If The Liberal Government Really Wants To ‘Save’ The Media, Their Best Move Would Be To Stop Trying To Save It

Propping up media outlets by making them dependent on the government will further decrease public trust in the press.

The press is often referred to as the “fourth estate.”

This is a reference to the traditional three estates – the clergy, the commoners, and the nobility – and the press having become the fourth estate due to their significant power and influence.

Nowadays, whatever we think of the press, the idea that the media is something separate from the government and other institutions persists, and for good reason.

There are many government departments that are very similar to media outlets.

Communications staff write press releases and speeches. Consultants and public relations firms help plan out events and decide how to visually convey a message. Spin doctors seek to persuade and counter opposing messages. Unsurprisingly, many people in the media go into politics and vice-versa.

However, there is a fundamental difference between the press and government communications departments/consultants.

The press is supposed to hold the government accountable, acting as a check on the immense power of the state. After all, governments have a monopoly on violence and – as we saw during the pandemic – have far more power to interfere in our lives than many thought. While there are some principled politicians, many are only restrained by their fear of losing an election, which means they fear negative news coverage. This is why a robust free press is essential to the survival of democracy and to the maintenance of freedom.

What is the ‘press’?

Now, a question arises:

What is the press?

Who is the ‘media’?

The debate over this question is central to many of the political divides on issues like internet censorship, media bailouts, and restrictions on social media platforms.

The differing perspectives are explained in broad strokes below:

One side views the press and the media as something emergent, something that ‘grows’ out of the citizenry of a nation when free speech is relatively protected. The government doesn’t order the press to form, it forms when there is both a public demand for the government to be held accountable, and individuals willing to fulfill that demand. Thus, the press is not something that is set in stone, it can change over time. After all, the ‘press’ used to be all about printed newspapers, then radio and television expanded the definition, with the internet and social media expanding it further. Those who take the emergent and evolving viewpoint of the press – as I do – tend to think the government should step back and let the process unfold rather than trying to interfere.

Another side views the press and the media as something static and rigid. Only certain outlets can be considered ‘the press’ or ‘the media.’ If those outlets are lost, then the press is lost – or so the thinking goes. New forms of the ‘press’ are not really the press at all, they are pretenders, and they represent a danger to the public. New social media platforms are likewise a threat. Rather than representing a new way for people to communicate and a democratization of the media, social media represents an attack on the established outlets. That attack must be stopped by restricting those platforms, and using taxpayer money to prop up existing ‘real’ media outlets. The idea that everyone can be a reporter or opinion columnist if they have a phone and a social media platform is firmly rejected by those who share the ‘static & rigid’ view of the media.

As you can imagine, I don’t at all agree with the latter ‘static’ viewpoint of the press, and I’m guessing you don’t either.

However, it’s the view of the government, and many of the established media outlets themselves. Just as horse & buggy companies were fearful of the car, traditional media outlets are responding to a rapidly changing business environment (due to rapid technological advancement) by lashing out and demanding government interference to protect their own industries.

Now, some will quibble with the idea that social media companies represent significant technological advancement. Many criticize social media as something that only enables us to waste time and get angry.

Yet, the ability to – at almost no cost – get a message out to hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, or even millions of people in an instant is revolutionary. It is one of the most profoundly democratizing innovations in human history – regardless of whether that was the original intention or not.

Governments can now be criticized and called out by anyone and everyone. The bias of media outlets can be directly confronted, and those outlets have to compete much more aggressively than before. Individuals now have far more choice over which outlets they support and which they avoid – or they can start their own outlets if they so choose at a much lower cost than was ever possible before.

And this goes the other way. Those who call out the government and criticize established media outlets are also more accountable than ever. People in independent media or the political opposition are often called out for making mistakes or saying things that are untrue, and this process of accountability will – over time – hone all remaining media – independent & establishment – into more refined and more effective sources of information.

Fighting against unstoppable trends

Inventions cannot be un-invented. Sure, knowledge can be forgotten, but in today’s day and age – when information travels so rapidly and is copied endlessly, any useful idea cannot just disappear.

In that way, social media and the democratization of the media that it brings is not something that can be undone. Just as the changes brought about by the printing press could not be stopped (delayed at times, but not stopped), we will not ever go back to a world before social media was created, nor would we want to.

The static & rigid view of the media outlined earlier in this column is the modern-day equivalent of the established powers who feared the printing press. They could slow down the changes brought about by the printing press, but they were always going to lose in the end.

What we are seeing in Canada with Bill C-11, Bill C-18, and the myriad media bailouts is a government that is determined to waste immense amounts of money and political capital trying to stop trends that are unstoppable.

Amazingly, the government is aware of this, yet keeps doing it anyway:

“BRIEFING NOTE from @CdnHeritage says $595M #cdnmedia bailout failed to save jobs & included only “temporary” measures. Staff counted numbers & confirm heavily-subsidized newspapers cut jobs while growth occurred in unsubsidized digital startups.”

Subsidized outlets kept cutting jobs:

“Cabinet’s costly $595 million media bailout failed to save jobs and included only “temporary” measures, says a briefing note for Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez. Heavily-subsidized newspapers cut jobs while the only significant growth in media occurred with unsubsidized digital startups, wrote staff: “Overall job losses have continued upwards.””

So what is this all about?

Trying to further divide Canadians:

“Watch this. It’s a campaign speech. The core of a free and informed society! Undermines the very fabric of our democracy!

This is not about good policy. This is 100% about rage-farming to sharpen a political wedge.”


The Liberals have obviously decided – for political reasons – to promote themselves as the saviours of the media and the stalwart opponents of dastardly ‘big tech’ companies.

In doing so, they only hasten the weakening and potential demise of many establishment outlets.

The government has been pouring our taxpayer dollars into media companies for years – including the CBC.

In that time, those outlets continue to struggle in terms of ratings and revenue.

Fundamentally, the public understands that the media and the government cannot and must not be the same thing. Media outlets that depend on government funding will always be less trustworthy, because they have an incentive to favour the government. That doesn’t mean every reporter will refuse to hold the government accountable. And it doesn’t mean the bias will always be obvious. But it does mean that – over time – those outlets will drift more and more towards being like the government consultants, communications staff, and public relations specialists we discussed earlier.

Stay away, let the process play out

So, what should the government do if it really wants to ‘save the media’?


Stay away, let the public decide in the free market which media outlets it wants to support, what content it wants to consume, and what platforms it wants to use.

In a truly free society, those decisions should be made by each individual, not by a central government trying to dictate how ideas can be shared and communicated.

Spencer Fernando

Photo – Twitter


The damage being done by Bill C-18 makes it more important than ever for Canadians to support independent media. If you value my writing, you can make a contribution through PayPal or directly through Stripe below:


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