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Market-fundamentalist newspaper owners primed for infusion of taxpayer cash

Bottles of champagne in ice. Photo: Unai Telleria/flickr

Put the Dom Perignon in the chiller!

The Trudeau government is on the verge of opening the spigots to pour public cash into our country's flagging, mismanaged newspaper industry.

This will be done in the name of serving democracy and helping out the brainiacs who drove the once flourishing industry into the ditch cope with the travails of a couple of decades of digitization.

It will do nothing for democracy, of course. There's never been much that's very democratic about the Canadian newspaper industry, notwithstanding a lot of self-serving propaganda to the contrary.

As for the digital age, as has been said here before, nobody had more warning of the extent and nature of the coming digital revolution than the Canadian newspaper industry, and it turned the wrong direction at every step along the way to its current disastrous destination.

I just hate to find myself on the same side of any issue as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, but if there was ever a time for it, this is it!

Obviously, there are appropriate ways for governments to deal with epochal disruptive technological change such as that wrought by the digital revolution. They don't involve handing over big tax-supported subsidies to obsolete industries run badly by, irony of ironies, market fundamentalist ideologues!

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a Quebec newspaper last week he was, in the CBC's words, "preoccupied" with the "financial crisis" facing Canada's incompetently run, consistently far-right mainstream media.

As a veteran of 30 years or so in the activity known as print journalism, I can't think of a worse use for our tax dollars than subsidizing an industry that has proven time and again it doesn't have a clue in a carload about how to deal with the challenges it faces.

Newspaper publishers across Canada have been engaged in a furious lobby for months to get tax-funded respite from the consequences of their own incompetence, and incompetence it is. Now it appears they have succeeded.

Newspaper owners will doubtless promise to deliver just a little bit more than their current formula of crime, crime and more crime, plus anti-NDP propaganda provided free by the shills at the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, and my new pals at the CTF, but don't count on it ever actually happening.

At this juncture, we need to remind ourselves of the wise words of Shannon Rupp, writing in 2016 in The Tyee and quoted in this space before: "I don't believe there's anything worth 'saving' in for-profit publications that run bloggers-cum-floggers, plagiarists or shills for advertisers. Or the ones that do things like un-publishing journalism that offends advertisers. Or who run free articles by self-promoters. Or that promote health-threatening products -- homeopathy, for example -- because an advertiser buys editorial."

You can count on it that if newspaper owners get their hooks into this dough nothing much will change about the incompetent way they do business, except that if it ever runs out they'll ask for an extension. Postmedia will go on mismanaging its newspaper empire, paying its top executives huge bonuses and shipping cash south of the border. They'll never give up the appalling human resources practices that have bedevilled their newspapers since the Southam Family sold them off.

Likewise, don't imagine for a moment this will extend the lives of community papers in rural Alberta or similar venues. Nor will it motivate Ottawa to impose the sensible concentration-of-ownership and Canadian-ownership rules that could have saved the industry.

Never mind the rosy tales of Journalism's Role In Democracy you've been reading about online lately, often penned by former mainstream reporters who ought to know better. Nothing much except staff cuts has happened since the days in 1988 when I toiled on The Globe and Mail's copy desk, willfully defying the orders of a senior editor that we all write the pro-free-trade, pro-Brian-Mulroney headline on any story to mention the topic, no matter what it said.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and her NDP government -- principal victims of Postmedia's unrelenting campaign of vilification against progressive policies and politicians -- really should pick up the phone and call Trudeau and remind him about this.

Last week, a spokesperson for Heritage Minister Melanie Joly said government funding for publications needs to be updated for the digital age.

What do you want to bet this doesn't mean any help for wee entrepreneurial bloggers and the like who have actually made a success of digitization?

It does raise an interesting question about my former employer, Canada's former national newspaper, which has been hiding more and more of its largely redundant and derivative stenography behind an impenetrable paywall.

If we taxpayers are paying the Globe's tab, will we still have to pay extra to peek behind the green curtain? (Answer: Undoubtedly yes.)

Jason Kenney sworn in, Doug Ford eyes run for two jobs at once; chutzpah defined

In other political news yesterday, Jason Kenney, principal beneficiary of Postmedia's unrelenting anti-NDP campaigning and hero of the Western Canadian branch of the right-wing rage machine, was sworn in as the Honourable Member for Calgary-Lougheed at the Alberta Legislature.

At a speech to supporters soon thereafter, the United Conservative Party leader drew on his vast reserve of chutzpah to attack the deferential and occasionally timorous NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley for its supposed "anger machine." He promised a new era of "civility and respect for our democratic institution -- including our opponents."

Your blogger wasn't there, seeing as he was wearing blue jeans yesterday, and neither was former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, the only missing UCP MLA. Kenney's mom and Bernard the Roughneck, however, were.

Speaking of this same quality of sheer effrontery and impudence, in Ontario former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford has announced he will be running for the suddenly vacant position of Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leader. Ford is also running to follow in his late brother Rob's footsteps into the office of mayor of Toronto. I for one see no reason why he shouldn't occupy both much diminished offices at once!

In The Joys of Yiddish, author Leo Rosten (1908-1997) defined chutzpah as "that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan."

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: Unai Telleria/flickr

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