Heritage Canada 'hopeful' it can address Bill C-18 concerns amid standoff with tech giants

The development of regulations for the Online News Act is currently underway, and subject to consultations from stakeholders and the public over the coming months.

Heritage Canada 'hopeful' it can address Bill C-18 concerns amid standoff with tech giants
wolterke and Askar- stock.adobe.com, Facebook/ Pablo Rodriguez
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The federal government hopes to de-escalate a standoff with Meta and Google before Bill C-18, the Online News Act, comes into effect at year's end.

Heritage Canada said Monday that work is ongoing to determine how, when and which portions of the act they will implement. Having received royal assent on June 22, the feds said they would fully implement the bill over the next 180 days.

The development of regulations is currently underway, said the department, and subject to consultations from stakeholders and the public over the coming months.

"It's clarifying the conditions under which platforms could become exempt under the act," according to Dwayne Winseck, a journalism professor at Carleton University.

"The GIC, on the recommendation of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, can make regulations regarding which digital platforms the Act applies to and how the CRTC interprets the criteria in the Act for platforms to obtain an exemption from mandatory bargaining and final offer arbitration," said the announcement.

However, Rachel Curran, Meta's Canadian head of public policy, said the bill doesn't "allow for negotiations outside" of its legislative framework. They're moving towards a permanent censor of Canadian news for Canadian users on Facebook and Instagram.

"We wish we weren't here, but we are here, and there is nothing at this point that [will] alter that trajectory," she said.

Heritage Canada clarified that social platforms like Facebook and Instagram, including news aggregators like Google, may be exempt from signing compulsory revenue-sharing agreements with publications for striking voluntary deals at their discretion.

"The path is being broadened to…an exemption determination [that] could be made [because] they're paying enough money…funnelled towards journalism," said Winseck.

Once the regulatory process is complete, Google and Meta must pay 35% of news expenditures for hundreds of media outlets, including the state broadcaster CBC, Bell and Postmedia.

The parent company to Bell reportedly axed 1,300 jobs earlier this month as a cost-cutting measure to "significantly adapt" how it delivers the news.

"The world has changed, and the same way we're adapting to platforms, well, the platforms also have to adapt to the new reality," said Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez in an interview.

Since 2019, Parliament has financed outlets deemed "qualified" by the Canada Revenue Agency worth up to 25% of the annual payroll or $13,750 per newsroom employee. Canadian taxpayers annually subsidize media at $595 million — in addition to the $1.2 billion comprising 70% of the state broadcaster's budget. 

As of 2008, nearly 500 newsrooms in Canada have closed, according to Rodriguez. The media bailout program is set to expire on March 31, 2024.

Prominent publishers informed a Senate committee they would lose millions of dollars should Meta and Google block their content.

Both Google and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, lobbied against the law and have said they intend to block Canadian news rather than be confined by its tenets.

The federal government responded by pulling $11,423,728 worth of social media ads from both platforms — an estimated 0.01% of Meta's annual revenues. The company earned a net income of $39.4 billion on revenues of $116.6 billion last year.

The cost of a Canadian government boycott "is still a lot of money," said Rodriguez. "I think it sends a clear message on the intentions of the government."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the tech giant of not "accepting responsibility towards our democracies" in refusing to subsidize local news and independent journalism.

Should Google and Meta follow through on censoring Canadian news, the minister said his government would ensure newsrooms have resources beyond the existing funding programs and tax credits.

"We have to make sure that newsrooms are open, that [journalists] can do their job, and [they] have the resources necessary," persisted Rodriguez earlier this month.

However, the minister's office said Monday they remain convinced they can address the concerns of Google and Meta.

"If [Meta] truly believes that news has no value, they can say so at the negotiating table," said Heritage Canada. 

"Threats to pull news instead of complying with the laws in our country only highlight the power that platforms hold over news organizations, both big and small."

According to the Angus Reid Institute, Canadians are 'concerned' about the ramifications of a fully implemented Bill C-18, with some pushing back against the legislation.

Over three in five (61%) agree tech companies should compensate Canadian news publishers when their content is shared on social platforms. But 63% also expressed 'concern' with losing access to Canadian news.

Fears of permanent censorship have half (49%) of Canadians lauding the federal government to "back down," while 26% want them to "stand firm." A quarter are 'unsure' of how best to proceed.

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  • By Ezra Levant

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