In these uncertain times, when accurate information is so essential to our individual and collective survival, a strong majority of Canadians place their trust in professional journalism over unregulated social media platforms like Facebook. And with the media industry experiencing layoffs and closures due to COVID-19, a clear majority believes that the federal government should treat the media crisis as an emergency. These are some of the findings of a new survey released this morning, conducted by Nanos Research for FRIENDS of Canadian Broadcasting.
“Many of our most prominent journalism outlets face imminent failure, even after the government’s proposed tax credits and wage subsidies are factored in. This is an acute emergency and Canadians want Ottawa to intervene quickly to save these trusted institutions from mass extinction,” says FRIENDS’ Executive Director Daniel Bernhard.
Seven-in-ten Canadians support (26%) or somewhat support (41%) the Government of Canada sending financial aid to failing news providers to keep them from closing down. The survey also found that more than seven-in-ten Canadians support (41%) or somewhat support (31%) increasing CBC’s funding to provide more local news and information.
Even before the massive economic dislocation caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, Canada’s media was on the ropes. More than 250 newspapers have closed during the past ten years and thousands of journalism jobs have been lost. Since the COVID lockdown began, nearly 500 people have been laid off from Canadian media. According to many in the industry, mass failure is only weeks away in the absence of support from the federal government.
“Our democracy and our future as an independent country are at stake. A country that can’t talk to itself ceases to be. If we lose our media, we lose our country,” Bernhard said.
FRIENDS is proposing an emergency journalism stabilization fund that would see the CBC pay private media outlets to produce news and information on a freelance basis for use by any news organization, including the outlet that produces it. This would provide a needed buffer to insulate journalists from direct payments from the government they are reporting on. Ottawa must also make long overdue structural changes to prevent foreign online media companies like Facebook and Google from unfairly dominating the advertising market at the direct expense of Canadian journalism.
“Canadians are very clear that when the stakes are this high, only professional journalists can be trusted to deliver the truth,” Bernhard said. “It’s time for Ottawa to end the unfair advantages and preferential tax policies that help untrusted companies like Facebook sink Canada’s newsrooms.”
Almost three quarters (74%) of Canadians think content displayed on social media platforms like Facebook is less accurate than that published by traditional media. 10% believe information published on social media is as accurate as that published by traditional media. 4% think it is more accurate.
The Nanos survey reveals that most Canadians think a strong and independent CBC is as important (24%) or more important (57%) given the decline in print journalism over the past decade.
“CBC’s recent cancellation of its local TV newscasts demonstrates just how frail this treasured institution has become after a generation of cuts. Canadians want Ottawa to equip CBC with the resources it needs to reliably provide timely, accurate, local information to all regions of our vast country,” Bernhard said.
These observations are based on a hybrid telephone (land- and cell-lines) and online random survey of 1,036 Canadians, 18 years of age or older, between March 30th and April 2nd, 2020 as part of an omnibus survey. The margin of error for this survey is ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The research was commissioned by FRIENDS of Canadian Broadcasting and was conducted by Nanos Research.
FRIENDS of Canadian Broadcasting is a watchdog advocate for public broadcasting, Canadian storytelling and journalism. FRIENDS is non-partisan and is not affiliated with any broadcaster.