The passage of the federal government’s controversial Online News Act has exposed divisions 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 on Thursday after a final vote in the Senate. The law will require certain technology companies to pay for news content they share on their platforms.
Meta announced in a press release after the law’s passage that it will block news for Canadian users from complying with the law, and will do so before C-18 goes into effect in six months, though it has not given a date.
They operate as if there are no rules.— Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez
In an interview with Breaking: Network’s Rosemary Barton LiveCanadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez defended C-18 as necessary to support Canadian journalists and news organizations and regulate major tech companies.
“We’re just saying to the tech giants, well, you have to think of this as having value and pay for that value — no more, no less[than]what’s fair,” Rodriguez told host Rosemary Barton.
Rodriguez said he hopes Meta negotiates with the government, saying big tech companies should accept more regulation.
“They operate like there are no rules. It’s kind of like the Wild West, where these people can come here and do whatever they want,” he said.
“It doesn’t work that way in Canada, not in a democracy, and I can’t 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.
Worries not dispelled, says Google
Google Canada said in a statement Thursday that none of its concerns about C-18 have been allayed, but that it wants 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 make money.
But the legislation has sparked debate in parliament and beyond about the government’s role in supporting media and regulating tech giants.
A spokesman for conservative leader Pierre Poilièvre directed CBC to a tweet posted by Poilièvre 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,” Poilièvre said in the tweet, which included a screenshot of Meta’s press release.
said Poilièvre in a tweet later Friday that he would “repeat Trudeau’s censorship laws and bring freedom of speech” if he becomes prime minister.
There you have it.
Step by step, the Trudeau government is deliberately getting in the way of what people can see and share online. pic.twitter.com/mZP1SQ9lfD
But Peter Julian, the NDP Canadian Heritage Critic, criticized both Meta’s decision and Poilièvre’s opposition to C-18.
“Meta’s announcement to end access to news for all users in Canada in retaliation for Bill C-18 is completely unacceptable. The NDP has worked hard to ensure that this legislation protects access to reliable news and empowers web giants and local media to equal footing,” he said in a statement to the media.
“Instead of standing up for local media, Poilièvre’s Conservatives prefer to 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 law.
C-18 is modeled after a similar Australian law. Meta, then known as Facebook, briefly blocked news from the platform 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 groups who say it will help support a contentious Canadian news industry.
“(The passage of the bill) is an important first step to level the playing field and address the significant imbalance in market power between publishers and platforms, and to restore fairness and ensure the sustainability of Canada’s news media ecosystem said Jamie Irving, president of News Media Canada, an advocacy organization for Canadian print and online media.
In an interview with Breaking: Network’s Power & PoliticsNews Media Canada president Paul Deegan said he is confident Meta, the government and the media can come to an agreement.
“These companies make a lot of money in Canada…Canada is a very attractive market for Facebook, and it’s in their best interest, it’s in their economic interest, to keep providing news on their platform,” Deegan told host David Cochrane.
“We’re 100 percent confident that we can come up with something we can live with, and they can live with it.”
The Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) also welcomed the passage of C-18.
“This much-needed legislation will ensure that our homegrown news companies, including those of our private broadcasters, have a framework for fair negotiations with online platforms about the value extracted from their content,” CAB said in a statement.
“This is a positive step in redressing the imbalance that exists between Canadian news companies and the foreign web giants that benefit financially from the use of 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 been passed.
“I really think it’s going to save the industry,” she said, adding that she hopes Meta will change its stance on the law.
“It would have been great if we could have just worked together instead of playing games like this, so it’s a shame. I’m really disappointed,” said Saras-Voutsinas.
Government said in a press release that revenues for television broadcast, radio, newspapers and magazines fell by nearly $6 billion between 2008 and 2020, and that since 2008 474 news outlets across Canada have closed.
Bill has flaws: Expert
Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in internet and e-commerce law, and a professor of law at the University of Ottawa, said Meta doesn’t extract much economic value from news content, and the news industry needs Facebook more than the other way around.
“I think the government has pulled into an unfortunate corner with some pretty obvious consequences,” Geist said in an interview with Breaking: Network on Friday.
Geist said the government could have taken a different approach to supporting Canadian media, such as creating a fund backed by tax revenue from tech companies such as 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 steadfast to say no, this was the approach they would take, and they just never took the risks associated with their approach particularly seriously.”
Geist said Google is more likely to reach an agreement with the government than Facebook, given the difference between the two platforms when it comes to the value of news content.
Rodriguez said talks with Google are going well.
“They were very constructive, very positive, so Google has one approach, Meta has the other,” he said.
“I’m a little 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 is confident the publication will survive, the legislation could threaten some media outlets.
“Small publications rely disproportionately on traffic from platforms like Google and Facebook,” she said.
“We’re definitely going to feel some pain, but[for]some other, smaller news organizations, it’s existential, I’d say.”