Last month the new Canadian Federal Budget set out $50 million for news companies and journalism hoping to aid in the decline of news outlets. While most Canadians agree that a trusted media and an informed public are key to democracy, the public does not seem to be interested in keeping this vital part of representative government alive. Based on a report done by the Earnscliffe Strategy Group, 3/4 Canadians say there would be a threat to democracy if news from TV, radio and newspapers disappeared. However since 2010, 225 weekly and 27 daily newspapers have been shut down or have merged operations.
Last year the Public Policy Forum released a report entitled the Shattered Mirror which discusses the importance of maintaining a news presence in an age of social media and online news. It stresses the importance of having real news in order to make educated decisions about the government and to keep the powerful accountable. The policy reform contains twelve actions on the part of the government. The first five are designed to improve the economic landscape whereas the next seven are measures to enhance the supply of quality news.
While the Shattered Mirror provides important suggestions for the government this will be done in vain if Canadians continue to lose interest in the news. Today, Canadians’ demand for news remains at approximately $29 per person, relatively low to countries such as France who spend around $73 per person, and Norway whose number sit around $180. This lack of interest is concerning as democracy relies on accurate and reliable journalism and it is the citizen’s responsibility to seek accurate news and remain well informed.
In a country as free and liberal as Canada, its citizens are taking media outlets and journalism for granted. The loss of the free press greatly affects societies. Take Soviet Russia for example, which was impacted by a harsh censorship initiated after the Bolshevik Revolution. Due to this, Soviet citizens did not have access to media or literature about the true state of their nation, or anything that resembled a critique of the Soviet Union. Under Stalin’s rule there was a lack of reporting on the secret police which lead to many of his political opponents to be obliterated without the general public having any idea.
Journalism is also important for the preservation of democracy. After WWII, the US occupation zone of Germany placed an emphasis on the importance of reestablishing the free press, which they believed was vital to denazification and recreation of democracy. Journalism was used to make sure that the government would be kept in balance and that there was counter-arguments and truth to threaten propaganda. The free press is just as important to conserving democracy today in Canada.
The total loss of journalism is linked to the total loss of democracy as demonstrated by many authoritarian countries. Can you think of a totalitarian country that does have free press? When there is no journalists to report accurate information to its citizens they lose complete control, and often this leads to the government being able to leave its citizens without vital rights and liberties. This is not something we want to see happen in Canada.
The downfall of print newspapers may assure in a new era of online media, however the difference in quality of the news will directly impact society and therefore is not a reasonable alternative. Newspapers are based on truth and neutrality, often taking several days, weeks or even months to research, fact-check and verify. However online news does not have these same safeguards. Due to this, giant online news platforms such as Facebook and Google produce news that is not well researched and often reinforced prejudices. In fact, studies show that approximately 83 per cent of online news found on these platforms is false.
Canadians need to redirect their interests towards the news and support journalism. By keeping citizens educated, they gain skills to spot fake news, authenticate sources, and read through bias. Most importantly they keep the government accountable. Remember, democracy dies in the dark.