Heritage Minister won’t ‘roll back’ Bill C-18 to appease big tech

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) contends it will take until the summer of 2024 to publish draft regulations and as late as 2025 before the Act is enforced.

Heritage Minister won’t ‘roll back’ Bill C-18 to appease big tech
Facebook/ Pascale St-Onge Brome-Missisquoi
Remove Ads

Despite productive consultations with Meta executives on Bill C-18, the Online News Act, Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge says she will not 'roll back' the legislation.

"We've had a very constructive and honest conversation," St-Onge told the Globe and Mail. Heritage Canada is currently drafting regulations on how the act would work.

St. Onge said it will create "an extremely positive, viable path forward for them."

She conversed with Rachel Curran, Meta's head of public policy in Canada, and Marc Dinsdale, head of media partnerships, to hopefully break an impasse between the feds and the tech behemoth.

In protest, Meta blocked access to Canadian news for users in the country on August 1. The move signifies the company's opposition to Bill C-18, which the minister and her colleagues in cabinet condemned.

"Taking away the right for users to share news and journalistic information to their family and friends is not a right way to build trust with a community, especially in a context where there is so much misinformation and disinformation going around," said the heritage minister.

According to Blacklock's Reporter, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) contends it will take until the summer of 2024 to publish draft regulations and as late as 2025 before the act is enforced.

"The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission will launch a public consultation this fall to gather views," the regulator said in a statement. "All comments received will form part of the public record and inform the CRTC decision."

On Monday, St-Onge told reporters the law is not in effect right now. "It has been voted on, but it's not being applied right now."

St-Onge has repeatedly met with Meta and Google since taking on the Heritage portfolio from her predecessor, Pablo Rodriguez. Bill C-18 received royal assent on June 22.

Curran confirmed they've met and will continue to keep the government informed as Meta ends news availability in the country.

"There is going to be a consultation process around regulations. Facebook, Google, and all the other media and the public are invited to comment on these regulations when they come out. It is going to come out soon," said the minister.

The Online News Act would compel Meta and Google to negotiate revenue-sharing deals with media publications in Canada for sharing content to their platforms.

Revenue sharing is worth $247.6 million a year to television networks and $81.6 million to government-approved publishers, according to an October 22 Budget Office report, Cost Estimate For Bill C-18.

Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has warned it may block Canadian users from searching for news on its web browser. It has yet to carry out its threat as of writing, with negotiations with the feds ongoing.

However, St-Onge contends, "There is no good reason to ban Canadian news because the law is not being applied right now."

Google executives submitted to the Senate Transport and Communications Committee that compulsory revenue sharing "violates foundational principles of the open web," reported Blacklock's Reporter.

Facebook added the regulations would not improve a flawed bill, announcing on June 23 that "news availability will be ended on Facebook and Instagram for all users in Canada before the Online News Act takes effect."

"As we've previously stated, regulations cannot address the fundamental challenges with the legislation, and we relayed this to the minister today," said Curran.

According to Le Devoir, the Meta public policy head said she is "super optimistic" the federal government will modify Bill C-18 so Google and Meta can continue to support journalism and local news.

However, St-Onge told the Globe she has no intent on amending the legislation. "I confirmed that we will not roll back on the bill."

Yet she hoped the Big Tech behemoths would continue participating in the regulation process "in a fair and open way."

She said her government had already undertaken an extensive parliamentary process involving Facebook, Google and other stakeholders to comment on the legislation.

After the regulations are published — which she said would address many of their concerns — the feds will provide 30 days for stakeholders, including Meta, "to participate and give input."

St-Onge added that both companies want "predictability" on what the act means financially.

According to Blacklock's Reporter, subsidized publishers rely on access to Alphabet and Meta's social platforms to bolster website traffic. Many have warned that the continued loss would be disastrous for their bottom line.

"We depend on the audience," testified a Globe and Mail representative on May 30 at the Senate transport and communications committee.

"Facebook enables us to reach an audience we would not otherwise reach," he said. "If Facebook pulls out, millions of dollars go away from [our] point of view."

Le Devoir director Brian Myles said his newspaper "will suffer a lot" without readership generated through Facebook and Google. 

"Le Devoir has 40% of its traffic coming from Google Search and close to 30% from social media," he said.

Jeff Elgie, CEO of Village Media, a publisher of 25 local news websites across Ontario, said Facebook and Google generated half his company's readership. 

"Google is around 30% to 35%, and Facebook is roughly 17%," said Elgie. "If that traffic were lost, the business would be over."

Remove Ads
Remove Ads

Don't Get Censored

Big Tech is censoring us. Sign up so we can always stay in touch.

Remove Ads