Thank you so much, Chair, vice-chairs, and members of the standing committee. It's a great opportunity for me and my colleague, Jagdeep Kailey, to make the presentation today.
I would like to start with an introduction about my media house. The Canadian Punjabi Post was started in 2002. It became Canada's first daily newspaper in the Punjabi language. It also became the first daily newspaper in any language published from the Peel Region. It was also the first daily newspaper in the Punjabi language to be published from anywhere in the world outside of India.
Back in those days, it was seen as a daredevil's gamble by many. Through our hard work and persistence, we have turned it into a mainstream newspaper among ethnic newspapers in Canada.
With a daily readership of more than 35,000, it stands tall in terms of its reach and credibility. It is respected for its fair and balanced reporting. Canadian institutions, both government and non-governmental, look to the Canadian Punjabi Post to gauge public opinion among immigrant communities living in the greater Toronto area on matters of their interest.
It plays a pivotal role in creating stronger ties of immigrants with their new country, Canada, and also towards strengthening Indo-Canadian ties. We are the only newspaper in the Punjabi language in Canada whose editorial content is 100% Canadian. Also, it is the only newspaper to write an editorial every single day.
More than 25,000 copies are published five days a week. Its website is read all over Canada. We are followed by over 25,000 people and businesses on social media, including Facebook pages.
I also host a radio program that is beamed across North America on 770 AM. It is aired on prime time from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on all weekdays from Monday to Friday. Radio Khabarsar, which means “news talk radio”, stands out from other ethnic radio programs due to its matchless quality and rich content. It aims to serve the varied needs of the South Asians, particularly its vibrant Punjabi community settled in Canada. Like the Canadian Punjabi Post, the content of our radio program is over 70% Canadian.
Regarding access of local communities to information, Indo-Canadians are politically more active than any other visible immigrant community in Canada because of their exposure to strong and rich democratic experiences back home in India. That explains their hunger for news and the need for a large number of Indo-Canadian media outlets.
Political parties of all stripes do round tables and media conferences with the ethnic media throughout the year. It happens more during elections. With three major elections—federal, provincial, and local—happening almost one after another, it keeps the local ethnic media busy and the local population engaged.
Brampton has emerged as a political test laboratory in Canada. It is said that how Brampton immigrants behave during an election is how the rest of the immigrant communities will likely vote in Canada; hence, there's more value to the ethnic media outlets.
As for the consequences and impacts of concentration in the media, we act as a gateway for business and political organizations to get access to the immigrant communities. But for us, they would find it very difficult to reach this important section of the Canadian population.
However, as said before, Indo-Canadians in general and Punjabis in particular are politically more active than other groups. This has led to a mushrooming of media outlets in the Punjabi language. There are so many weekly newspapers, radio programs, and television channels that it is almost impossible to create an inventory of them.
You see a new channel being started every other day. It has become a crazy situation now and is not a healthy sign for responsible journalism. There is an utter lack of professionalism. People without any training or commitment are entering the ethnic media just because they see it as a tool to promote themselves. It makes them feel better, but it causes many problems in the community.
Over-concentration of media is having a negative impact on the social life of the community. To stay one step up from the other, the dirty and petty matters of the community are discussed in disgusting details in public. It has a heavy cost in terms of impact on the social well-being of people who consume this information.
Hard-core elements within the community exert overt and covert pressures on us to cover their news, the majority of which is very controversial and is dangerous as well. There was an attack on my life in October 2010 because I said no to some of the things they wanted me to say. This has happened not only to me, but to many of us. At least my case was profiled in the mainstream media, but in the majority of other cases, journalists are beaten, threatened, and forced to keep silent, which is a dangerous trend that is happening on a large scale. Political patronage to the hard-core is dangerous to us in the ethnic media.
Political pressure is causing fractures within and between the communities, which is not a healthy trend. An editorial in the Brampton Guardian last year is an example.
In regard to the impact of digital media on local information, the new generation of immigrants is using digital media in a big way to create a space for themselves. Canadian youth born to immigrant parents are making waves through the use of digital media. New immigrants coming to Canada these days are more inclined to use digital media than print media. However, as a large section of immigrants are still not tech savvy, there continues to be a strong demand for print media, and it still the way to go because of its acceptability and receptivity. Things will change gradually to make room for the digital environment.
How do we see the future and where is the industry going? OMNI Punjabi television, an initiative of Rogers, had to cut down its operation because it could not sustain itself under the rising cost of hiring quality journalists. Similarly, two daily and several weekly newspapers in the GTA themselves have died unnatural deaths. That explains why serious journalism among ethnic media is missing. The print newspapers are already facing serious difficulties in surviving because of dying sources of revenue. The same is going to happen to radio and television channels.
The federal government must think of supporting well-meaning ethnic media outlets on the same pattern as it supports the CBC. It could be on a much smaller scale, but help is clearly needed. There should also be an initiative for us to hire professional journalists through subsidy programs. In the absence of such support, there is going to be a crisis among the ethnic media industry, and this will be a devastating blow to immigrant communities and to Canada as well.
The government should work with the CJF, the Canadian Journalism Foundation, or any other such initiative to support and strengthen our ethnic media.
Thank you very much.
The access to information is an issue if we're talking about recent immigrants. That is probably the most affected social group in this respect, because many of them don't speak English well, and their language of choice is almost always their native language. It especially applies to the seniors, the more elderly part of the population. They look for three types of information: information about Canada as a whole, the wider community; information about their ethnic community in Canada; and information about their home countries. They obviously can find the information about the wider Canadian community in the mainstream media, but as I've said, there is a language barrier.
To move to the second question about concentration in the media, and about the concentration process, that doesn't help, because when there are fewer mainstream media outlets or community media outlets—we're talking about geographic communities rather than ethnic communities—they tend to cover ethnic communities less and less because there are fewer of them, and they have to cover the same array of issues. The issues of the ethnic communities fall through the cracks as this process develops. Obviously, the ethnic media, the cultural media, have to compensate for this lack of coverage of their respective communities.
But the ethnic and cultural media do not cover only their communities. We always try to cover the wider community, and even some international issues. A lack of funding and, as the previous speaker mentioned, an inability to have professional staff and professional journalists on our editorial teams seriously reduce the opportunity for us to cover wider issues. As I've said, a lot of people, especially from the recent immigrant population, still turn to community media for the coverage of these kinds of issues.
The impact of digital media is quite substantial. I would say that community media are affected less than the mainstream media because there is huge technological progress being made at the moment. There are some platforms and media technologies that are still not being used, but it's all developing as we speak.
Our media group is currently starting to tap into that market. We are trying to position ourselves to be able to benefit from digital media and from the access to people who only use digital media as opposed to the printed media and even radio and television. It's very difficult at this stage to estimate the extent to which we will be able to benefit from digital media and the digital media market. For instance, it's very difficult to tell whether we will be able to compensate with digital advertising for the loss of the printed advertisements while still preserving the printed version of our newspaper, because it is only developing.
At the same time, there is also growing competition in that market, and for the community media as well, not only in the mainstream market. A lot of people are seeing opportunities—and actually the need—to develop digital outlets, and sometimes very informal outlets such as Facebook groups. They are being created. In our community and ethnic market, they're only starting to be created. It's very difficult to tell how long they will be able to survive and how they're going to affect the older community media, which is also entering this digital market. As I said, it's only developing.
However, I would say that the competition in that digital market for the community media is probably going to be as intense, if not even more intense, than in the mainstream markets of print, television, and radio. From the perspective of the ethnic and cultural media, I can tell you that the competition is very intense. From the community's standpoint and the wider community's standpoint, I consider this competition a very positive thing, because more voices are being heard and that contributes to the wider discussion.
In terms of the economic viability, it's too early to tell, but as for the government's position, I think that looking at supporting digital media and newer kinds of media in the same way that the government supports printed media through the aid to publishers program is probably worth looking at.
Not even businesses are coming together, not to mention that it's individuals who are trying to make their presence felt.
We are in a kind of catch-22 situation. Our advertisers in the newspapers are ethnic business people. They want to see their advertisement printed somewhere, because it gets.... You have to see that, and our audience, our readership, is that, but at the same time, there is another pull, which is digitalization. We have to be aware of that fact as well.
On the social media from the community, we call them Facebook media. They have set up their.... They tend to be media groups; they are not, but they say things that we cannot even afford to think of. That creates greater competition. You can say anything on social media and then you are done with it, but for us it becomes a greater challenge in how to position ourselves.
We are struggling on the one side with revenue streams that are based, as Mr. Grewal said, on ethnic business people's stores. They don't understand the compulsions or the difficulties we are facing, and at the same time, the social media digitalization is giving us a huge challenge.
I think most of what I've seen was related to Ukraine in the mainstream media, not to the Ukrainian Canadian community as such.
In talking about Ukraine, I don't know whether this will be off the topic, but I'll tell you one thing. Sometimes we see something that we consider a misrepresentation of what's going on in Ukraine.
For instance, it's not always called a Russian “invasion”. Although it's a Russian invasion and there are Russian regular military on the ground in Ukraine, which is not said very often in the Canadian mainstream media, the problem sometimes is called a “civil war”, although it's not a civil war. It's an invasion by another country.
This is what we, as Ukrainian Canadian media, feel a need to compensate for, but the problem is that we're quite small. We are much smaller, and we cannot bring that particular message across to the wider community, and I would call this the single biggest problem content-wise in terms of the mainstream Canadian media in covering any kind of Ukrainian issues.
I haven't seen a lot, to be honest, in the mainstream media about Ukrainian Canadian communities here. Probably when we have our festivals or Ukrainian independence day celebrations, it hits the news channels and mainstream papers. We try to cover all the issues, obviously, and we cover the local community issues more than we cover Ukraine, because there is a lot of information coming from Ukraine.
My media house never applied for that fund. I've heard about it. It's about $25,000 or so that we can get from the government to run our media house, which is just maybe a drop in the bucket. It doesn't change much, and there's maybe a lot of paperwork, but I never tried for that.
The suggestion I have for this committee is to start, as I said in my presentation, to subsidize the journalists who can produce Canadian content in all languages. They can be hired by us, with part of their salary paid by us, while part of their salary should be subsidized. This way, we can engage our community better with the Canadian content. That's my first suggestion.
Second, just as the government funds the CBC, there must be that sort of funding for the ethnic media papers.
I also had a suggestion about the Canadian Journalism Foundation. There should be an engagement between the ethnic media groups and the CJF. The CJF or any other organization like it must be supported in order to engage these media persons in the ethnic communities so that they will understand how important it is to provide proper information to the community. I think only one or two persons who are running media houses now are educated in media or have a journalism degree. The majority of them have just the tenth grade or the twelfth grade and they are running these media houses.
To run a barbershop, you have to have a barber's licence, but to run a daily newspaper or a radio program, which is providing such important information to the community or leading the community in a way, you don't need any kind of training. You don't need any kind of licence to run that kind of house.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to meet you.
Some of you, of course, I've known for centuries, although you're not as old as I am, and for some of you, I'm glad you're the new blood of Canadian politics.
The National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada represents about 800 publications from all over Canada and about 150 producers of TV and radio. The organization has a history of about 30 years. We are working for the benefit of the members of the organization, as well as making sure that Canadian interests are also served by our members.
To add to whatever the previous speakers said, I want to bring it to your attention that I sit on committees of the United Nations about media. I want to tell you there is no such thing as receiving from government official recognition in terms of being a journalist. In fact, for someone to be a journalist, it is not even required that they finish university or high school. They have done so because of the differentiations between the western world and some African countries, where sometimes journalists do not finish high school, and they are recognizing them as journalists—and I mean the United Nations. I want to bring that to your attention, because this plays a vital role in the development of the ethnic media and ethnic journalism.
Over a period of years, in 2009 and in 2013, we organized educational seminars with the help of some institutions in Toronto. We brought in people from all over Canada. That was, of course, with the support and help of Canadian Heritage, to which I want to express one more time our thanks. Another thing I want to bring to your attention is that, until five years ago, the so-called “publishers support” was aimed only at the mainstream media, either francophone or anglophone. The ethnic press was totally out of this.
Finally, in that period of about five years, I met the then minister of Canadian Heritage, James Moore, who also used to be a member of the media before his public life with Parliament. I explained to him the challenges and the difficulties we were meeting, and he accepted that, and for the first time, five years ago, thanks to James, this fund was expanded to also include ethnic media publications.
In the very first year, they put it at about $1 million for the ethnic media. Let me tell you that at that time the amounts the fund was carrying were about $67 million for the magazine industry and about $23 million for the non-daily Canadian papers. From all of that fund, they gave us only $1 million.
Finally, because my members didn't know what exactly they were going to meet, they tried to get into the fund, and they got only $700,000 in total. For the rest, as always, there was a gap of $2.5 million, which was going directly to Rogers' publications such as Chatelaine or Maclean's. Maclean's was receiving $2.5 million in support, if you can call it that, and my members were receiving $8,000 or $9,000.
Last year, this fund went up for the magazines to $53,404,285. For the non-daily papers, they distributed $15,433,313. From those amounts, we received $700,000 for the ethnic magazines—for some of them, I put it around—and about $700,000 for the non-daily papers. The rest, about $70 million, again went to the so-called mainstream media.
Last year, we discussed this situation time and again with the authorities at Canadian Heritage. In a multicultural society, this does not seem to be very fair.
I'm doing this job. I'm a journalist, and I've been a publisher for 50 years. As a matter of fact, I don't have a house. Many others can't have.... I don't know how I survived over the period of 50 years. We discussed that. Canadian Heritage finally came out and said they would try a survey to see what exactly they were going to do. A survey was done by Canadian Heritage, and the Carleton University school of journalism conducted the survey.
Let me tell you something. It is fair what you say. The problem is.... From a $2.5-million cap previously with Maclean's
magazine, after negotiations they brought that down to $1.5 million now. This is the maximum that Maclean's
magazine can receive. Of course, daily, I am facing Rogers, who is fighting me, because it lost $1 million from only one magazine, and Rogers has hundreds of magazines, as you know. Of that $53 million, probably $40 million is going to Rogers every year as a subsidy. My members are receiving $8,000, $12,000, or $6,000.
There were rules set previously, and those rules were that the government was subsidizing only sales of the magazines, which means that if you are selling a million copies, then, according to the price you are selling at, you are receiving a subsidy from the government. My people were not ready for those things. Usually, the ethnic press has free distribution, except for the subscriptions that they are sending directly.
But it is free distribution. When the matter came down to the rules, Canadian Heritage started cutting everyone: you are not selling, so you don't qualify for the program. Another thing they did was harass every member who submitted an application to submit an audit. The auditors were charging $4,000 every six months to do the auditing—
The situation of journalists has changed. There isn't a paper in this country that doesn't use a freelancer every day, so you're right, Mohammad. I know guys who blog and who have more followers on a blog than some newspapers in this country do. That's the reality of this business.
To use the word “journalist” is fine, but the editorial boards in this country—we were going to talk a little bit about this, but I ran out of time—are where this needs to be harnessed, right? Because I can steal from this freelancer, you're doing a story here or you're doing a story there, you bring it in, and then we do the editorial board. I would say that the editorial boards in every ethnic newspaper in the country are probably more important than the journalists.
I would like you to comment on that.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Saras, I do not know if you speak French.
Mr. Thomas Saras: Yes, I speak French.
Mr. Pierre Nantel: Okay.
First of all, Madam Chair, I gathered that the committee was probably going to continue its work in camera. Whatever, I hope that, if possible, we can debate our motions in a public session. That would be more transparent.
Mr. Saras, I have visited your organization's website and I see that a very large number of people from a variety of ethnic communities sit on your board of directors. That is quite impressive. You bring together almost all the communities that make up the new population of Canada. Your desire to handle Canadian news in the language of each of those communities is truly admirable.
Am I wrong to say that, apart from a few radio stations, most of your activities involve the print media? If government assistance were renewed, are you hoping for a new form of assistance, different support? If not, do you want, for example, the subsidized postal rate to be brought back? Structured assistance could strengthen the online presence of your publications and your articles. What kind of assistance do you think would be most constructive?
Yes. I believe that in the field of television, there should be some changes. For example, they accept and run the various programs from the various countries, and they sell them to Canadians, and what do they do? In a 24-hour program, they don't say even a word about Canada.
Now, just one second here, the question is that this is a Canadian property, the property of the Canadian people. You give it to someone to make money, but you don't give anything back to him, because, for whatever reason, exactly as in the newspapers, he prefers to have the news in his mother tongue.
This is an abuse of the system, and it is very important that the government take care of this matter. Otherwise, we are going to have Mr. Putin bringing his message to Canada as being whatever—an angel—and the Canadian government itself is unable to communicate a message to Canadians. This is very important, and this is a matter for the CRTC. First of all—
—but the person who created multiculturalism, I had the honour to know him personally. He thought of a Canada with a perception that everyone was feeling at home. The ethnic press is part of this perception, either with the digital or with the hard copy.
This is something that we have to study and we have to think about. We have to decide how to do it. Look at how many radio channels and TV channels there are. Can you tell me how many of those channels are in the hands of members of the ethnic media and the ethnic press? Two or three, probably. In Toronto, as far as I know, there is CHIN Radio, with Lombardi, who is a third-generation Canadian, but he continues, and there is a Portuguese guy, who is a first-generation Canadian.
The rest are all controlled by the mainstream media. If you go and ask them to give you half an hour, they will ask you for $600 for that time. You cannot get from the small market that you are serving $600 per hour, so automatically the system is going to collapse.
Thank you, Madam Chair. Thank you for reading the motion in French.
Mr. Lauzon told me that he was interested in the motion but that he wanted to complete it with an amendment that would include the Paralympic aspect too. I feel that is a good idea.
I would be the first to say that, when a delegation of athletes is leaving for a competition, it is not the time to bother the board of directors and disrupt the athletes' training plans.
However, I feel that it would be good for everyone to know that we have taken a look at how things are going now. I see the move as constructive, not disruptive.
I think that Mr. Lauzon is going to want to introduce his amendment, which seems very appropriate to me. I am sorry that I did not think of it myself.
I would like to point out that, for starters, when you read this motion, you see that it talks about the most recent investment in the latest federal budget. I don't think this has anything to do, therefore, with the study we're undertaking at the moment.
While I think we talked about the Olympics and Paralympics as being extremely timely and about having to get to it before the 17th of June, there is not a timeline set on this. I know that the minister said she was going to talk to CBC about what things would look like.
I think this is an important motion. I would like to see this motion done some justice, so I think one should think about the timing. As Mr. Van Loan suggested, I don't think it would be really fair to hold it on a day when we may or may not be meeting. What we're talking about is not.... I'm not hearing people say that they're opposed to the motion per se. I think what they're speaking about is the timing of this motion and when this should take place, so I will call the vote on this motion as it stands.
However, if you wish, you may say you would put it off to the fall, in which case we don't have to make it sound as though people voted against the motion. That's just a little bit of cuteness here.
What do you think, Mr. Nantel? Comment?
Thank you, Madam Chair. You raise a valid point. However, Mr. Cormier, whom Mr. Samson knows well, I am sure, is coming to talk to us about news. He will not be talking about the general direction and the parliamentary appropriation, but about news. Of course, that is a very relevant topic in our study.
I have no monopoly on wisdom here, but I feel that it would be appropriate to meet those people quite quickly so that we find out what shape they want the reinvestment to take. Mr. Cormier's participation is perfectly appropriate when it comes to regional news. However, as you rightly pointed out, Madam Chair, that has nothing to do with this motion.