World Trade Organization may bring down hammer on Canada
By Joshua Budd
Information about a confidential report from the World Trade Organization indicates the federal government may be forced to end cultural protection laws for Canadian magazines.
The Canadian Magazine Publishers Association issued a statement Jan. 17 outlining the details of the report leaked from Geneva. The report said Canadian policies to protect culture and Canadian content in magazines may be in contravention of international trade agreements.
The report points to a federal law which disallows tax deductions for businesses advertising in split-edition magazines. A split-edition magazine is a Canadian version of a foreign magazine with similar editorial content substituted with Canadian advertisers.
David Spencer, dean of Western's school of journalism, said the WTO's report comes in the wake of a dispute between the Canadian government and American publishing corporations dating back to the late 1960s when Canada passed the law.
He said the recent decision from Geneva, if confirmed, will be a massacre for general circulation magazines in Canada like Saturday Night and Maclean's.
Spencer said foreign publications distributing magazines in Canada will be able to offer cheaper advertising space to Canadian businesses because the majority of revenue is raised in the country of origin. As a result, revenue from Canadian advertising will go towards foreign magazines and foreign content.
"Advertising agencies are not patriotic. They look for the largest audience with the lowest costs," Spencer said.
Robert Lewis, editor-in-chief of Maclean's, said if the WTO decides against Canadian laws, it will be a serious blow to Canadian publishing. "Anybody could come into Canada, spend no money on editorial content and cream off of advertising."
He said there is a fixed advertising pie Canadian publications depend on to cover editorial costs. Without that revenue the Canadian story will not get told.
"Decisions will be made by somebody in New York as to what is important to Canadians," Lewis said. "Nobody is calling for a ban on foreign publications only a level playing field. We just want to preserve what we have."
Spencer said the WTO report could set the stage for future attempts by American companies to override protection policies in Canadian television and radio.
"The whole cultural protectionist industry in Canada has irritated the U.S.," Spencer said. "America has put everything on the line as a marketable product."