Publishers want Facebook and Google to share ad revenue amid COVID-19 decline

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OTTAWA – Publishers who represent the majority of Canadian newspapers have written an open letter to the federal government urging immediate action to ensure that digital giants like Facebook and Google share their advertising revenues with Canadian media companies.

The letter, which appeared in an ad in national newspapers on Saturday, says the situation is urgent, with media companies suffering huge drops in advertising revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Publishers point to recent action in Australia, where the country’s treasurer announced mandatory measures to force digital companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter to pay the media for using their content.

The measures were scheduled to be completed by November, but are now being accelerated due to sharp drops in advertising dollars caused by COVID-19 – cuts that have forced many newspapers to stop printing.

Bob Cox, publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press and one of the signatories to the letter, says that newspaper advertising revenues in Canada have fallen by at least 50%, making the newspaper industry unsustainable.

“The newspapers are fighting for their survival right now,” he said.

The wage subsidy that is part of the Liberals’ multi-billion dollar pandemic emergency program will help, Cox said, calling the program “life-saving.”

The Liberal government is also launching a $ 30 million COVID-19 awareness campaign, which has also been billed as support to the media industry, but Cox noted that these measures are short-term fixes.

“We anticipate that the impact of COVID-19 and the drop in advertising will continue for some time, at least until 2020 and probably until 2021, so we will be dealing with this drop in advertising for a long time “, did he declare. .

“We have to look at the bigger picture, the longer term problems, and this is one of those longer term problems. “

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said last month that the government is approaching the implementation of long-promised tax credits for newspapers to meet current revenue challenges in the sector. The most important of these measures is a tax credit that will allow qualified newspapers to claim up to 25% of the wages or salaries they pay their journalists or other eligible employees.

The credit, which is not available to broadcasters, will be retroactive to wages paid from January 1, 2019.

A panel to assess whether the media are eligible for these tax measures will begin informing the first media of their qualification for this program this spring, with payments to come this summer, said Guilbeault press secretary Camille Gagne- Raynauld.

“In addition, we are speeding up the processing of requests for our Aid to Publishers program and we anticipate that funds will be paid to the recipients selected in June,” she added, referring to a program aimed at helping print magazines and non-daily newspapers.

Regarding measures taken by Australia and France to set July deadlines for digital giants to start paying for copyrighted multimedia content, Gagne-Raynauld said the federal government “Followed closely what is done abroad in terms of media support”, but did not elaborate.

Cox says he understands that the federal government has deployed billions of dollars in aid to Canadian workers and employers affected by the pandemic while facing a public health emergency.

But implementing measures to ensure that the digital giants share the advertising revenues they earn from content created by Canadian journalists, which they have featured on their platforms, would level the playing field for the media industry in Canada, said Cox.

It would also help the media industry to overcome the long-term effects of the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn on news companies.

“The newspapers and the media in general were very, very precious during the COVID-19 pandemic, they informed the public, they fulfilled their role, the public trusted them to provide them with information on this very important issue Said Cox.

“We think it’s time to build a solid business model for them in the future. We want to be there for the next time we need us. “

Facebook, Google and Twitter did not immediately respond to comment.

Facebook announced in March that it was spending $ 100 million to support the information industry during the COVID-19 crisis, and Google also has a Google News initiative, aimed at “working with the news industry to help journalism thrive in the digital age. “

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 2, 2020.

Torstar has an investment in La Presse Canadienne as part of a joint venture with subsidiaries of The Globe and Mail and La Presse in Montreal.

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