Lana Payne speaks at the HoC Canadian Heritage Standing Committee on state of Canadian media landscape


Unifor National President Lana Payne spoke at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on Feb. 15, 2024 about job cuts in the media sector, shrinking newsrooms and harassment of journalists and media workers in Canada.

Here is the transcript of her remarks:

Good afternoon, Madame Chair, and members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

It really is a pleasure to join you today and I would like to thank my fellow witnesses for their excellent opening remarks.

Our union represents more than 10,000 media workers across the country, in broadcast television, radio, newspapers, digital, and film production.

I can tell you they are dedicated and passionate about their work, tough and principled, they care about the important role they play in our democracy, in telling stories, in holding the powerful to account, in making sure we have the information, as Canadians, we need every day to make the decisions to make in our lives. They understand their responsibility.

But our members face a number of very tough realities at the moment.

You’ve heard it here. A media sector in crisis. Widespread job loss. The destruction of local news in so many places across Canada. Harassment and violence on the job.

And a concerted effort by some in the political class to erode trust in journalism itself. Their integrity called into question as they are accused of all kinds of things including the latest, being “a tax-funded mouthpiece for the PMO.”

I’d like to provide some context on the state of local news in Canada at the moment.

In just the last 14 months, the media sector has undergone a brutal list of cuts and closures.

Postmedia, 11% of its editorial staff.

BCE: 1,300 jobs and including closing radio stations last year.

Nordstar Capital. Eliminated two-thirds of Metroland’s work force, converting more than 70 weekly papers to digital-only.

And just this month, Corus/Global cut more jobs.

And last week, BCE announced the lay off 4,800 employees in both telco and media including 800 Unifor members.

On the media side, the cuts included all but one noon-hour newscast in Toronto and weekend newscasts in most major markets across the country. (As if the news stops at Friday at 5 p.m.)

BCE also killed W5 – the longest-running investigative news program in Canada. Apparently, we are told, it will be replaced with re-runs of the American comedy, The Big Bang Theory.

I don’t have time to list all the cuts because we’d be here all week.

It’s almost impossible to measure the impact this is having on local communities, where so-called “news deserts” are leaving Canadians – especially those living in small towns and rural areas – without access to meaningful, relevant local news.

Canadian telecommunications and media companies have a responsibility that is bigger than shareholders. They have a responsibility to Canadians and to Canada. And to journalism.

Fact-based journalism matters and the truth, as you’ve heard, has never been more important.

Fake news has infested the fabric of our society, sowing distrust in media, in government, in institutions.

And in the middle of that chaos, we need the media to tell our stories, to uncover truths, to hold the powerful to account.

We understand that no single piece of legislation, fund or subsidy will be enough to solve this crisis.

But, there are things we can do. We can renew and expand the Local Journalism Initiative, a program that supports the creation of original civic journalism in underrepresented communities across Canada. It is slated to expire in April.

There is also the Canadian Journalism Tax Credit, which was recently extended and expanded in the Fall Economic Statement. An important move that Unifor called for and supported. Governments, both federal and provincial, can earmark bigger portions of their advertising budgets for local news. Local TV, radio, and newspaper and as you’ve just heard, Canadian digital media.

Now, a few words on the other crisis. Increased harassment and violence.

Employers, workers and their unions, including Unifor, journalism schools, governments, and even members of the public, all have a role to play, as do political leaders, Madame Chair.

In closing, I stress that the layoffs, downsizing, and closures that I have highlighted today cannot continue if we actually want to have local news in this country.

And to conclude, journalists deserve to work harassment-free no matter where that work is. Online, covering a protest in downtown Ottawa, or even in the foyer of the House of Commons.

Thank you very much.