Do Trudeau’s Liberals want another monopoly in Canadian news with Bill C-18?

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Published September 25, 2023 at 9:27 am

Do Trudeau's Liberals want another monopoly in Canadian news with Bill C-18?

A news monopoly could form in Canada due to Bill C-18 and the Trudeau government doesn’t seem to be aware (or care).

It has been almost two full months since Meta, which operates Facebook and Instagram, began blocking Canadian news on its platforms. It began blocking some content in June and rolled out a complete Canadian news blackout in August, leaving users with no access to breaking stories impacting their communities.

No urgency on behalf of the government to resolve an issue that no other country on earth is grappling with. 

And it appears there’s no end in sight and no urgency on behalf of the government to resolve an issue that no other country on earth is grappling with.

Meta has blocked news in response to Bill C-18, the Online News Act.

The bill, which will force big tech companies such as Meta and Google to compensate Canadian news companies for the stories that appear on their platforms, is disastrous for hundreds of smaller publishers across Canada.

Major media companies such as the CBC (which already receives financial support from the government) support the legislation.

While major media companies such as CBC (which already receives financial support from the government) and Torstar (which recently announced that it’s shutting down all of its physical Metroland papers and moving all of that content online) support the legislation, smaller businesses know this legislation has dire consequences for local publishers and the communities that rely on them.

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In a letter to readers, Toronto Star editor Anne Marie Owens argued that big tech companies benefit from sharing Canadian news and should, therefore, enter into agreements with companies to pay for such content.

But does Facebook benefit more from sharing our content than we, the publishers, do?

The bill, Owens argues, is compelling the companies to do what’s “fair.”

But does Facebook benefit more from sharing our content than we, the publishers, do?

Facebook says no, and other experts agree that legislation as flawed as the Online News Act can only benefit larger media companies at the expense of smaller ones.

CBC is “likely the biggest beneficiary.”

“The current regulations are harming not only smaller news businesses but people in general and researchers and others who cannot access news right now on Meta platforms, particularly Facebook. The effect will be worse when users cannot independently analyze, compare and verify information about an incident on Google,” says Saad Hammadi, a global governance fellow at the Balsillie School of International Affairs at the University of Waterloo who specializes in human rights.

“You cannot promote freedom of information and put restraints on it at the same time,”

“You cannot promote freedom of information and put restraints on it at the same time.”

It [Bill C-18] might benefit a small fraction of newsgroups but for a government, the mandate isn’t just to protect a handful of large media companies while smaller news outlets are affected.”

“The news business needs support, but this is a model that’s not benefitting the news business or the people. It [Bill C-18] might benefit a small fraction of newsgroups but for a government, the mandate isn’t just to protect a handful of large media companies while smaller news outlets are affected.”

Other experts agree that only larger media companies stand to benefit.

A law professor at the University of Ottawa recently called the bill a “total policy disaster”

Dr. Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who recently called the bill a “total policy disaster,” wrote that the draft regulations released earlier this month by Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge suggest that Meta and Google could be expected to pay at least 4 per cent of search or social media revenues in Canada for a minimum of $234 million.

“Bill C-18 has emerged as a model for what not to do,”

Geist says that based on the regulations contained in the bill, the CBC is “likely the biggest beneficiary.”

In a post on his website, Geist also took issue with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent claim that other countries are “quietly” backing Canada’s absurd and ruinous link tax.

“Meta is not returning to news in Canada, the law’s regulation stipulating a 4 per cent fee on revenues is not found anywhere else, and Bill C-18 has emerged as a model for what not to do,” he wrote.

This legislation could inadvertently lead to the creation of media monopolies in Canada.

Hammadi also says that this “quiet support” can be interpreted to mean many things in different countries.

“If Canada thinks other countries are silently supporting it, it can be interpreted in different ways. There are criticisms of social media for many reasons, but many governments want to control the space for social media and the freedom of expression it allows,” he says.

At a time when community news is becoming more endangered by the day, this legislation could inadvertently lead to the creation of media monopolies in Canada.

As smaller digital-only publishers without paywalls or television or radio programming watch their traffic (and associated advertising revenue) fall, they will be forced to lay off staff and, in some cases, shut down entirely.

This will leave the media landscape dominated by massive print and multi-media news companies such as Torstar and the CBC.

While these are good news organizations staffed by talented journalists, they simply cannot provide the same level of hyper-local community news coverage that smaller publications specialize in.

“At a time when the federal government should do all in its capacity to protect people from the harms of disinformation, the blackout of credible news on prominent platforms, because of a disputed regulation, is not only counterproductive but a dangerous misstep.”

This is a grave concern, but in a country of monopolies–telecom, grocery and banking, to name a few–does the government see the inevitable demise of small media companies as acceptable collateral damage in its quest to play hardball with big tech?

Hammadi agrees that right now, news companies and their readers are the ones suffering amid this battle between Meta, Google and the federal government.

“Regulation of big tech is necessary, but it should not be at the cost of people’s access to critical information,” he says.

“A revenue-sharing regulation will not protect news business unless news has a significant bearing on the platforms. The government should really consider the detrimental effects on people’s lives if they are adamant on their decision.”

While it’s important to hold social media companies accountable for their role in the spread of misinformation, endangering everyone’s access to information–and hampering the ability of smaller publishers to share news–will simply not work.

“When you don’t have easy access to credible news, you are exposed to unverified and unsubstantiated information on social media,” says Hammadi.

59% believe Meta should lift the ban

“At a time when the federal government should do all in its capacity to protect people from the harms of disinformation, the blackout of credible news on prominent platforms, because of a disputed regulation, is not only counterproductive but a dangerous misstep.”

It’s also concerning that at a time when 66 per cent of Canadians think that news should be free and accessible to anyone, a recent poll by Leger shows that over a quarter of respondents aren’t familiar enough with the bill to either support or oppose it.

According to the survey, 43 per cent of Canadians support the legislation, but 31 per cent do not and 26 per cent have no opinion. Fifty-nine per cent believe Meta should lift the ban.

Only six per cent say they would pay for news.

The survey suggests to us that not enough is being done to educate readers about why they cannot access news.

With a sizeable portion of the public unaware of this issue and the government seemingly happy to do nothing to solve this crisis beyond pushing out mealy-mouthed tweets admonishing Meta for being unreasonable, more must be done to inform people that the loss of local media is an emergency.

The impacts are already being felt.

According to a post on Geist’s website, some companies have already had to lay off staff and implement hiring freezes. Some companies have reported losing up to 50 per cent of their web traffic.

The bill, as it stands, must be repealed to stop the bleeding in the Canadian news industry.

The country has already lost too many local newspapers and stands to lose even more with this bill handicapping publishers’ ability to get information out to readers on social media.

If nothing is done, Canada will be known for having yet another monopoly and this will be 100 per cent because of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government’s incompetence and malaise.

Canada deserves better.

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