Canada wants digital giants to compensate local media

“Canada’s news industry is in crisis,” Rodriguez told reporters in Ottawa. “This contributes to heightened public mistrust and the rise of harmful misinformation in our society.”

The objectives of the government: Prior to the announcement, a senior government official briefed reporters on the background that the primary goals of Bill C-18 are to support national media, preserve Canadians’ access to local and national news, and fight against misinformation.

The bill aims to help the media in their negotiations with the increasingly powerful global platforms.

If passed, the legislation would give the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission regulator an administrative role for key elements such as a platform’s compliance with the criteria and to help oversee the negotiation process. An award of this magnitude would create another major task for the CRTC, which already regulates the complex broadcasting and telecommunications spaces.

The government says the legislation will help sustain the sector, which has been hit hard in recent years. The drop in income has led to layoffs and the closure of many outlets.

Rodriguez said that between 2008 and today, 451 media outlets in Canada have closed, including 64 in the past year alone.

News companies have less advertising revenue to work with, he said, and therefore invest less in their reporters and newsrooms.

“I would say the reality is grim,” Rodriguez said. “In 2020, online advertising revenue in Canada was nearly C$10 billion, with two dominant digital platforms absorbing over 80% of that revenue. That’s an incredible amount of power in the market.

Legislation in brief: Bill C-18, which Rodriguez said builds on an arbitration model established in Australia, would require global platforms to enter into voluntary and fair trade agreements with Canadian news media.

Last month, a report in Australia revealed that Google and Facebook had paid Australian news companies around A$200 million over a one-year period. The research found that the compensation helped pay for at least 50 new journalist positions.

In Canada, Rodriguez estimated the legislation could yield up to C$200 million in compensation. He said platforms and media would have between six and 12 months to reach agreements once the legislation is passed.

When platforms fail to voluntarily reach an agreement with news outlets, they will be subject to mandatory negotiation and remediation, with arbitration as a last resort.

The legislation is also being drafted to allow news outlets to work as a collective to negotiate compensation. The government official pointed out that this feature would allow small news outlets to participate, even if they have limited resources.

Bill C-18 also sets out six criteria for commercial agreements between platforms and media. The list includes a guarantee “that an appropriate portion of compensation would be used by news organizations to support the production of local, regional and national news content.”

Offers in place: Digital platforms have already brokered deals with many news outlets in Canada, including a deal last fall between Google and the company that owns the Toronto Star.

Rodriguez said Tuesday that some of those agreements may need to be reviewed once Bill C-18 becomes law to ensure, for example, that they meet the criteria.

Quick answer: Michael Geist, chair of internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, has warned in recent months of the dangers of such a policy for the independence and competition of the press. .

“This is absolutely massive intervention in the news industry with the government ruling that links to news must be paid for and the CRTC monitoring which offers are ‘fair,'” Geist wrote Tuesday on Twitter while reading Bill.

Context of the campaign: During the 2021 election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals pledged to introduce legislation that would require online platforms that generate revenue from news content to share a portion of their revenue with Canadian media.

The Liberals promised the framework would be based on the Australian model to “level the playing field” between global platforms and domestic news publishers.

And after: Rodriguez called Bill C-18 the second step in the government’s efforts to create “a fairer, safer, more inclusive and more competitive internet for all Canadians.”

In February, he introduced Bill C-11, which seeks to amend the Broadcasting Act to regulate online broadcasting to support and promote Canadian creators and their content.

Trudeau’s Rodriguez mandate letter also calls for legislation, as soon as possible, to “combat serious forms of harmful online content to protect Canadians and hold social media platforms and other online services accountable for content that ‘they host’.

“Two down, one left,” Rodriguez said.

About Ricardo Schulte

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