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CAJ on local news: Our submission to the House of Commons

The CAJ was invited to testify at the House of Commons standing committee on Canadian Heritage on the future of local news. Read our submission below. For the rest of our testimony, click here.

Thank you for inviting us to appear here today. I’m Nick Taylor-Vaisey, the president of the Canadian Association of Journalists. I’m here today in that capacity, and do not speak on behalf of my employer. I’ll be sharing my time with Hugo Rodrigues, the CAJ’s past-president. Today, we’re speaking to you in Ottawa and from Toronto, but our National Board represents almost every corner of Canada. We see that as a strength, even if it does make our board meetings across several time zones tricky to schedule. It’s a strength because the CAJ is a truly national association of working journalists with members all over the country, and across all forms of media.

Before we offer you our thoughts on how the federal government can proactively, but non-intrusively, encourage high-quality journalism in Canada, allow us to tell you a bit more about our organization.

The CAJ was founded in 1978 as the Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit organization that encouraged and supported investigative journalism. Over the years, we broadened our mandate, and now offer three primary services to our members: high-quality professional development, primarily at our annual national conference; outspoken advocacy on behalf of journalists and the public’s right to know; and an awards program that honours the finest journalism in Canada—both investigative and across several other categories—and is affordable for our members.

Our members are the working journalists who are responsible for outstanding reporting that changes lives, forces governments to do better for Canadians, and ultimately serves the public interest. They’re local reporters who keep their eye on city hall when few others are watching, and who simply report the news that better informs their community. Of course, our members are often the first to feel the brunt of layoffs that have cut so deeply across newsrooms.

We are here to provide two modest recommendations that would allow more storytelling in more local newsrooms, and help stem the tide of job losses, at least to some degree, in those same newsrooms. The first recommendation is that government provides incentives to prospective local advertisers in Canadian communities; the second recommendation is that government make it easier for non-profit journalism to take flight in Canada.

You’ve already heard in prior testimony to this committee, and you no doubt already knew, that media are facing a revenue problem. Advertisers are able to exploit digital opportunities that offer more eyeballs and a larger audience share. This has irrevocably shifted balance sheets at media companies across Canada — first it was the classifieds, then the national ads, and now it’s hitting us at every level.

Just this week, the Rainy River Record, a paper that has served its readers for almost a century, announced it will stop publication this month and shut its doors. Why? The Record’s publisher said two of its major advertisers, the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario, have chosen to, as he put it, “shun newspaper advertising” in favour of global giants like Google. That closure represents yet another blow to all newspapers in both Ontario and across Canada.

Put simply: As revenues drop, many media owners cut expenses by laying off journalists. With fewer human resources in those newsrooms, less journalism is produced and journalists spend more time chasing audiences that generate potential new online revenue than they do investing in content. With less content available and the quality of that content dropping, audiences look elsewhere for the information they want. All the while, revenues continue to drop.

Bob Cox, the chair of the Canadian Newspaper Association, told this committee on May 31 the federal government “could find ways of encouraging Canadian companies to spend their advertising dollars here.” The CAJ supports that view.

We’re not proposing a regulatory solution to the pervasive revenue question that’s gone largely unanswered in many media companies, both big and small. To be certain, different markets face different pressures, and some have more success than others. But there’s a clear and urgent need to find creative solutions for those communities in need.

The CAJ does support, generally speaking, government making it easier to invest in Canadian media—for instance, a tax break for local advertisers who currently see no advantage in placing an ad in their local newspaper or broadcaster. We know that when local media can raise enough revenue from their community, they can thrive. Let’s offer an incentive for companies to invest in the journalism being done in their backyards.

When media companies can cover their expenses through the revenues they raise from advertising, they can and do invest in quality — content that informs Canadians about their roles and responsibilities in a civil society, that shines a light in dark places, speaks truth to power and comforts the afflicted.

We also think government can play a useful role in the nonprofit world, which can play a crucial role in public-interest reporting and public education. This is, of course, distinct from public broadcasters such as the CBC and its public-broadcasting counterparts, including Ontario’s TVO. The CAJ believes Canada should embrace non-profit journalism as other countries, including the United States, already do.

To cherry-pick one example, ProPublica is a charitable organization south of the border that counts itself as one among many so-called 501(c)(3) non-profits. That’s a reference to sec. 501(c)(3) of the U.S.’s Internal Revenue Code, and it allows qualifying organizations tax-exempt status for the purposes of, among other goals, public education.

Now, that doesn’t mean transforming local reporters into civics teachers, though we certainly find ourselves playing that role from time to time in our communities. ProPublica describes its investigative reporting as work that “shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.” Not exactly the sort of thing you’ll find in an elementary school classroom, but it’s certainly as valuable.

Non-profit journalism does exist in Canada. The Walrus Foundation, The Tyee Solutions Society and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network all operate as charities—and with success. They’ve proven that charities can fund journalism. But there are far fewer examples in Canada than there are elsewhere in the world. The Knight Foundation in the U.S. and the trust-backed Guardian in the U.K. are but two examples of journalism-focused philanthropic initiatives that simply have no equal in Canada.

Non-profit media organizations have created compelling, groundbreaking stories that educate and inform their audiences about how their society works. Civic education is lacking in Canada, and while non-profit journalism isn’t a panacea for this problem, any government action to create and foster a friendly business environment to invest in these organizations can only help enable more of them to get started and flourish.

The more media outlets — whether traditional, mainstream, online, etc. — that operate in Canada, the more informed our residents will be. And that only strengthens our democracy.

Thank you for your time.

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Fix Canada’s broken access to information system

 

The deficit of trust between Canada’s voters and its elected officials has never been higher, largely due to a breakdown in the system of accountability. Key to this is the fact that, after years of neglect, Canada’s access to information system is in crisis. The undersigned organisations are calling on the main political parties in Canada to make concrete commitments to reform Canada’s access to information system.

A strong access to information system is vital to maintaining a healthy democracy. Elections depend on the ability of individuals to understand how government has performed and the background to policy decisions. Journalists and civil society rely on requests for information to monitor public bodies and to uncover malfeasance. Vital oversight functions are curtailed in the absence of an effective right to information system. The current system is failing Canadians.

Our country deserves an open and accountable government. We call on all political parties to make a clear electoral promise to undertake a comprehensive process of consultation leading to reform of the Access to Information Act and to express specific support for the rapid adoption of the following four reforms after the election:

1. Strengthen the Information Commissioner: Grant the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) order-making power and expand the OIC’s mandate to include promoting the right to information.

2. Eliminate loopholes: Repeal all blanket exclusions from the Access to Information Act and amend the regime of exceptions so that they apply only where release of the information would pose a real risk of harm to a legitimate interest set out in the Act. Also, make all exceptions subject to an override, whereby information will be released if its disclosure is in the overall public interest.

3. Expand the scope of the Act: Extend the Access to Information Act to apply to all public authorities, including ministers’ offices, the Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet, and other bodies which perform a public function or receive significant public funding.

4. Document decisions: Commit to requiring public officials to document and preserve records of their communications and decision-making, regardless of the medium of communication.

Canadians of all political stripes want honest and transparent government, and have spent decades waiting for a government willing to deliver it. We urge all parties to endorse these four reform commitments, and to support a comprehensive review of the Access to Information Act in the aftermath of the election.

Signed,

L’Association des Journalistes Indépendants du Québec (AJIQ)
BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA)
BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA)
Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
Canadian Media Guild / CWA Canada
Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF)
Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD)
Centre for Social Justice
Evidence for Democracy
Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec (FPJQ)
Greenpeace Canada
International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group
Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
PEN Canada
Politics of Evidence Working Group
Newspapers Canada
OpenMedia
Our Right to Know
Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia
Voices-Voix
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) 

How has Canada’s access to information system fallen by the wayside?

  • A ranking of the world’s access to information laws by the Centre for Law and Democracy rated Canada 59th globally. This is down from 51st place just three years ago, as more and more countries leapfrog ahead of us.

  • A recent study by the Toronto Star of 28,000 access to information requests revealed that 57 per cent of all data released was censored in some way, and 18 per cent could not be found at all.

  • In some cases, government departments have told Canadians they would have to wait more than a thousand days for a response to their access to information request, well beyond the 30 days set out in law.

  • Last November, Information Commissioner of Canada Suzanne Legault warned that an increase in the number of complaints to her office had led to a critical shortage of resources. Rather than offering more funding, MPs suggested increasing the price of filing a request for information, in order to discourage use of the system.

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In wake of newsroom cuts, Canada should embrace non-profit journalism

OTTAWA, Aug. 11, 2016 – Torontonians and Canadians will be information poorer as a result of the Toronto Star’s recent decision to lay off 45 newsroom staff – something the Canadian Association of Journalists believes further heightens the need for government action to foster and support public-interest reporting.

At a time when cutbacks have reduced many papers to recycling rather than reporting the news, the Toronto Star – home to one of the few investigative journalism teams in the country – has distinguished itself with a continuing commitment to truth-finding and truth-telling.

But this week, the Toronto Star announced it was eliminating 52 positions – including 45 from its newsroom.

“These cuts will inevitably compromise the paper’s capacity to cover public issues in Toronto, Ontario and Canada as a whole – resulting in less-informed citizens, less-informed consumers and a more ignorant society,” said CAJ President Nick Taylor-Vaisey.

“A panel of MPs is currently studying the state of the Canadian media. But this news brings into relief the urgent need for the government to move from study to action,” he added.

Taylor-Vaisey said such measures could include the removal of restrictions that obstruct charitable support for non-profit journalistic endeavours. In the U.S., such efforts have helped fill the gap in coverage created by cutbacks at for-profit news outlets.

The CAJ is Canada’s largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing over 600 members across the country. The CAJ’s primary roles are to provide high?quality professional development for its members and public?interest advocacy.

For further information:

Nick Taylor-Vaisey, CAJ president, 647-968-2393 cell, nick@caj.ca

www.caj.ca | www.facebook.com/CdnAssocJournalists | www.twitter.com/CAJ

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In wake of newsroom cuts, Canada should embrace non-profit journalism

OTTAWA, Aug. 11, 2016 – Torontonians and Canadians will be information poorer as a result of the Toronto Star’s recent decision to lay off 45 newsroom staff – something the Canadian Association of Journalists believes further heightens the need for government action to foster and support public-interest reporting.

At a time when cutbacks have reduced many papers to recycling rather than reporting the news, the Toronto Star – home to one of the few investigative journalism teams in the country – has distinguished itself with a continuing commitment to truth-finding and truth-telling.

But this week, the Toronto Star announced it was eliminating 52 positions – including 45 from its newsroom.

“These cuts will inevitably compromise the paper’s capacity to cover public issues in Toronto, Ontario and Canada as a whole – resulting in less-informed citizens, less-informed consumers and a more ignorant society,” said CAJ President Nick Taylor-Vaisey.

“A panel of MPs is currently studying the state of the Canadian media. But this news brings into relief the urgent need for the government to move from study to action,” he added.

Taylor-Vaisey said such measures could include the removal of restrictions that obstruct charitable support for non-profit journalistic endeavours. In the U.S., such efforts have helped fill the gap in coverage created by cutbacks at for-profit news outlets.

The CAJ is Canada’s largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing over 600 members across the country. The CAJ’s primary roles are to provide high?quality professional development for its members and public?interest advocacy.

For further information:
Nick Taylor-Vaisey, CAJ president, 647-968-2393 cell, nick@caj.ca

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Global, BuzzFeed cuts diminish public’s right to know

OTTAWA, June 30, 2016 – Thanks to recent newsrooms cutbacks, our country has lost a team of investigative reporters and a parliamentary bureau – something the Canadian Association of Journalists believes will further compromise the right of citizens to know and understand what’s happening in their own society.

Earlier this week, Global announced it was cancelling 16×9, a public affairs show that was nominated for the CWA Canada/CAJ award for labour reporting earlier this year—and won RTDNA’s Dan McArthur Award for In-depth and Investigative Multi-platform Reporting earlier this month.

At the same time, BuzzFeed announced it was shuttering its Ottawa bureau just over a year after it opened, with the promise of bringing political news to younger audiences.

“At its best, journalism serves the public interest by holding power to account. But these newsrooms cuts directly target the capacity of those outlets to do this kind of work,” said CAJ President Nick Taylor-Vaisey. “That marginalizes the place of news media in a democratic society.”

The 16×9 cuts further diminish the number of investigative journalist teams in Canada, an already rare sight even in major newsrooms. And BuzzFeed’s shift away from Ottawa misses an opportunity to engage young Canadians with parliamentary politics.

“Canadians can’t afford to lose a group of reporters who commit serious time and resources to investigations in the public interest—and reach new audiences,” said Taylor-Vaisey. “This moves mean fewer critical eyes and ears on governments that need to be doggedly watched, heard and held to account.”

The CAJ is Canada’s largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing over 600 members across the country. The CAJ’s primary roles are to provide high-quality professional development for its members and public-interest advocacy.

For further information: Nick Taylor-Vaisey, CAJ president, 647-968-2393, nick@caj.ca; www.caj.ca

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Anti-secrecy recommendations must be acted on: CAJ

OTTAWA, June 17, 2016 — The Canadian Association of Journalists applauds an all-party committee of MPs for recommending reforms that could make the federal government less secretive. But it remains to be seen if Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will actually act on them, helping fulfill his promise to run a more “open and transparent” government.

The CAJ appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in April. During that appearance, CAJ vice-president Sean Holman called on members to significantly reduce the “expansive zone of secrecy surrounding the government’s decision-making processes” and legally require the proactive publication of broad categories of government records. (Read the CAJ’s full submission to the committee here.)

Under the existing Access to Information Act, the government can refuse access to any recommendations developed for public officials, as well as accounts of their consultations or deliberations, for a 20-year period. The law also prohibits access to any records related to cabinet, government’s principle decision-making body, for the same period.

In a report released Thursday, the committee recommended the government reduce that time period. The committee also recommended that the public be allowed immediate access to some kinds of records that may currently be inaccessible because they are classified as policy advice or cabinet material. And it called for a legal mechanism to ensure the government is unable to censor any information that is related to an environmental, health, public safety or other public interest issue.

“These are all important steps along the long road to less government secrecy in this country,” said Canadian Association of Journalists president Nick Taylor-Vaisey, who noted the committee also recommended institutions be “required to proactively publish information that is clearly in the public interest.”

“Canadians don’t have access to the same kind of information that Americans do and it is well past time that changed,” continued Taylor-Vaisey. “But for that to happen, the Trudeau government must resist the seductive power of secrecy – something almost no past or present government in Canada has been able to do.”

The CAJ is Canada’s largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing over 600 members across the country. The CAJ’s primary roles are to provide high-quality professional development for its members and public interest advocacy.

For further information: Nick Taylor-Vaisey, CAJ president, 647-968-2393 cell, nick@caj.ca; Sean Holman, CAJ vice-president, 403-397-4751 cell, sean@caj.ca

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Government 'openness' policy may mean greater secrecy

Last month, the British Columbia government announced it would be publishing requests for information filed under its records access law, something it says will increase openness and accountability. But many reporters are worried that law will actually do exactly the opposite. To find out why, and what the Canadian Association of Journalists is doing about it, read our open letter to the province’s information and privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

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Congratulations to the winners of the 2015 CAJ Awards!

EDMONTON, May 29, 2016 /CNW/ – In a year when Canada’s national media finally awoke to the tragedies of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, the work by our national public broadcaster set the standard.

The CBC News Aboriginal team, supported by others across the CBC News team, are the recipients of the 2015 Don McGillivray Award, given to the top investigative entry into the annual CAJ Awards program at the gala which concluded #CAJ16 at the Coast Edmonton Plaza Hotel.

The elements of the CBC’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women website were among the first to be published, told the stories of those affected in an impactful way and, somewhat sadly, led to the identification of even more Indigenous women as missing or murdered. McGillivray judges noted these elements in their deliberations, in a year when one of the other candidates for the top investigative award was also focused on MMIW.

CBC News’ entry had been named recipient of the Online Media category earlier on Saturday, one of 14 recipients recognized across the CAJ Awards program. The winning entries in most categories received a $500 cash prize.

The full list of 2015 CAJ Awards recipients is below.

Please note the media outlet listed is where the recipient(s) worked at the time their entry was broadcast/published or where the particular entry was broadcast/published. Links, where available, have been provided in the titles of the recipients’ entries.

The recipients in the OPEN MEDIA category are:

Andrew Bailey, David Bruser, Astrid Lange, Jim Rankin, Randy Risling, Joanna Smith, Rick Sznajder, Tanya Talaga, Jennifer Wells
Gone: Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women
The Toronto Star

The recipient in the COMMUNITY MEDIA category is:

Ian Hitchen
The Runaways
The Brandon Sun

The recipient in the OPEN BROADCAST FEATURE category is:

Karin Wells
‘In the presence of a spoon’
CBC Radio One – The Sunday Edition

The recipients in the OPEN BROADCAST NEWS category are:

Anton Koschany, Victor Malarek, Sarah Stevens, Brett Mitchell
Phantom Menace
CTV – W5

The recipients in the COMMUNITY BROADCAST category are:

Natalie Clancy, Paisley Woodward
Real estate seminars exposed
CBC News – Vancouver

The recipients in the CAJ / MARKETWIRED DATA JOURNALISM AWARD are:

Diana Swain, Timothy Sawa, Lori Ward
Campus sexual assaults: The fight to get the real picture
CBC News Investigative Unit – CBC – The National

The recipients in the ONLINE MEDIA category are:

Cate Friesen, Cecil Rosner, Connie Walker, Duncan McCue, Tiar Wilson, Kimberly Ivany, Martha Troian, Chantelle Bellrichard, Joanne Levasseur,Teghan Beaudette, Kristy Hoffman, Donna Lee, Tara Lindemann, William Wolfe-Wylie, Richard Grasley, Michael Leschart, Michael Pereira
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
CBC News

The recipient in the PHOTOJOURNALISM category is:

John Lehmann
Portfolio entry
The Globe and Mail

The recipient in the SCOOP category is:

Bruce Cheadle
Omnibus budget bill rewrites history to clear RCMP of potential criminal charges
The Canadian Press

The recipient in the DAILY EXCELLENCE category is:

Margaret Evans
Paris Mourns
CBC Radio One – The World This Weekend

The recipient in the TEXT FEATURE category is:

Shannon Proudfoot
Jo has Alzheimer’s. He’s 38
Maclean’s

The recipients in the JHR / CAJ AWARD FOR HUMAN RIGHTS REPORTING are:

Dennis Ward, Murray Oliver
A soldier scorned
APTN Investigates

The recipients in the CWA CANADA / CAJ AWARD FOR LABOUR REPORTING are:

Melissa Ridgen
Hurting for work
APTN Investigates

and

Nick Purdon, Leonardo Palleja
Up close: Prison guards
CBC News – The National

The recipients in the CAJ / CNW GROUP STUDENT AWARD OF EXCELLENCE are:

Amara McLaughlin, Jesse Yardley
Risky decisions for Canadian cancer patients
Calgary Journal / Mount Royal University

There were a total 230 entries for the 2015 awards program.

Congratulations to all our recipients. Your work has been outstanding, inspiring and a reminder of how despite the unending fiscal challenges facing our industry, Canadian journalists still produce plenty of amazing, important and impactful journalism. We thank you for entering.

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The latest winner of the CAJ Code of Silence: FinTRAC

EDMONTON, May 28, 2016 — The winner of the Canadian Association of Journalists’ most dubious award in 2016 is the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, the country’s little known “financial intelligence unit” that’s meant to, among other things, “facilitate the detection, prevention and deterrence of money laundering.”

Earlier this year, FinTRAC reportedly fined an undisclosed bank a total of $1.1 million for “failing to report a suspicious transaction and various money transfers”—but the agency, choosing to “exercise its discretion,” wouldn’t name the bank.

That secrecy made FinTRAC a natural choice for the CAJ’s annual Code of Silence Award, which is handed out (sic) to the government or publicly funded agency that works the hardest to hide public information.

“The penalty was designed to send a message of deterrence,” said the Toronto Star‘s Robert Cribb, a former CAJ president who wrote the agency’s nomination. Cribb added that declining to name the bank “dramatically softens that deterrence by shrouding the mystery bank’s conduct in secrecy.

“FinTRAC routinely identifies individuals and companies it takes action against. In fact, many are listed on the agency’s website,” Cribb continued. “A public watchdog agency hiding the identity of a bank found to have breached the public interest has earned the right to claim the Code of Silence Award.”

The CAJ agrees. This is the 16th year the organization has presented a Code of Silence.

The CAJ is Canada’s largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing over 600 members across the country. The CAJ’s primary roles are to provide high-quality professional development for its members and public-interest advocacy.

For further information:

Nick Taylor-Vaisey, CAJ president – 647-968-2393 cell, nick@caj.ca

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Lagging behind: CAJ VP testifies before #cdnfoi committee on Parliament Hill

Yesterday, CAJ Vice-President and #cdnfoi expert Sean Holman spoke before the federal Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. Read the CAJ’s submission to the committee.

Holman urged committee members to take seriously the concrete recommendations that Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault made in a damning 2015 report , but he said the government must go further. At the heart of the problem, Holman said, is Canada’s political culture and system, which has always favoured secrecy over openness – something that shaped the Access to Information Act and continues to inform the response that publically-funded bodies have to public scrutiny.

Access to government information is essential for journalists if we want to do more than repeat government and opposition propaganda,” says Holman. “Unfortunately, Canada has always been and continues to be a laggard when it comes to that kind of access. The recommendations we’ve made to the committee would change that.”

We live-tweeted Holman’s testimony:

 

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