Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould yesterday said cabinet will spend $7 million to hire monitors to “critically assess online news reporting” in election-year coverage. Government-sponsored fact checkers were not publicly identified. One is a group led by a former Toronto Star executive.
“Ultimately it’s not our job to tell Canadians what is good or bad information, but to provide them the tools and the resources to, when something comes to them, to make a choice on their own and to say where this information is coming from, who is behind it, and what their objective is,” Gould told reporters.
Media monitoring would not apply to newspapers. Gould did not explain what criteria monitors would use to assess news stories. The Canada Elections Act section 91 already prohibits the publication of “false statements of fact” involving a candidate or political party.
The Act’s fake news ban has never been used though it’s been in force since 2001. Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault in testimony last November 7 in the Senate said his office already monitors Twitter, Facebook and other social media for falsehoods to “make sure electors have correct information”.
“When you open up a newspaper, you have a sense this is coming from a journalist who’s professional, who has done their research, who has worked at it, and whose information is coming from a reliable source,” said Gould. “Of course, depending on which newspaper that is, you have a sense of where that information is coming from. When you go onto a social media platform and you see a meme or you see a story, if it’s being shared by a friend or a cousin or someone trusted, you may implicitly share that information because it’s coming from a trusted source.”
“The objective is to have civil society organizations in Canada who can help provide some of the civic awareness and education to evaluate news, digital media, etcetera, the information coming to Canadians, so they can make their informed choice of how they ingest this information, and how they share it or not,” said Gould.
One monitor, the Public Policy Forum of Ottawa, last November 28 confirmed it applied for funding to act as federally-subsidized fact checker. The Forum’s CEO Edward Greenspon is a former vice-president of the Toronto Star.
A spokesperson said the Forum was not influenced by the Liberal Party. “The Public Policy Forum does not receive government funding,” communications director Carl Neustaedter earlier told Blacklock’s. “It is independent and non-partisan.” Public accounts show the Forum received $593,000 in federal contracts and fees since 2015.
Government agencies to date including the Privy Council Office, Department of Justice and Department of Canadian Heritage have refused to disclose records on dealings with the Forum’s Digital Democracy Project to “expose” unreliable news stories.