists full-time. There are lots of journalists at Parliament Hill or Queen’s Park or the National Assembly, but in smaller provinces like Saskatchewan, New Brunswick or PEI, you can fit their full-time press galleries in the back of a van. It’s not a given that all traditional media would meet this criterion, and the vague way it’s described would mean more work for the CRA.

General interest

Furthermore, the publication must be focused on matters of general interest. It means that:

  • it is aimed at a general audience (lay persons) rather than specialists of a specific field,
  • it offers a diversity of content, including at least 3 among the following 9 areas: local news; national news; international news; social issues (such as health, education, faith and ethics); business and economy; sports; culture; science and technology; environment.

This brings up an important question: Why is this aid only for general interest newspapers? Is it just assumed that more specialized media are bankrolled indirectly by the industries they cover? One consequence of this is that it artificially tips the scale toward general interest media, and will discourage such media from becoming more specialized, even if that might be in their economic, readers’ and even society’s best interest. (This is a problem with the legislation, mind you, not the panel’s work.)

No freelancers

The expression “regularly employs” refers to the employment of journalists at regular intervals, either fulltime or part-time, even if their position is temporarily unoccupied.

This sentence, which gives context to an element of the legislation requiring at least two journalists, makes it clear that freelancers don’t count. That would exclude many media who rely mainly on freelancers. Not necessarily a bad thing, but worth noting.

Who is a journalist?

The term “journalists” should be understood in the broad sense given to it by media companies and professional associations of journalists, which includes all newsroom employees who exercise journalistic judgement in selecting, planning, assigning and producing news content, including research and collection of facts, data analysis, writing and copy editing, fact-checking, illustration, photography and videography, graphic presentation and adaptation of news content to digital formats.

This is a broad definition of journalist, but not overly so. It includes editors, managers, assignment editors, researchers, photojournalists and illustrators. But it doesn’t include people in administrative tasks or who work in non-editorial departments. It’s not clear how people who have multiple tasks will be counted. Do journalistic activities have to represent the majority of work for them to qualify as journalists? (The labour tax credit says it should be 75%, but it’s unclear if this same quota would apply to an organization that wants a digital news subscription tax credit.)

Ineligible organizations

publications whose editorial content is primarily reproduced or repeated from current or previous issues of the same or other publications;

This clause would seem to exclude publications that primarily reproduce content from other publications. That could cause a problem for organizations like Postmedia (my employer) and Quebecor, whose newspapers share a lot of content. Postmedia broadsheets, the Sun tabloids and the Journal de Montréal and Journal de Québec share not only content, but entire pages between them for non-local news and features. Would they have to limit shared content to under 50%? It depends how this is interpreted.

publications with editorial content that is more than 50% of the following, singly or in combination: listings, catalogues, directories, guides, financial reports, schedules, calendars, timetables, comic books, cartoons, puzzles, games and horoscopes;

Wait, hold on. Above, they said “listings, catalogues, directories, guides, financial reports, schedules, calendars, timetables, comic books, cartoons, puzzles, games and horoscopes” are “not considered editorial content.” If they’re not editorial content, how can they possibly make up more than 50% of editorial content?

If we use this definition that apparently includes these things as editorial content, then this might cause trouble. A newspaper with a cartoon page, a puzzles page, a movie listings page, a TV listings page would have that all count against their editorial content (counted how exactly?) and on a slow news day might push it over the top.

Also note how the word “advertisements” is missing from this list, which is otherwise identical to the definition of “not considered editorial content” earlier in the report. That makes sense, but it also underscores the fact that nothing in this set of criteria sets any limit on the amount of advertising in a publication.

pamphlets and other publications whose editorial content consists mainly of opinion texts;

This might cause problems for publications that rely heavily on columnists.

Publication used for the diffusion of hate content;

This sounds good. It also sounds like something lots of activists will pounce on to argue publications they don’t like should have their tax credits revoked. But why are “hate content” publications allowed in the first place?

loose-leaf publications.

I don’t know why this is here. I can’t think of a publication that might otherwise be eligible that requires this clarification, or a reason why a publication that would otherwise be eligible should be disqualified because it’s distributed in loose-leaf form.

Experts must agree with us

The qualifications for panel members should include that they:

support the package of tax credits to help written news outlets covering general interest news

I mean, I guess it would be odd if a panel member opposed the thing they’re here to judge, but it feels weird to require an independent expert to support a political policy. If they express criticism of a tax credit, do they get booted off the panel?

Actually, maybe freelancers

Later, in its list of additional recommendations, the panel says:

Allowing small publications, which have served established audiences for more than 10 years but do not have two regular employees for the last 12 months, to be able to count freelancers and independent contractors among journalists who regularly contribute to the creation of original content in order to allow them to be considered Qualified Canadian Journalism Organizations. This would include individuals who work as reporters, editors, page designers, photographers and columnists on a regular basis.

It’s unclear why freelancers shouldn’t count in general but should be allowed to count for small publications with fewer than two employed journalists. Allowing this exception essentially eliminates the entire point for setting that two-employed-journalist minimum in the first place.

Make Google pay

Reform the taxation system so that media companies that benefit from the use of Canadian content contribute to its creation. This includes social media, search platforms and internet providers. This can be done by creating a dedicated fund and redirecting levies paid by these entities to support Canadian news outlets.

I won’t go into all the out-of-mandate recommendations from the panel, which mostly translate into “more $$ plz”, but this one is pretty significant, requiring search engines and even internet providers to pay taxes to support Canadian news outlets. News organizations have repeatedly said Google and Facebook need to help them financially because they’re taking their content. Meanwhile those same organizations devote lots of time and resources to get their content as prominent as possible on Google and Facebook.

Amend the Copyright Act so that originating news outlets are properly compensated for the creation of copyrighted news material that is duplicated across digital platforms.

This isn’t explained, and it’s unclear what it means. Is it referring to when Google excerpts the content of pages in search results, or is it talking about the wholesale copying and pasting of entire stories on sketchy websites?

Transparency

A list of companies that have successfully filed for status as Qualified Canadian Journalism Organizations be publicly available.

Good. Taxpayer money should be doled out transparently. Though it’s unclear if the CRA itself would publish this list or some other organization. And it’s unclear why companies that unsuccessfully apply shouldn’t also be publicly available.

Executive compensation

Given that the initiatives outlined in the budget legislation aim to support the creation of news content and coverage of democratic institutions, and that certain companies have eliminated jobs in their newsrooms at the same time as giving executive officers excessive compensation, this Panel strongly urges the Government to require qualifying organizations to recognize that they have an obligation to use publicly funded benefits for the intended purpose of investing in news operations by not awarding excessive compensation to executives at the same time as they receive assistance from the program.

Certain news organizations have been accused of spending too much on executive compensation while seeking a bailout. So some people have suggested this paragraph is aimed at a particular person or type of people.

Let Le Devoir in

The panel specifically recommends that the legislation that allows non-profit news organizations to get charitable status be amended so that organizations that support non-profit news organizations can also be charities. Le Devoir is supported by such an organization, and under the current law (which was drafted more to support La Presse) it wouldn’t be able to issue charitable tax receipts. This seems like a no-brainer, provided the assistance organization otherwise meets the definition of a charity and the news organization itself would otherwise be eligible.

Le Devoir reacted to the report with outrage, as if the report itself was the problem, rather than simply confirming what’s in the legislation and seeking changes on Le Devoir’s behalf. Quebecor, meanwhile, says the report shows the Liberals are in bed with La Presse, but doesn’t point to any specific part of the report or the law that unduly favours its competitor.

An improvised report with big consequences

This panel had only a month to come up with its recommendations, and had to work under the rules set by legislation they did not draft, so I don’t want to criticize them too much. But this report underscores the fact that defining what is and is not journalism is very hard, and not at all easy. Even though we know which kinds of media will likely get the most help (daily newspapers, news magazines plus La Presse), there’s a lot of play around the margins.

What’s more important, though, is that once the government sets some official standard for what constitutes a journalist or journalistic organization, that standard can be referenced or copied elsewhere, creating a slippery slope. Certain privileges meant for any journalist could be restricted to those who meet these criteria and are deemed eligible for the tax credit. Other privileges could be created that give officially accredited journalists more rights than the rest of us. And we need to think hard about the consequences of that.

Tax credits for journalism might be a good idea. But these tax credits support a very specific type of journalism to the detriment of others, and the criteria proposed here just add to the problems.

See also: Andrew Coyne has similar thoughts, expressed more sarcastically.

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Longueuil’s FM 103,3 activates new transmitter with HD Radio

Former (pink) and new (black) transmitter locations and signal patterns for CHAA-FM 103,3

Montrealers equipped with HD Radios picked up a new signal this week, as 103.3 FM activated its new transmitter on Mount Royal and began testing.

The station, CHAA-FM, which serves Longueuil and south shore communities, was forced to move off of its previous transmitter location atop the Olympic Tower, and so applied for and was approved permission to move the transmitter to the CBC’s Mount Royal Antenna, which houses most of Montreal’s FM radio stations.

The new transmitter, which is both higher (284m vs 192m) and stronger (1.7kW vs 1.4kW max ERP), should improve the reception for most listeners.

The move, expected to cost around $200,000, was financed in part by a grant from the Quebec culture ministry last summer.

Éric Tetreault, general manager of FM 103,3, tells me the testing period began on June 11, and will continue for 20 days (so until the end of the month).

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Highlights from the Canadian TV 2019-20 upfronts

Last week, Bell Media was the last of the major English-language broadcasters to present their fall schedules to the public and advertisers. The big sells are the new (mostly American) series they’re adding to their primetime schedules. I haven’t seen any of them, so let’s instead focus on everything else that was announced and that I find interesting:

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Montreal and Quebec radio ratings: Virgin 95.9 falls to fifth place

Numeris has released its quarterly top-line ratings report for metered markets including Montreal.


Someone’s gonna need to explain to me what happened to Virgin Radio.

You can say The Beat took away its stars (Cat Spencer, Nat Lauzon, the since-departed Vinny Barrucco), or that Virgin failed to connect with listeners with too much Ryan Seacrest. You can lay the blame entirely at the feet of program director Mark Bergman (who recently left his job there), or blame the pencil-pushing cost-cutters at Bell Media who care more about profits than ratings. Or maybe there’s something about the music, the main reason people listen to music stations in the first place, that was driving people away.

But either way, something happened in the past few years that has created a huge gap between Virgin and main competitor The Beat. In the summer of 2012, Virgin 96 (as it was called then) had a 20.9% share, almost five points above the recently launched Beat. Now, for the second straight quarter, it’s in the single digits. Its 9.4% share is exactly half of The Beat’s 18.8%.

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CRTC renews OMNI for three years, rejects 6½ other proposals to replace it

The CRTC has reached a decision on what will replace OMNI. And it’s OMNI.

In a decision released Thursday, accompanied by a press release, the commission found that “Rogers’ proposed service, along with its associated commitments, best meets the needs and interests of Canada’s diverse population and the criteria established by the Commission, and is the most likely to ensure an exceptional contribution to the fulfillment of the objectives of the (Broadcasting) Act.”

The commission will therefore renew OMNI’s licence, but with “no expectation of renewal” beyond that, and only for three years, until 2023, when the mandatory distribution status of OMNI and other services with that status like CPAC, APTN and AMI, will be reviewed at the same time.

In its application, Rogers proposed that the new OMNI would have half-hour daily national newscasts in six languages: Spanish, Tagalog, Arabic, Punjabi, Mandarin and Cantonese, and local newscasts (for Toronto, Alberta and Vancouver) in Punjabi and Mandarin. Rogers told me it also planned to replace the current national Italian newscast, produced out of Montreal, with regional ones in Montreal and Toronto. The licence doesn’t specify the languages of programming, leaving that decision up to Rogers.

OMNI, which has TV stations in Toronto (two), Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, is broken up into four regions: B.C., Prairies, East (Ontario and Atlantic Canada) and Quebec. The Quebec feed is administered by ICI (CFHD-DT), an independent ethnic TV station in Montreal that was born out of Rogers’ conversion of CJNT into City Montreal. Though Rogers doesn’t directly control ICI, the two are closely connected.

Most of the other applicants didn’t propose regional feeds, over-the-air transmitters or local programming.

The commission has set the mandatory wholesale fee for the new OMNI, which begins Sept. 1, 2020, at $0.19 per month, up from its current $0.12 per month (but still less than some other applicants had proposed.) Rogers had requested a rate that started at $0.19 but ramped up to $0.21, but the CRTC found that $0.19 was sufficient. The decision states that the choice of OMNI was in part because of the proposed wholesale rate and the “balance” of that versus the programming commitments made.

OMNI’s commitments will be higher than they currently are, and higher than originally proposed as well:

  • Canadian programming expenditures: 60% of gross revenues (up from 50% originally proposed and 40% currently)
  • Canadian content on the schedule: 70% of the broadcast day (6am to midnight) and 70% from 6pm to midnight (up from 55% currently)
  • Programs of National Interest (scripted drama/comedy, documentary, award shows): 5% of revenues (up from 2.5% currently), all of which must go to independent production companies
  • Independent productions: 12 hours a week on each of the B.C., Prairies and Eastern feeds (including 2 hours produced from each of Manitoba/Saskatchewan and Atlantic Canada), and 14 hours a week of local original independent productions on ICI.
  • 100% ethnic programming (up from 80% proposed and currently) on the Rogers-controlled feeds, and 90% on ICI.
  • 80% third-language programming (up from 50% proposed and currently) on the Rogers feeds, and 60% on ICI.
  • Programming for 20 different ethnic groups and 20 different languages a month (same as currently; 18 and 15 respectively on ICI), with a limit of 16% for any one foreign language.
  • Six hours a week of original local newscasts in Vancouver, Calgary/Edmonton and Toronto (an improvement off local current affairs show obligations).
  • Six daily first-run national half-hour newscasts, seven days a week, in six different languages (up from four languages currently).
  • At least 40% of gross revenues spent on news.
  • Provide for ICI: 3 hours of original, local, ethnic programming in French each week and 1.5 hours of original, local, French-language programming and 30 minutes of local original English-language programming each week.

The licence also requires Rogers to:

  • Limit U.S. programming to 10% of the schedule each month
  • Maintain advisory councils for each regional feed, and require they approve the programming schedules and independent producers
  • Spend $60,000 a year on “scholarship initiatives that support ethnic and third-language post-secondary students majoring in journalism,” as chosen by the advisory councils
  • Maintain operation of the five over-the-air OMNI stations throughout the licence period
  • Solicit local advertising only in markets where OMNI over-the-air stations operate
  • Derive no profit from OMNI, and reinvest any surplus back into OMNI

Rogers will have until Sept. 1, 2020, to put those increased commitments into place. Until then, the existing licence still applies.

Shockingly, the CRTC’s decision includes absolutely zero analysis of the seven other applications to replace OMNI with a different service. It merely states that it had to choose one and OMNI was the best one. Did the commission feel the Ethnic Channels Group’s idea of multiple audio feeds in different languages was feasible? Was it impressed by the ambitious goals set by Amber Broadcasting? Did it think the application from Montreal-based non-profit ICTV was realistic? We have no idea. The other applicants are only mentioned once, in a listing of the applications at the beginning of the decision.

With the increase in the wholesale rate, here’s how much of your monthly TV bill will go to mandatory services, starting in September 2020:

English-language markets:

  • APTN: $0.35
  • AMI-audio: $0.04
  • AMI-tv: $0.20
  • CPAC: $0.13
  • OMNI Regional: $0.19
  • RDI: $0.10
  • TV5/Unis: $0.24
  • The Weather Network/MétéoMédia: $0.22
  • Vues et Voix (formerly Canal M): $0.04
  • TOTAL: $1.51

French-language markets:

  • APTN: $0.35
  • AMI-audio: $0.04
  • AMI-télé: $0.28
  • CPAC: $0.13
  • CBC News Network: $0.15
  • OMNI Regional: $0.19
  • TV5/Unis: $0.28
  • The Weather Network/MétéoMédia: $0.22
  • Vues et Voix (formerly Canal M): $0.04
  • TOTAL: $1.68

Meanwhile, the CRTC has administratively renewed the licence for ICI until 2020, which will simplify things as far as new conditions of licence related to its agreement with OMNI.

UPDATE: Rogers has issued a statement saying it is happy with the decision and will announce more specific plans “in the coming months.”

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