Canada Media Matters and Bill C-18 Sept. 2023-

Written by  //  February 15, 2024  //  Canada, Government & Governance, Media  //  No comments

Andrew Coyne: The best thing the government could do to save the media is to stop trying to save the media
It would be ironic, to say the least, if a bill purporting to save the Canadian news media were instead to hasten its demise. But that seems to be where we are heading with Bill C-18, the Online News Act.
You will recall the premise of the bill. How could you not? It has been pummelled into the public by a thousand media reports – the same media, as it happens, that had so strenuously lobbied for it. So the plaintive melody will be familiar to you: how the media – well, the newspapers – have been struggling terribly, not through any fault of their own, but because (sob) the internet broke our business model; how Facebook and Google got rich selling ads that used to appear on our pages, and what is worse, used our content to draw readers to theirs; how the bill would merely require them to compensate us for this use, or as it is sometimes called, theft.
Distressingly, for a business that is supposedly built on credibility, the whole thing was a crock. Well, mostly a crock. Yes, the newspaper business is struggling – some are, at least: Others seem to be doing rather well of late – and yes, a big part of that is the loss of advertising revenues to the social-media platforms. But we were signal contributors to our own misfortune.
First, we gave away all our content online, without charge. Then we built unreadable, positively user-hostile websites. We were slow to react as advertisers deserted us for Facebook and Google, and when it finally dawned on us that this was a competition we couldn’t win – the platforms had simply built a better mousetrap, as far as advertisers were concerned – we went whining to government to save us: as if we were the only industry the internet had upended; as if the taxpayers were obliged to pay for our mistakes; as if we could so conspicuously prostitute ourselves to the thing we spend most of our time covering – government – without anyone noticing, or without in fact being prostitutes.
But of all the lies we told ourselves and others, the most preposterous was the lie that “the platforms stole our content.” They didn’t steal it. For the most part, they don’t even use it. What they do is link to it. How does a link work? You click on it, and you are taken to the address embedded in it – that is, to one of our pages. Far from stealing our content or our readers, the platforms have been sending readers our way by the millions, there to read our content and see our ads.
They perform a service for us, in other words, the proof of which is the profusion of “Share this” and “Link to this” buttons we plaster all over our stories. We want readers to post our stories to Facebook, Twitter and the rest. As, in fact, we do ourselves, and for the same reason: because we know it benefits us. Because we need the platforms, far more than they need us. (22 June 2023)

13-15 February
What do Bell Media’s massive cuts mean for the future of broadcast news?
Canadians will rely on social media for information, exposes readers to more misinformation and creating a knowledge void about local governance, crime and other issues.
Mark Sikstrom headed CTV News Channel and CTVNews.ca during his 30 years at CTV. He was also the editor, journalistic policy and practices, for the news division. He is now a media consultant in private practice.
(Toronto Star) Canada’s largest media and telecom company said on Feb. 8, it is ending multiple television newscasts and making other programming cuts after its parent company announced 4,800 layoffs and the sale of 45 of its 103 regional radio stations.
What began as a slow decline in audience and revenue in the ’90s has now reached a tipping point for broadcast news in Canada. … The downsizing trend started when advertising and audience shifted to the internet with the rise of Google, Facebook and other search and social media platforms.
In its announcement, CTV News V.P. Richard Gray said that the News division had lost $ 40 million in the previous year, telling staff “ We have no other option but to further transform our overall news strategy.”
In 2023, Bell Media reported a profit margin of 22.4 per cent.
The layoffs will have repercussions that extend beyond the bottom line. Bell Media had asked the CRTC. to lessen its obligations to produce news and local programming. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission had not responded and these unilateral cuts might result in regulatory sanctions up to and including nonrenewal of broadcast licenses.
Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge accused Bell media of breaking its promise to invest in local news after the company was granted $40 million in relief. A visibly angry Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it “a garbage decision” and said the company should know better.
Bell Media cuts are a sign of the times as Canada’s broadcasting model collapses
Only three days after BCE Inc. announced its deepest job cuts in 30 years, including the elimination of hundreds of posts at Bell Media, Sunday’s Super Bowl provided the company with a good news story to tell – for a change.
Konrad Yakabuski
The National Football League championship game … produced bonanza ratings for Bell Media, which holds the Canadian rights to the Super Bowl under a multiyear contract with the NFL.
The match between the Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers drew an average of 10 million viewers on Bell Media-owned CTV, TSN and RDS, up 16 per cent from 2023, and became one of the five most-watched broadcasts ever in Canada. And thanks to regulations that blocked Canadians from seeing U.S. commercials during the game, Bell Media boasted record advertising sales for Super Bowl LVIII.
Representatives for BCE are set to appear before the CRTC on Wednesday as part of hearings into the new rules. BCE is also appealing the CRTC decision in Federal Court. While the new third-party access rules would inject a dose of much-needed competition into Canada’s oligopolistic telecom sector, they would squeeze BCE’s core telecom business at a time when its broadcasting operations are treading water.
BCE’s willingness to prop up Bell Media’s broadcasting operations is likely to waver further without more financial and regulatory relief from Ottawa. After all, the Super Bowl only comes along once a year.
9 February
Trudeau says he’s furious over Bell Media layoffs, calling it a ‘garbage decision’
Trudeau says large corporations have bought up radio stations, small community newspapers and local outlets, only to lay off journalists and change the quality of their offerings.
He says when readership and viewership then decline, corporations sell off outlets and say they’re not profitable, eroding local journalism and Canada’s democracy.
Eby Blasts ‘Corporate Vampires’ for Gutting Local News and Firing Journalists
Giant corporations like Bell have gutted local media to increase profits, said BC Premier David Eby. ‘Now they say it is no longer economically viable to run these local radio stations, it’s no longer economically viable to have investigative news.’
The premier called on the federal government to use its authority to regulate media to support local journalism and prevent companies like Bell from owning so many outlets.
“Bell and corporations like Bell have overseen the assembly of local media assets that are treasures to local communities,” Eby said. “Like corporate vampires, they sucked the life out of them, laying off journalists.”
The companies are responsible for the “encrapification” of local news, said Eby. “Now they say it is no longer economically viable to run these local radio stations, it’s no longer economically viable to have investigative news and they were allowed to do this.”
Eby pointed out that BCE had net earnings of about $3 billion in 2023.
“The impact on communities in British Columbia of their unrestrained corporate greed… is profound,” he said. “The fact that they cannot find it possible with all of their MBAs to operate a few local news stations in British Columbia to ensure people get accurate, impartial, reliable information in an age of disinformation and social media craziness is such an abandonment of any idea of corporate responsibility.”
Eby called on the federal government to stop companies from assembling media outlets, calling them indispensable sources of information.
Local news cuts at Bell come after it was granted $40M in regulatory relief: St-Onge
(CTV) As Bell Media blamed regulators and policymakers for its decision to announce a fresh round of layoffs Thursday, federal and provincial politicians accused the company of unnecessarily killing off local journalism.
Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge decried the company for breaking its promise to invest in news after it was granted more than $40 million in annual regulatory relief.
That’s the same amount the company said its news division, which includes CTV News and BNN Bloomberg, is losing annually.
‘Not a viable business anymore’: Bell Media selling 45 radio stations including 4 in Northeast BC amid significant layoffs
BCE Inc. is selling off 45 of its 103 regional radio stations as it cuts nine per cent of its workforce, including journalists and other workers at its Bell Media subsidiary.
The affected stations are in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
The company announced Thursday in an open letter signed by chief executive Mirko Bibic that 4,800 jobs “at all levels of the company” would be cut.
CTV’s flagship investigative series ‘W5’ among programs hit by Bell Media cuts
CTV’s long-running flagship investigative series “W5” will cease to exist in its current form after parent company BCE Inc. announced widespread layoffs.
An internal memo sent to Bell Media employees says the award-winning program will “evolve” from a standalone documentary series to become “a multi-part, multiplatform investigative reporting unit.”
Translation: Its reports will be featured on CTV National News, the CTV News website and other CTV platforms

2023

15 December
Bill C-18 is Dead, Long Live Bill C-18: Government Rewrites Online News Act With Final Regulations
Professor Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, University of Ottawa
The government this morning released the final Online News Act regulations, effectively gutting the law in order to convince Google to refrain from blocking news links in Canada and to fix some of the legislative mistakes that have been apparent from the start. While proponents of the law will point to the $100 million contribution from Google as evidence of success, privately most in the industry and government acknowledge the obvious: Bill C-18 was deeply flawed and a massive miscalculation that has created far more harm than good. Canadian Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge seemingly agrees as she was willing to make changes that were derided by the government throughout the legislative process. Indeed, by the time St-Onge took over the file that was a challenging salvage job, Meta’s $20 million in news deals were lost and blocked news links on Facebook and Instagram was a reality. The prospect of the same happening with Google was too much for the industry and the government since the lost deals would have been at least double that amount (many believe in the $40-50 million range) and lost news links in search would have been catastrophic.

4 December
CBC/Radio-Canada to cut 10 per cent of workforce, end some programming as it faces $125M budget shortfall
Public broadcaster says most cuts will take effect over the coming year

EMERGENCY EPISODE: Catherine Tait makes her case for the CBC (podcast and transcript)
The public broadcaster’s CEO in an exclusive layoff-eve interview
Paul Wells
..as Bill C-18, the so-called Online News Act, nears implementation. Google’s promised $100 million contribution is a drop in the bucket of this year’s Canadian media revenue shortfall. Torstar, which has said it’s losing $1 million a week, is hardly alone in finding its projected share of the Google pot unsatisfying.
I’ve argued for years…that increased government payments to news organizations would simply introduce new problems rather than solving old ones. The C-18 debacle is further evidence of that. We covered the emerging mess earlier this season when I interviewed Jeff Elgie, the CEO of Ontario’s scrappy independent Village Media, for this podcast.
This is some of the context for any debate about what government should do in a fast-changing media landscape: the realization that what it’s been doing hasn’t kept a string of layoffs from happening.
The reaction to the agreement from the news sector has been mixed at best with relative silence from many supporters and outright opposition from the likes of Torstar.
Jeff Elgie on What the Bill C-18 Deal with Google Means for the Future of the Canadian News Sector
So what to make the of the deal and what comes next? Jeff Elgie is the CEO of Village Media, one of the largest independent, digital-only news outlets in Canada. He joins the Law Bytes podcast to walk though his participation in the process, reaction to the agreement, and thoughts for the future.

29-30 November
‘No concessions’ St-Onge says in $100M a year news deal with Google
(CTV) The Canadian government has reached a deal with Google over the Online News Act that will see the tech giant pay $100 million annually to publishers, and continue to allow access to Canadian news content on its platform.
Canadian Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge announced the “historic development” regarding the implementation of Bill C-18 on Wednesday, after the tech giant had threatened to block news on its platform when the contentious new rules come into effect next month.
The federal government says this financial support will be indexed to inflation, and rolled out to “a wide range of news businesses across the country, including independent news businesses and those from Indigenous and official-language minority communities.”
Bill C-18, or the Online News Act, lays out a framework that would require digital giants Google and Meta to develop agreements with Canadian news sites to provide them with compensation for hosting their journalistic content on their platforms.
When the bill passed in June, Both Google and Meta had taken the position that rather than compensating media organizations, they’d be blocking Canadian news from their platforms.
Meta made good on this threat this summer, and that company continues to block content from Canadian news platforms on Facebook and Instagram, despite political and public pressure to reverse course.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came out swinging against Meta – right now the only other company that meets the threshold to be eligible under the Online News Act – over its decision to pull news access rather than pay for it.

Salvaging Bill C-18: Government Upends Legislation To Bring Google Onside the Online News Act
Michael Geist
The government has announced that it has reached agreement with Google on deal that will ensure that news links are not blocked on the search engine and that the company pays $100 million to support the news sector in Canada. To be clear, this is good news for all given that the alternative was bad for news outlets, the government, Canadians, and Google. Indeed, over the past few months in discussions with representatives of media outlets, the consistent refrain I heard was that there *had* to be a deal. The harm from Facebook and Instagram blocking news links was taking a significant toll with lost revenues, lost traffic, and lost deals, meaning that something had to be salvaged from Bill C-18.
It turns out the way to salvage the bill was essentially to start over by tossing aside most of the core elements in the bill in favour of a single payment by Google negotiated by the government on behalf of the news sector. What is left is a $100 million payment into what amounts to a fund to be managed by the news sector itself.

Netflix balks at proposed levy on streaming services
Streaming giant tells CRTC it already puts millions into Canadian broadcasting industry
(CBC) The company appeared Thursday at a hearing that is part of the CRTC’s public consultations in response to the Online Streaming Act, which received royal assent in April.
The legislation, formerly known as Bill C-11, is meant to update federal law to require digital platforms to contribute to and promote Canadian content. The watchdog is exploring whether to require streamers to make an initial contribution to help level the playing field for local companies, which are already required to support Canadian content.

20 September
Paul Wells: How Bill C-18 is threatening a local news empire
Jeff Elgie of Village Media is this week’s guest
If there’s a future for local journalism in Canada, it probably looks more like Village Media than like a lot of other models. Digitally native, grounded in basic reporting, using teams of reporters who earn proper salaries and benefits but who incur a lot less overhead than my generation did — it’s already been a rapidly-growing success story for a decade, even as news organizations with pricier business models and older reflexes struggled. Even as it’s been easy to understand why they’ve struggled.
I just think C-18 is a terrible mess, starting with its weird insistence that linking to news stories is somehow the source of the web giants’ hegemony. I mean, I’ve got a lot more problems with this bill and I have since long before it was a bill, but even if I manage to stifle those other objections, I’m stuck with C-18’s bizarre choice of a mechanism.
The results are not only unsurprising, they were predicted: If linking to news stories suddenly costs more money, the platforms won’t link to news stories. Meta (Facebook) has carried through on this threat. Google is keeping it in their back pocket.

4 September
Opinion: The government’s online news bill can’t overcome its own flawed assumptions
The new law manages to be an even worse outcome than direct government intervention
Rudyard Griffiths and Sean Speer
(The Hub) … If the government believes that there’s a role for the state to intervene in support of Canadian journalism, then it should do it. Canadians can debate the government’s decision and ultimately render their judgment as part of a future election. This is how democratic policymaking is supposed to work.
There’s something odd about outsourcing responsibility for the government’s policy decisions to two private companies based on the dubious argument that they “owe” the Canadian news media for having come to dominate the digital advertising market.
If one was to follow the government’s logic here consistently, we can envision countless instances where new start-ups that outcompete legacy players and industries could be forced to compensate those who they’ve overtaken.
… The Act uses the government’s legislative and regulatory powers to essentially turn Google and Meta into instruments of public policy. Any financial agreements that they reach with publishers under the Act are hardly market arrangements since they have to conform to the government’s prescriptions and ultimately secure approval from the CRTC. Such payments should therefore be viewed as an indirect government subsidy. The only major difference with a direct subsidy is that the former depends on the legislative pen rather than the public purse.

3 September
Mitch Joel: The Canadian Government laid down the law. Google and Meta must soon pay traditional and legacy media publishers for news links or repurposed news content (while, at the same time, Big Tech does not share in/get any of the advertising or subscription revenues that is generated from this referral traffic).
Meta already decided to not allow Canadians to share news links or allow news companies to post their Facebook Pages. On Friday of this week, draft regulations by the government were released. Shortly after, Google announced that they will no longer index news websites and offer these results to Canadians once the bill goes into effect.
What a mess.
Jeff Jarvis: Here’s my brief bit about it on the CBC: https://cbchls.akamaized.net/…/nn-jarvis-invu-010923…
Six Pixels of Separation – The ThinkersOne Podcast – Episode #895.
When it comes to the digital economy, the law and the media, everyone should be following Dr. Michael Geist. Now, more than ever, his voice may be the only “truth” we are seeing in the media as Canada deals with the massive fallout that is Bill C-18 (Canada’s Online News Act). My primer on this ridiculous law is here: Big Tech, Big Media, Big Trouble And Big Lies. With that, the issues (and opportunity) bleed well beyond the borders of Canada and should strike fear into anyone interested in our global digital economy. For a long while, Michael has been reshaping the landscape of Internet and E-commerce Law from his academic pulpit at the University of Ottawa. With credentials that read like an academic’s dream — degrees from Osgoode Hall, Cambridge, and Columbia — he’s not just dissecting law… he’s writing it, in real-time, for a digital age. You’ve likely stumbled upon his incisive columns, where he distills complex technology law issues into digestible wisdom. But wait, there’s more. Michael is the maestro behind a slew of copyright books that are nothing short of revolutionary. Titles like, The Copyright Pentalogy, and, In the Public Interest, are shaking the foundations of Canadian copyright law, carving out a new roadmap for the digital era. He’s not just penning books… he’s also editing monthly technology law publications and running a blog that’s become a go-to resource on Internet and intellectual property issues. Michael’s reach isn’t confined to academia or print… he’s a boardroom staple too. Whether it’s Ingenium, Internet Archive Canada, or the Electronic Frontier Foundation, his advisory skills are in high demand. He’s even steering the digital strategy for Waterfront Toronto, leading it into uncharted technological waters. His influence is such that he was named among the 50 most impactful people on intellectual property globally and among the 25 most influential lawyers in Canada, multiple years running. Why does Michael matter? Because in a world wrestling with the ethics and laws of a digital frontier, he’s the sage we didn’t know we needed, but can’t afford to ignore. We dig deep into the media landscape, the mis-step of the government, why Meta proactively decided to no longer allow users to post links out to news websites, and why everyone (no matter where you live) should be paying attention to what Meta, Google and others technology companies are doing. Enjoy the conversation…

Dispatch from the Front Line:
This week, the CRTC released the draft regulations that will govern how the Online News Act is to be used. We’ve talked about the minutia at some length already, but you may recall that this law essentially forces Meta and Google into negotiations with media outlets to compensate the latter for sharing its links; those deals would then be approved by the CRTC.
The bill itself was a dog’s breakfast. In addition to being vague and probably unworkable, it created potential uncapped liabilities for the companies themselves. This was one of the primary concerns for big tech. No matter how large their profits, no company is going to sign up for a regulatory regime that forces it to write a blank cheque to its competitors. Especially when that regulatory environment sets a precedent for other markets.
From Facebook/Meta’s perspective, the legislation was always non-viable, and so they simply decided to stop providing news links on their platforms, thus ensuring the company would not come under the scope of the law.
Google’s situation, on the other hand, has always been trickier. If the go-to everything search engine has to pull news links from its search results, that presents a significant problem to its core mandate. Further, Google does have a dominant position in the Canadian market. As with telecoms and other oligopolies, it isn’t totally unreasonable to expect the company to pay for this dominance in the form of some kind of tax that can then compensate news companies destabilized by digital disintermediation.
The problem is that the legislation was so poorly conceived that it would create an environment that was financially unsustainable, even for Google, if it were to be replicated globally.

Leave a Comment

comm comm comm