Ethnic newspapers have served Canada's diverse communities for decades, but when the pandemic struck, hundreds across the country stopped printing or moved exclusively online. Now, a federal bill currently before the Senate has the potential to help the situation.
The National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada (NEPMCC) — which currently represents 650 small print publications in more than 100 languages nationwide — says 400 of its members either stopped their print versions or halted operations altogether during the pandemic.
"Two years ago, we had about 1,200 outlets as members," NEPMCC president and CEO Thomas Saras told The Early Edition.
But stakeholders are hoping Senate approval of Bill C-18, known as the Online News Act, will give ethnic press the bargaining power with online platforms like Google to attract much needed advertising dollars.
Online News Act
Bill C-18 is designed to require web giants to compensate journalism publications for reposting their content.
Federal Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has argued the bill will "enhance fairness" in the digital news marketplace by creating a framework and bargaining process for behemoths such as Google and Meta, which owns social media sites Facebook and Instagram, to pay media outlets.
"It is about protecting the future of a free and independent press. It is about ensuring that Canadians have access to fact-based information. It is about protecting the strength of our democracy," said Rodriguez in December when the bill was before the House of Commons.
The bill passed 213 votes to 114 on Dec. 14 and is now with the Senate for further consideration.
While C-18 could help those ethnic publications occupying an online space, more is needed to help publishers of print papers that older-generation immigrants rely on for information and newcomers depend on for classified ads, Saras says.
Propping up print
Mandeep Singh is the publisher of two weekly newspapers, the Indo-Canadian Voice and the Indo-Canadian Awaaz, which are printed in English and Punjabi, respectively, in Metro Vancouver.
He said in the last couple of years, businesses who had advertised in the print editions began putting their money into social media and online platforms because of the pandemic.
"People were not picking up the newspaper," said Singh, who joined Saras on The Early Edition on Monday.
Singh said some of that business is trickling back, but ad revenue remains too low for the papers to survive on.
While Senate approval of C-18 could help, Saras knows more is needed to help print publications.
He is currently lobbying Ottawa for more direct financial support in the form of the Local Journalism Initiative, which the Liberals rolled out in 2019 with a five-year commitment of $50 million to support local, diverse journalism.
"Outlets that are active, they are receiving funds through the Local Journalism Initiative," said Saras about NEPMCC's members.
He said for the last two years, the council received $2 million to distribute as aid to members. This year, after an October 2022 government announcement that additional funds would be added to the initiative, Saras is hoping that amount will be closer to $5 million.
For Singh, any help is welcome.
"We have been serving this community for more than 25 years and people trust these newspapers," he said. "We are trying our best, whatever we can do."