Media workers share solutions for a sector in crisis

Full-time jobs are disappearing. Freelance work and wages are diminishing. Perhaps it’s time for media workers to put forward solutions to a sector in crisis.

A group of freelancers got together on Wednesday May 4 to discuss an important topic: “What future is there for media workers in the digital age?”. The meeting, organized by the Canadian Freelance Union (CFU) in Vancouver, was well attended. Among the various solutions discussed, the group heard it might be time to dust off a European proposal that would fund journalism through a levy on Internet service providers (ISP).

“Telecommunications companies are doing very, very well,” freelance science writer Leigh Phillips told the group. He proposed reporters consider resuscitating a failed attempt by European journalists to have a levy imposed on ISPs to fund journalism.

Philips explained that the British-based National Union of Journalists proposed that funds gathered from the levy be distributed to consumers in vouchers which could be used to purchase newspapers, online publications or other “hard news” publications. The 2010 submission to the European Commission was never acted on.

Though it’s obvious news companies are suffering, Phillips said, “It’s not practical to expect government to dedicate public money towards journalism at a time when health care is being cut back and education is being cut back.”

This comes at a time when Liberal Member of Parliament and Heritage Committee chair Hedy Fry is currently examining Canadian news reporting and how it impacts communities. The study includes corporate concentration of media companies and the impact of the Internet on the news community.

The CFU-sponsored event also heard how many journalists are being forced to moonlight in order to pay their bills. Burnaby Now reporter Jennifer Moreau explained how her bargaining unit, Unifor Media Union Local 2000, has lost about half its membership in the last decade. “As you know, we are in huge turmoil right now.”

Moreau said the union is looking at different places to organize workers, including in the digital news community. She urged journalists to work with other journalists — and groups such as the CFU — to combat the alienation that often goes with working in the freelance world.

Freelance writer Jessica Barrett described how breaking into journalism with a full-time, union job — once the norm — has become an almost impossible dream, one that is actually more insecure than working freelance. “You get your foot in the door, but the door never opens any more,” Barrett said.

Tanya Luciani, from Unifor Local 830M at CityTV, said the networks have shown they aren’t that interested in quality journalism. “They don’t want to have a strong journalistic community in Canada, because they have to pay for it.”

The move towards digital broadcasting removes the restrictions and obligations on Canadian media companies to produce local news programming they are required to offer under broadcast licences. More movement towards digital means less Canadian news programming. “They will not need a broadcast licence anymore,” Luciani said. “We need to get active right now.”

The event was held as part of the organizing work the CFU is doing to outreach to freelancers in Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. To sign up to be a member or to arrange a call with an organizer, follow us on Facebook

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