Would Canadians Benefit From Licensed Journalists?

Photo illustration by Mandy Moon

What some journalists are doing to avoid Fake News.

By Mandy Moon 

Canada doesn’t have a heavy-handed approach to how journalism is practised. But some say that a licensing system would improve the quality of reporting in this country, offering it as a possible solution to the problem of fake news.

In December of 2016, the National Observer’s editor-in-chief Linda Solomon Wood gave a presentation to a House of Commons committee that, in part, argued for an accreditation system for journalists.

“We’re in a pretty dangerous situation,” she told the Commons committee.

Solomon Wood, among others, is concerned that anyone can market themselves as a journalist, particularly people interested in spreading fake news. Solomon Wood told the Langara Journalism Review in an email interview that she still sees merit in a licensing system.

“All around the world, thousands and thousands of people are looking for ways to fight fake news, which can and has been deadly,” she says. “Anything we can do to distinguish the journalism produced based on the accepted standards of public service reporting is urgent.”

Those who argue against an accreditation system say that there are already mechanisms in place to hold journalists accountable and worry that a regulatory body could wield undue influence on what stories get published and by whom.

Andrew Holota, editorial director with Black Press Media, is not in favour of accreditation and is skeptical that a standardized, formal process could lead to better journalism.

“If we’re seeking to control or credential individuals, is that for the greater good of journalism and the free press?” he asks.  

Many Canadian journalists are asking similar questions about the federal government’s proposed tax breaks to qualified news organizations in the 2019 budget.

Jesse Brown, the founder of Canadaland, said in a tweet that the policy will “create a caste of state-recognized news [organizations] deemed to be of higher public value, and a lower class that is not. I’m not aware of any other Western democracy that has ever done this.”

To qualify as a Qualified Canadian Journalism Organization (QCJO), a newsroom must be Canadian-controlled and “primarily focused on matters of general interest and reports of current events.”

The Canadian Association of Journalists said in a blog post that “this definition will eliminate a number of sports and arts-focused publications and may eliminate a wide number of newer outlets.”

Once granted, QCJOs will have access to new federal tax incentives. Incentives include a 25 per cent refundable tax credit on wages paid to newsroom employees and the ability to issue tax receipts.

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