News publishers, broadcasters file 'urgent' request with Competition Bureau to stop Meta's 'censorship' of Canadian news

Though Bill C-18, the Online News Act, is expected to be fully implemented by the end of the year, Meta wasted no time banning access to Canadian news on August 1. They allege it is 'based on the incorrect premise' that tech companies 'benefit unfairly from news content shared on [their] platform.'

News publishers, broadcasters file 'urgent' request with Competition Bureau to stop Meta's 'censorship' of Canadian news
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News publishers and broadcasters are requesting Canada's Competition Bureau intervene in Meta's decision to censor Canadian news from Facebook and Instagram.

As first reported by The National Post, the coven of News Media Canada, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, and CBC/Radio-Canada want the Competition Bureau "to use its investigative and prosecutorial tools to protect competition and prohibit Meta from continuing to block Canadians' access to news content."

On June 22, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, announced it would no longer permit sharing and accessing news copy on its platforms. 

Facebook restricted access to news on its platform for 1.1 million Canadians earlier that month — a move then-Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez called "pure intimidation tactics." 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the maneuver "is not going to work."

"The fact these internet giants would rather cut off access to local news than pay their fair share is a real problem, and now they're resorting to bullying tactics to try and get their way," he told reporters on June 7.

Canadian taxpayers annually subsidize media at $595 million — in addition to the $1.2 billion comprising 70% of the state broadcaster's budget. 

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. 

Bill C-18, the Online News Act, mandates that tech giants enter revenue-sharing agreements with news publishers, paying upwards of 35% of news expenditures for hundreds of media outlets, including the state broadcaster, Bell, and Postmedia.

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

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.

"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 Rodriguez last month in response to the job cuts.

Postmedia, the publisher of The National Post, wrote it favours the legislation.

News Media Canada, which advocates for the domestic news industry, urged all stakeholders to "act in good faith" and engage in the regulatory process expected to finish by the end of the year.

Though Bill C-18 is expected to be fully implemented by the end of the year, the tech behemoth wasted no time banning access to Canadian news for Canadian users on August 1.

"In order to provide clarity to the millions of Canadians and businesses who use our platforms, we are announcing today [August 1] that we have begun the process of ending news availability permanently in Canada," Meta said in a statement.

They alleged the Online News Act is "based on the incorrect premise" that tech companies "benefit unfairly from news content shared on [their] platform," noting that "the reverse is true."

In the future, the tech behemoth said they "hope the Canadian government will recognize the value we already provide the news industry and consider a policy response that upholds the principles of a free and open internet."

Google also pledged to block Canadian news before the bill is enacted over the next six months. 

Pending a reversal of its decision, Meta would no longer be subject to the legislation.

On Tuesday, news publishers accused Meta of abusing its dominant market hold on more than 70% of social media access in Canada.

"Meta's practices are clearly designed to discipline Canadian news companies, prevent them from participating in and accessing the advertising market, and significantly reduce their visibility to Canadians on social media channels," they said. 

"Meta's anticompetitive conduct, which has attracted the attention of regulators around the world, will strengthen its already dominant position in advertising and social media distribution and harm Canadian journalism."

In their letter to Competition Commissioner Matthew Boswell, the coven wrote that Meta's opposition to Bill C-18 threatens the longevity of news media in Canada.

The coven asked Boswell to prioritize their "urgent" request.

"Its exclusionary and disciplinary conduct is aimed at preventing or severely limiting Canadian news organizations' access to a significant portion of their audiences and significantly reducing visits to their news websites and applications," they argued. 

"Through the loss of this critical distribution channel, Canadian news organizations' ability to earn online advertising revenue from their websites and applications, as well as from their readers, becomes significantly diminished."

Paul Deegan, CEO of News Media Canada, said Meta's move to censor Canadian users is a "kick in the shins."

On May 30, Deegan testified to the Senate Transport and Communications committee on Bill C-18, calling Meta's decision to 'unfriend' Canada "irresponsible and tone deaf" because it restricts access to 'trusted news sources.' 

He warned if Facebook permanently blocked news sharing, it would restrict public access to reliable information. "What this bill is about is ensuring that local news survives."


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