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Who Will Be Held Accountable for QCJO’s Failures?

It’s no secret that community and non-profit media organizations, which play a crucial role in representing underrepresented groups, have long been excluded from key revenue sources. Consequently, the number of community media organizations across Canada has drastically declined and may never recover.

Despite an increasing demand for their services, community media remain the only independent entities governed by the community and volunteers, ensuring that diverse voices and opinions are heard. While some community media maintain multiple components like TV channels, radio, and web-based or printed newspapers, others focus solely on print. The Canadian government has made efforts to help news organizations create additional revenue sources; however, initiatives have consistently excluded the majority of community media organizations. One glaring example is the QCJO (Qualified Canadian Journalism Organization) designation, which unfairly deems community media with a CRTC broadcast license ineligible despite their significant contributions to news and journalism.

Community media organizations, such as U Multicultural, serve ethnocultural and Indigenous communities in Manitoba and across Canada and find themselves particularly disadvantaged. As a licensed broadcaster, U Multicultural produces local news for its web portal alongside TV and radio programs. Before obtaining their broadcast licenses, U Multicultural applied for the QCJO designation. The processing by the Journalism Division—a group that seems to operate from a concrete bunker, impervious to phone or email inquiries—was lengthy and disorganized. Attempts to communicate with Journalism Division officers revealed a shocking level of incompetence. When asked about their journalism or media experience, officers provided no answers, leading to the absurd conclusion that those determining what constitutes journalism lack any relevant experience themselves.

After months of waiting with no set decision deadline, U Multicultural received a denial letter stating that their content did not qualify as journalism. This was surprising, given that journalism and news production are their core activities. Upon reviewing the decision letter, multiple inconsistencies and incorrect interpretations were found, including mentions of materials never produced by U Multicultural. This confirmed concerns about the competence of the decision-making officers and the poor analysis applied to the provided content. When questioned about these discrepancies, the Journalism Division had nothing to add. Even after submitting a review request, the decision remained unchanged.

U Multicultural submitted service complaint letters to the Minister of National Revenue and contacted the ombudsperson, requesting a timeline and accountability for the review mistakes. However, all parties, including the Minister’s office, the ombudsperson, and the Journalism Division, remained silent and unresponsive.

Meanwhile, the Ontario government has taken steps to promote local products, services, businesses, and workers. The Minister of Finance, the Minister of Transportation, and the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Gaming have directed four large government agencies—the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), the Ontario Cannabis Store, Metrolinx, and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG)—to allocate a minimum of 25 per cent of their annual advertising spending to Ontario publishers. These agencies, among the province’s largest advertisers, spend over $100 million on marketing each year. By reserving a significant portion of their advertising budgets for Ontario-based publishers, the government supports these publishers and their workers who create local news content. Similarly, recent changes to the Canadian Journalism Labour Tax Credit, which received Royal Assent, increased the cap on labour expenditures per eligible newsroom employee from $55,000 to $85,000 and temporarily raised the tax credit rate from 25 per cent to 35 per cent for four years. However, these measures again exclude U Multicultural, which lacks the QCJO designation due to the incompetence of Journalism Division officers and the broadcast license criterion.

The solutions are clear:

  • First, remove the broadcast holder criteria for QCJO eligibility in the Income Tax Act for community media, which often have broadcast licenses but also post news on web platforms.
  • Second, replace incompetent Journalism Division officers with media professionals and hold them accountable for their actions.

Colleagues from community TV and radio stations share similar pessimism about their prospects of becoming QCJO-eligible. They conclude that the current discriminatory tactics of decision-makers at various government levels will inevitably lead to the disappearance of community media organizations in Canada. Who will be held accountable for QCJO’s failures?

– Taya Rtichsheva, U Multicultural

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