Paul Godfrey appeared before the Heritage Committee last week to ask the government for a hand. It was more than a little ironic that the publisher who would prefer to get government out of our lives was coming to it cap in hand. But, Tom Walkom writes, Canadian governments have been giving publishers hand outs for a long time:
In his book Making National News, Ryerson University historian Gene Allen details the agonizing debates among publishers over the federal government’s handsome subsidy to their wire service co-operative, Canadian Press.
The subsidy was required in part because some Canadian publishers were unwilling or unable to pay the high rates charged by telegraph companies for transmitting news over the wire.During the First World War, publishers also convinced Ottawa that a government-subsidized Canadian wire service would act as a pro-British antidote to news routed through the U.S.-based Associated Press.At one point, Canada’s wire service was subsidized by both the British and Canadian governments.In the early years, Ottawa rewarded friendly newspapers by contracting out government printing to them. Later, publishers lobbied for and won reduced rate postage for newspapers. At a time when many readers received their papers through the mail, this was a significant bonus.Still later, publishers persuaded Ottawa to change the income tax system to favour domestic publications. Those businesses that advertised in Canadian newspapers and magazines could write the cost off. Those that advertised in foreign publications could not.Known informally as the Maclean’s law, this rule proved of particular benefit to the newsmagazine of that name.
Surprisingly, Walkom believes Godfrey's proposal has merit -- perhaps not just because Postmedia is drowning in debt, but because Walkom's own publisher, Torstar, lost $53.5 million in the first quarter of this year.
These are tough days for newspapers. But they're still indispensable.