OTTAWA / May 30, 2019 / CNW—The CAJ is calling for basic transparency on the government’s $595-million plan to offer new tax credits to news organizations and their subscribers.
Earlier this week the CAJ spoke to officials at the Department of Canadian Heritage, requesting a more transparent process on the proposed Journalism and Written Media Independent Panel of Experts. Last Tuesday the CAJ received an invitation along with seven other journalism industry groups to appoint a member to the panel. The mandate will be to assist the federal government in defining which news organizations will qualify for the three tax credits outlined in Budget 2019 and which jobs at newspapers qualify for a proposed labour tax credit. The panel will also make recommendations with respect to the work of a second panel that will review applications for eligibility.
While the government has repeatedly said it wants a transparent process, and has agreed to some limited transparency elements the CAJ has previously called for, the current proposal falls short in a number of areas, including:
- In February, the CAJ called for the panel’s terms of reference, meeting minutes and agendas to be posted online. Most of this process has been conducted behind closed doors. Top political officials have argued that they have nothing to hide. If that is the case, there should be no problem in making the deliberations of this panel public.
- In February, the CAJ called for a full list of organizations applying for funding to be posted online. The government has offered to post a list of the journalism organizations that receive money. Without a full list of who has applied there will be no way to see who is being denied funding by this panel. To ensure public confidence in this process, who is being rejected for funding needs to be public.
- This week, the CAJ was told that journalists on the panel will be asked to sign confidentiality agreements. While this may be appropriate for panels advising government on national security issues or commercially sensitive matters in other contexts, the CAJ is concerned that an overly broad confidentiality clause could limit the public trust in this process.
The CAJ also raised several other key concerns:
- In March, the CAJ welcomed Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s statement that this panel would be “fully independent”. The CAJ has previously publicly argued that for that independence to have meaning it needs to include giving the panel the authority to a) define eligibility for tax measures without government approval; and b) approve or disapprove journalism organizations as eligible for the tax measures without government approval, nor any means for any government to overrule the panel’s decision. This week, the CAJ learned that the panel will have no authority to make decisions but will instead make “recommendations” to the minister, who will have full authority to overrule any recommendation. Combining this with the requested confidentiality agreements could create a situation where a media outlet that is critical of a minister or their government is denied funding and the CAJ is barred from discussing this publicly. To ensure the panel has no appearance of partisanship, regardless of whether or not it does, the panel’s “full independence” must be the rule.
- The proposed timeline for the panel to be appointed, and for it to carry out the sensitive work of defining eligibility for journalism tax credits, is too short. The CAJ is being asked to provide a name for the panel in the next five days and the government expects the panel to meet for 4-8 days in June and come to a consensus.
- The structure of the second panel is not clearly defined—i.e. how many people will be appointed and for what length of time, and if their decisions will be subject to an appeal process. A fair appeals process is needed to ensure organizations denied funding will be granted due process.
The paramount concern for the CAJ is transparency, and our ability to participate will hinge on having measures in place that ensure an open and transparent public process. So far much of the process appears to have taken place out of the public eye through closed-door meetings between governments, newspaper owners and lobby groups. For journalists, whose legitimacy depends on public confidence and trust, it is imperative that a process be open, and that debate be rigorous, thorough and in view of the public.
The CAJ expressed this concern to departmental officials and are awaiting a response on these concerns. In the meantime the CAJ is surveying our members on a wide variety of issues related to the proposed work of the panel. The CAJ’s National Board of Directors is considering a short list of potential panelists to approach, should we accept the government’s invitation.
The Canadian Association of Journalists is a professional organization with more than 700 members across Canada. The CAJ’s primary roles are public-interest advocacy work and professional development for its members.
For more information:
Karyn Pugliese, CAJ president