The federal government has followed through on its promise to support journalism over the next five years with three programs first unveiled in the fall economic statement.

In Tuesday’s federal budget, new details were disclosed about the distribution of the funds among the three programs and about some of the qualifying criteria. The government said it will continue to “establish an independent panel of experts from the Canadian journalism sector” to assist it with eligibility criteria. It will also create an ongoing administrative body to determine whether a given news organizations does or does not meet those criteria.

In total, the government will invest $595 million in the three programs over the next five years: a labour tax credit for journalism organizations, charitable status for not-for-profit journalism organizations, and a digital subscription tax credit for news consumers.

The money will be directed at journalistic organizations – not individual journalists – who are primarily engaged in the production of original news, “including coverage of democratic institutions and processes.” Newsrooms that are “primarily focused on a particular topic such as industry-specific news, sports, recreation, arts, lifestyle or entertainment” will not qualify.

“The emphasis of these investments on public interest journalism is generally in keeping with the recommendations of The Shattered Mirror and subsequent work on the subject by the Public Policy Forum,” said PPF President & CEO Edward Greenspon. “The decline of news industry revenues in Canada is not just continuing but accelerating, impoverishing the scrutiny of democracies in many municipalities, provinces, territories and Indigenous communities.

“Canadians are getting more opinions and fewer facts, more conspiracies and less evidence. It takes professional journalists regularly patrolling their beats to provide the reliable streams of news Canadians need to be informed citizens.”

The biggest of the three programs is the refundable labour tax credit, which will account for $360 million over the next five years and will apply retroactively to Jan. 1, 2019. It will cover 25 percent of the costs of journalists working, on average, 26 hours a week for 40 consecutive weeks. To be eligible, the employee must “spend at least 75 percent of their time engaged in the production of news content, including by researching, collecting information, verifying facts, photographing, writing, editing, designing and otherwise preparing content.”

A qualifying newsroom must employ at least two journalists. As with other government programs of this type, the organization must be at least 75 percent Canadian-owned. Broadcasters will not qualify for the program; neither will those who receive support in the same years from the Aid to Publishers portion of the Canadian Periodical Fund.

These conditions may be modified depending on the recommendations of the panel the government says it will strike.

The subscription tax credit, which will rebate up to $75 a year to subscribers, is budgeted to cost $138 million over five years. The inclusion of journalism as a charity has a $96 million cost attached to it.

 

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