Bill 18, the Online News Act

Also in the last session of parliament, new laws were passed related to internet regulation. The most contentious was Bill C-18, the Online News Act, which received Royal Assent on June 22. The legislation requires tech companies like Google and Meta to negotiate compensation for Canadian media outlets for links to media on those platforms. It prescribes a negotiation process overseen by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. The legislation was supported by the monopoly media in this country as part of their demand for government funding for news businesses. The vast majority of any payments referred to in the legislation would go to the major media outlets including the CBC, Bell and Rogers. The government department Canadian Heritage, in announcing the passage of the legislation, said, "The Online News Act levels the playing field between news businesses and large digital platforms to create greater fairness to ensure sustainability of the news industry."

This assertion is filled with phrases which are meaningless so long as what constitutes news is reduced to business interests and sustainability is also a business consideration devoid of pro-social aims. The imbalance in the power relations which exist between what is presumed to be Canadian media and the oligopolies which dominate globally was made immediately evident. In response to the passage of the legislation Meta confirmed that it will block sharing of news from Canadian sources on Facebook and Instagram. This it has already done along with blocking people in Canada from viewing content from international news sources as well on its platforms.

According to Michael Geist, law professor at the University of Ottawa and Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, the government reportedly went into last ditch negotiations with Google to stop it from doing the same. He argued forcefully against the legislation and commented in an article posted online on June 27 that the bill was one that "could cause enormous harm to the media sector and which may lead to a serious case of buyer's remorse for the media sector." He referred, as an example, to Le Devoir director Brian Myles' statements to the Senate committee studying Bill C-18 in May, that 40 per cent of Le Devoir's traffic comes from Google search and an additional 30 per cent from social media. Far from reaping payments from Google and Meta, the media companies stand to lose if these platforms decide not to negotiate payments but to block sharing of news from Canadian sources. Meta concluded that since journalism content contributes very little to the company's earnings it is easier to pull news altogether than to comply with the legislation.

The fact remains that news media in a country like Canada requires public support because the Canadian market is relatively small compared to the U.S. and other markets, and they cannot sustain themselves through advertising. The problem, of course, is Canada's lack of independence and lack of a sovereign power vested in the people who are the ones who must decide everything that concerns them. The shutdown of local news reporting by major legacy and audio-visual media is bad enough but when their remaining reportage takes its cue from the private agencies dictating the disinformation of the day as concerns national and international affairs, there is no redemption.

With the Online News Act the government postured that an independent Canadian media exists, which is not the case. The new measures adopted are not likely to favour an independent news media either. In any case, that is not even their aim.

This article was published in
Volume 53 Number 8 - August 2023

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