August 6, 2022
Before Parliament broke for the summer, Bill C-18 the Online News Act passed second reading in the House of Commons and is slated for further debate and possible amendments at the Heritage Committee in September.
The Bill is aimed at compelling Facebook and Google to pay more (or at all) for Canadian news content that draws and retains traffic to their sites. It’s modelled on similar legislation in Australia which rebalances the bargaining power between the FaceGoogle platforms and news organizations. The key is the availability of binding arbitration should negotiations fail between Platforms and news organizations (who are allowed to combine into bargaining coalitions).
Like Australia, Canada is small potatoes to Facebook and Google. Their fight back against government regulation is global. The UK, Europe and the US are the prize fights. Canada and Australia are on the undercard.
That’s why it’s important for Canadian policy makers to pay attention to similar legislative efforts in the big markets. Last week, US Senator Amy Klobuchar got her skinny American version of C-18 in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, fifteen months after she first tabled the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) in the Senate.
The House version of the Bill hasn’t even got to the Committee stage. What is murky in a Beltway kind of way is that the main sponsor of House 1735 is talking openly of a more robust Bill, more like C-18, but has not been able to table it.
The JCPA is skinny not only because it is a single page of text but because it is nothing like C-18. It merely gives news organizations a four-year exemption from powerful American anti-trust rules so they can lawfully bargain as a group to get a better deal from the Platforms: there is no arbitration and no obligation for the Platforms to negotiate in good faith with any news organization.
Facebook and Google would grab this skinny JCPA deal in a New York-minute (okay, Silicon Valley-minute) if it set the bar for similar legislation around the globe.
Things have gone too far for that in Canada unless Google and Facebook can find a way to get Pierre Poilievre to blow up C-18 and no doubt he is game.
Meanwhile Google is engaged in a lobbying and publicity campaign against the Bill, while Facebook is making ominous comments about downgrading news content in their feed (used to be “newsfeed”) algorithm.
As a kind of insurance policy, over the last year both Platforms made confidential pay-for-news deals with individual print news organizations for what are surely on terms dictated by the Platforms.
Earlier this week I posted a review of a book I very much recommend, John Zada’s “Veils of Distortion: How the News Media Warps the Mind.”
In the course of summarizing a portion of his narrative about the beguiling power of storytelling in news journalism —that we are imprinted with a primal desire for good storytelling— I unwittingly stumbled into an important academic debate about whether storytelling is truly “innate” and even further that it is “primal” in an evolutionary sense.
For those of you with an academic bent, you may find Jonathan Kramnick’s “Against Literary Darwinism” Critical Inquiry 37 (2011) interesting. If you want to read the full article for the purpose of research, I believe I will be on the right side of the copyright/fair use line by sharing it with you, so just email me at Howard.Law@bell.net.
The debate over the Online Streaming Act Bill C-11 has been mercifully quiet for a few weeks.
Today the Globe’s Johanna Schneller wrote an interesting piece on the US streamers’ purported pivot to making and distributing nationally-distinct programming as a global business strategy.
Whether that is just spin for the C-11 debate (the timing is very convenient) or a real change in global programming strategy is something we will have to wait and see about.
There are some insights from Schneller’s interviews with the Californian streaming studios about working on authentically Canadian projects with independent Canadian producers who will expect under current CanCon certification rules to hold onto the intellectual property rights to second seasons, sequels and spin-offs.
Amazon’s Christina Wayne was having none of that when she told the Globe “the deals we do [with Canadian producers] are competitive. If producers want to retain ownership, they can sell somewhere else.”
There are other policy issues bubbling to the surface that I hope to post about soon.
- A number of broadcasting and policy groups are filing petitions to the federal cabinet to overturn some of the more controversial terms of the CRTC’s renewal of CBC’s licence.
- The CBC has filed its own appeal document (to federal court) against the CRTC’s ruling on the use of the N-Word by two Radio-Canada hosts.
- A fresh development that impacts the debate over the Rogers-Shaw merger is a complaint filed by a small Canadian broadcaster One Soccer against Rogers for denying access to distribution on the Rogers Cable platform. During the merger approval at the CRTC, the Commission mostly deflected the efforts of small programmers to obtain mandatory access to Rogers’ cable platform which will, if the merger is completed, own 47% of the English Canadian cable market.
More on that once Rogers files its reply a month from now. The One Soccer filing is listed on the CRTC site as Timeless Inc. v. Rogers.