3. Possible solutions
The vulnerability of the French-language media in Ontario, and of Canadian media generally, has generated considerable serious debate in recent years. Stakeholders like the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario, the Public Policy Forum, the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, the stakeholders that contributed to the work of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and several others, have looked at the issues and come up with a range of recommendations to address the situation.109, 110, 111, 112
The time for action is now.
In its Action Plan for Official Languages — 2018-2023,113 the federal government recently announced $14.5 million in new funds for community media capacity-building. The government of Ontario must indisputably play a key role in implementing solutions, but it cannot do it alone. Lasting solutions will require contributions from all media-sector stakeholders because of its many dimensions. Also essential is the determination to modernize as well as an unprecedented level of collaboration among the stakeholders.
Nevertheless, the Government of Ontario is the public protector of the French language in the province. Accordingly, it has a leadership role to play not only in curbing the deterioration of the French-language-media ecosystem in Ontario but most importantly in maintaining its vitality.
The Commissioner believes that in the short term, steps must be taken to counter the negative impact of the decline in advertising revenue on the viability of French-language- media in Ontario. As has been pointed out repeatedly, the Ontario government is partly responsible for this decline in revenue because of the many government ministries and agencies that fail to publish their communications in French in the French-language media.
The Commissioner recommends that the Minister Responsible for francophone Affairs, in 2018- 2019, strike an advisory committee to provide guidance to the government in matters pertaining to the french-language media to develop, prioritize and recommend concrete measures to ensure the viability of francophone media.
Its terms of reference would be to develop, prioritize and recommend concrete, achievable and measurable courses of action for the development and sustainability of the Francophone media in Ontario.
The committee would include representatives from the various government ministries and agencies concerned, as well as sector stakeholders and experts.
It would begin its work in the current fiscal year under the authority of the Office of Francophone Affairs.
THE COMMISSIONER FURTHER RECOMMENDS:
- amendments to the Communications in french Guidelines to include 1) an accountability mechanism and 2) the obligations pertaining to communications in french in the Advertising Content Directive and any other directives;
- adoption of a regulation on communications in french in 2018-2019;
- the annual publication of a report on the compliance rate with the new amended regulations and guidelines, beginning in 2019-2020;
- development of a new media-brief model 114 that clearly enforces compliance with the regulatory framework; and
- training for employees and heads of communications sections in the public service and in advertising agencies on a regular and periodic basis, accompanied, as of 2019, by a report on the number of public servants and agencies trained.
- the introduction of a pilot Ontario french-language media financial support program; and
- the introduction of measures to stimulate the production and consumption of french- language digital content by young people.
Furthermore, the Commissioner recommends that the government consider the following steps for the survival and development of the province’s French-language media:
- The introduction of a pilot Ontario french-language-media financial-support program. The program would involve two phases:
The “financial stabilization” phase:
- reasonable contributions to stabilize the core financing of recipients;
- conditional funding in support of a sound, viable and measurable business plan;
- performance indicators that would be evaluated on an annual basis; and
- a focus on the most vulnerable media, mainly news and community media.
The “digital modernization and innovation” phase:
- support for projects with strong potential for a positive impact on the development of recipients;
- openness to a wide range of projects, on condition that applicants can demonstrate and measure their added value. This could involve content production and deployment initiatives on different digital platforms, the acquisition of cloud services and technology, the introduction of data-analysis processes and tools, training, digital audience development projects, etc.;
- performance indicators to be evaluated at the end of each project; and
- a focus on established media and fast-growing new media.
This pilot program would be developed under the authority of the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs advisory committee, which would also be responsible for evaluating the results of the program and for making recommendations on its possible extension.
The introduction of measures to stimulate the production and consumption of french-language content for young people. The following initiatives would be explored or strengthened:
- regular consultations (social media groups, school tours, roundtables, etc.) of young people about their interests and media consumption habits;
- measures to encourage French language school boards to support student media and extracurricular/school activities involving the production of French-language content; and
- collaboration between French-language media and schools to provide students with guidance on how to create French-language content and how to obtain exposure for their productions.
All of the above would align perfectly with the current deliberations of the Ministry of Education and education stakeholders on the core competencies required to prepare young people for the future labour market.
- Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario, Livre blanc : Les Médias francophones en Ontario, Septembre 2017, p. 34-36. Available online at https://monassemblee.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/LivreBlanc-Media-2017_09_20.pdf
- Public Policy Forum, The Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age, January 2017, p. 86. Available on line at https://www.ppforum.ca/publications/shattered-mirror-news-democracy-trust-digital-age/
- Peter Miller and David Keeble, op. cit.
- House of Commons Canada, DISRUPTION: Change and Churning in Canada’s Media Landscape, June 2017, Report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, 42nd Parliament, 1st session, p. 83 to 86. Available online at https://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/42-1/CHPC/report-6
- Supra note 16.
- A media brief is a type of guide to help advertising agencies comply with the requirements and limitations established by a communications section of a government ministry or agency.