As governments aid those struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic, a Kamloops city councillor and former journalist wants support for media.
“Every time a newspaper dies, a little bit of our democracy dies,” Coun. Dale Bass told KTW.
On Tuesday (April 13), Bass presented a notice of motion at council, which will be debated at the next meeting. The motion requests that council recognize the media as essential to democracy and support regulations and legislation to rejuvenate news media across Canada. The motion urges quick action by the federal government and requests that it be forwarded to other communities, as well as politicians in higher levels of government.
Bass, who previously worked as a journalist for Kamloops This Week, said the motion is aimed at pressuring the federal government to recognize the media industry among those financially negatively impacted during the pandemic.
She said the government has given money to other industries. On April 12, the federal government struck a financial aid deal with Air Canada, with Ottawa buying $500-million in company shares and offering up to $5.4 billion in low-interest loans.
Bass said the government needs to help media because “it’s dying.”
“We’ve seen hundreds of journalists laid off during COVID,” Bass said, noting a significant number of new outlets have also closed or merged. “It’s not just COVID. One of the underpinnings of our democracy — which has the ability to question and report — has been decimated.”
Bass said a national movement is afoot for municipalities to pass similar motions to encourage the federal government to act. Bass fears inaction could result in more news outlet closures and mergers, which could lead to more ownership concentration.
The Kamloops Daily News closed in 2014 after 80 years in operation, leaving dozens of employees without work. At that time, Kamloops This Week increased publishing to three times weekly. During the pandemic, KTW reduced its print editions to once per week and saw its newsroom staff reduced to six employees from eight staffers.
After buying Huffington Post, Buzzfeed closed its Canadian operations. Bell laid off more than 200 employees, including those impacted by the sudden closure of Vancouver’s TSN 1040 radio station in February. Meanwhile, a few smaller online new outlets have popped up in recent years in Kamloops.
Federal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has pledged to tax tech companies, with the money supporting media. However, it can be politically unpopular for government to support media financially, as it can be perceived as buying the press.
Bass said she wants the federal government to help struggling media without impeding its role.
“That requires a significant rethinking of the relationship [between government and media],” she said
Bass pointed to the CBC as a federally-funded media organization, noting some other countries fund — but also control — media, which is why she is stressing the importance of a free press.
Bass was asked if she, as a politician, is in a position of conflict by supporting the media industry, given the possible perception of receiving favourable press in return. Bass replied that she believes in free media as a former journalist of 45 years. She said she has received criticism as a politician and believes it to be part of a functioning democracy, leading to informed citizens.
“I don’t care if the media criticizes me,” Bass said. “I really don’t. As long as it’s fair and it’s just and it’s transparent. I just believe that we owe it to our citizens to give them transparent, accurate, honest, factual information so they can be informed citizens.”
Bass’ notice of motion will be debated on April 20.