April 18, 2024

The passage of the federal government’s controversial Online News Act has highlighted division over the law as tech giant Meta said it will block news on its social media platforms in response to the legislation.

Bill C-18 received royal assent after a final vote in the Senate on Thursday. The law will compel certain tech companies to pay for news content that they share on their platforms.

Meta announced in a news release following the act’s passage that it will block news for Canadian users in order to comply with the law, and will do so before C-18 comes into effect in six months, even though it hasn’t been given a date.

They’re working as if there’s no rules.– Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez

In an interview with CBC News Network’s Rosemary Barton LiveCanadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez defended C-18 as necessary to support Canadian journalists and news organizations, and regulate big tech companies.

“We’re just saying to the tech giants, well, you have to consider that this has value and pay for that value — not more, not less [than] what’s fair,” Rodriguez told host Rosemary Barton.

Rodriguez said he hopes Meta negotiates with the government, and says big tech companies should accept more regulation.

“They’re working as if there’s no rules. It’s a bit like the Wild West where these people can come here and do whatever they want,” he said.

“That doesn’t work like that in Canada, not in a democracy, and I cannot accept that a company like Meta comes here and threatens us, and threatens a sovereign country, and if we don’t stand up for Canadians, who will ?” he asked.

Concerns not addressed, Google says

Google Canada said in a statement Thursday that none of its concerns about C-18 have been addressed, but that it’s looking to work with the government on the law.

The Online News Act requires both companies to enter into agreements with news publishers to pay them for news content that appears on their sites if it helps the tech giants generate money.

But the legislation has been prompted to debate in Parliament and beyond about the government’s role in supporting the media and regulating tech giants.

A spokesperson for Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre directed CBC to a Poilievre posted tweets Friday morning.

“There you have it. Step by step, the Trudeau government is deliberately getting in the way of what people can see and share online,” Poilievre said in the tweet, which included a screenshot from Meta’s news release.

Poilievre said in a tweet sent later Friday that he’d “repeal Trudeau’s censorship laws and bring home free speech” if he became prime minister.

But Peter Julian, the NDP Canadian Heritage Critic, slammed both Meta’s decision and Poilievre’s opposition to C-18.

“Meta’s announcement to end news access to all users in Canada in retaliation for Bill C-18 is completely unacceptable. The NDP has worked hard to ensure this legislation protects access to reliable news and puts web giants and local media on equal footing,” he said in a statement to the media.

“Rather than standing up for local media, Polievre’s Conservatives would rather defend the interests of super-rich web giants. In the age of fake news, we need more access to reliable media and reporting, not less.”

Both Meta and Google have experimented with blocking news on their platforms for some users in anticipation of the bill becoming law.

The C-18 is modeled on a similar Australian law. Meta, then known as Facebook, blocked news on the platform for a short time before reaching a deal with the Australian government.

Media organizations welcome new law

The bill has found support among many media outlets, publishers and advocacy organizations who say it will help support an embattled Canadian news industry.

“[The bill’s passage] is an important first step to level the playing field and address the significant market power imbalance between publishers and platforms, and to restore fairness and ensure the sustainability of the Canadian news media ecosystem,” said Jamie Irving, chair of News Media Canada, an advocacy organization for Canadian print and online media.

In an interview with CBC News Network’s Power & PoliticsNews Media Canada President Paul Deegan said he’s confident Meta, the government and media can work out an agreement.

“These companies make a lot of money in Canada.… Canada is a very attractive market for Facebook, and it’s in their self-interest, it’s in their economic interest, to continue to offer news on their platform,” Deegan told host David Cochrane .

“We are 100 per cent confident that we can come up with something we can live with, and they can live with.”

The Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) also welcomed the passage of C-18.

“This much-needed legislation will ensure that our homegrown news businesses, including those of our private broadcasters, have a framework for fair negotiations with online platforms on the value gained from their content,” the CAB said in a statement.

“This is a positive step in righting the imbalance that exists between Canadian news businesses and the foreign web giants that benefit financially from using their content,” CAB president Kevin Desjardins said in the statement.

Maria Saras-Voutsinas, executive director of the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada, said the organization is “ecstatic” that the bill has passed.

“I do think that it’s going to save the industry,” she said, adding she hopes Meta will change its position on the law.

“It would have been great if we could just collaborate instead of playing these types of games, so it’s unfortunate. I’m really disappointed,” Saras-Voutsinas said.

The government said in a news release that revenue for broadcast television, radio, newspapers and magazines fell by nearly $6 billion between 2008 and 2020, and that since 2008, 474 news media outlets have closed across Canada.

Bill has flaws: Expert

Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in internet and e-commerce law, and a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said Meta does not get much economic value from news content, and that the news industry needs Facebook more than the other way around.

“I think the government has backed itself into an unfortunate corner with some pretty obvious consequences,” Geist said in an interview Friday with CBC News Network.

Geist said the government could have gone with a different approach to supporting Canadian media, such as creating a fund that’s supported by tax revenues from tech companies like Meta and Google.

Such an approach, he added, would have been less complicated.

“So there were a lot of, I think, real risks and problems with this legislation. There were better alternatives,” Geist said.

“And for whatever reason the government seemed steady to say no, this was the approach they were going to take, and just never took the risks associated with their approach particularly seriously.”

Michael Geist is the Canada Research Chair in internet and e-commerce law.
Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in internet and e-commerce law, said the government could have taken a different approach to supporting news organizations than making tech giants like Meta pay for linking to their content. (Guillaume Lafrenière/CBC)

Geist said Google is more likely to reach an agreement with the government than is Facebook, given the difference between the two platforms when it comes to the value of news content.

Rodriguez said talks with Google have been going well.

“They were very constructive, very positive, so Google has one approach, Meta has the other one,” he said.

“I’m a bit surprised and disappointed with Meta because they keep threatening Canadians, they keep threatening the government, and it doesn’t work that way. I don’t work under threat.”

Jeanette Ageson, publisher of The Tyee, a BC-based online news magazine, said in an interview with Power & Politics that while she’s confident the publication will survive, the legislation could threaten some media outlets.

“Small publications disproportionately rely on traffic from platforms like Google and Facebook,” she said.

“We will certainly feel some pain, but [for] some other, smaller news organizations it’s existential I would say.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *