Catching Up on MediaPolicy.ca: Right-wing websites want QCJO seal of approval; #CanCon certification challenged.

Colette Brin chairs the Independent Committee that approves or rejects applications to the Qualified Canadian Journalism Organization program.

April 14, 2022

Opponents of Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez’s Internet bills C-11 (Online Streaming) and C-18 (Online News) aren’t limited to Conservative MPs playing the expected Parliamentary game. 

Joining them are a number of academics, Internet activists, former Harper-appointees to the CRTC, and populist news websites. The critics are mostly united in their deep-seated opposition to government regulation rather than the mechanics or design of the Bill. But some criticisms should concern even supporters of the Bill. 

On that note, Jesse Brown and his band of Canadaland journalists have done well putting a spotlight on the lack of transparency in granting approvals of Qualified Canadian Journalism Organization (QCJO) status by the arms-length committee set up by the federal government to gatekeep the journalism labour and subscription tax credits that were legislated by the Liberals in 2019. If you dig this kind of thing, you should tune in to Brown’s riveting 45 minute podcast interview of Colette Brin, the journalism professor who chairs the approvals-committee for the tax credits. Her committee reports to the Minister of Revenue.

What emerges from the interview is that because the journalism tax credits are tax matters the reasons why some applicants are approved or rejected aren’t public information and can’t be prised out of the CRA’s hands by an FOI request either. (At least the Heritage website lists which news organizations have been accepted for the QCJO program and the related RJO program for philanthropic journalism.)

These waters are being roiled by clever politics played by two right-wing populist websites vying for QCJO recognition as legitimate news organizations, Rebel News and Western Standard. Rebel News was approved in 2020 but defunded by Brin’s committee in 2021 because its published content fell below the standard of “original news.” 

Western Standard was approved as a QCJO, but then cheekily declined the tax credits, lampooning their application as an experiment in political science.

The transparency of who is a legitimate news organization, or more precisely whether a QCJO applicant publishes bone fide “original news,” takes on additional importance with the C-18 Online News Act sitting on the House of Commons’ order table. That’s because the eligibility of news organizations to participate in C-18’s commercial bargaining code will be determined by the CRTC using QCJO criteria including the publication of “original news.”

It’s doubtful this issue is going away, so stay tuned.

Another anti-regulatory missile that may find its mark is the C-11 critics’ claim that long standing film funding guidelines that define “Canadian content” produce unsatisfactory results. 

The Minister’s Bill doesn’t affect the current rules one way or another, even if this would have been an opportunity to review it. 

There’s a good case to be made that the current rules’ fixation on the headcount of Canadian talent without a proper consideration of Canadian plot lacks credibility. The UK has a hybrid system which considers both.

Published by

Howard Law

I am retired staff of Unifor, the union representing 300,000 Canadians in twenty different sectors of the economy, including 10,000 journalists and media workers. As the former Director of the Media Sector and as an unapologetic cultural nationalist, I have an abiding passion for public policy in Canadian media.

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