October 22, 2022
Late yesterday Facebook announced it is reaching for the ‘nuclear’ option by threatening to block Canadian news stories on its platform as a response to the “FaceGoogle” Bill C-18, a threat that it followed through in Australia in February 2021 for a weeklong blackout before backing down.
In its statement, Facebook repeated its familiar arguments that the value of its platform runs heavily in favour of news organizations.
Bill C-18 and similar legislation already enacted in Australia and France is based on the findings by the Australian Competition Commissioner that the net value of the commercial exchange with news organizations is not properly recognized because of Google and Facebook’s outsized market power in data, digital advertising, Search and social media distribution.
The legislation allows the disagreement to be settled by arbitration: in Australia the platforms elected to settle for voluntary agreements worth about $190M rather than face an arbitrator.
Similar legislation is being considered in the UK and the all-important US Congress where the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act has bipartisan sponsorship and is expected to be debated in the Senate after the November 8th mid-term elections.
Google has also ramped up its publicity campaign against C-18. This included an Abacus opinion poll that Google commissioned to garner public support for its criticisms of the Bill a few days prior to appearing before the Commons Heritage Committee on Tuesday. I posted about how the argumentative and misleading poll questions rendered the survey results unusable.
At Tuesday’s Heritage committee hearing, Bloc MP Martin Champoux told Google representatives he considered the Abacus poll a “pseudo-poll” full of “misinformation.” My report on Google’s appearance before the committee including my comments on its critique of C-18 is posted here.
The committee reconvened on Friday afternoon to hear from CRTC Chair Ian Scott and Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez on C-18.
By then a story in the Globe and Mail had drawn attention to the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s report estimating that Canadian television companies and the CBC might be in line for $248M in compensation from FaceGoogle and newspapers were likely to receive $81M once negotiations were complete.
The overall estimate of $329M was based on an assumption that each Canadian news organization would be able to obtain settlements from FaceGoogle covering 30% of editorial expenditures (which is not in the Bill but rumoured to have been the consistent outcome in Australia where all deals were shielded by non-disclosure agreements).
Conservative MP Kevin Waugh picked up on the Globe report, suggesting “Bell, Rogers and the CBC” were “at the trough” gorging on FaceGoogle dollars earmarked for newspapers as if the overall estimate of $329M was a fixed sum to be divided up between news organizations.
Of course, there is no such “pie,” only a bargaining framework that will produce as yet unknown results. Each news organization, TV or newspaper, has an opportunity under C-18 to negotiate compensation for its own news content regardless of what other news organizations might obtain for their content.
Perhaps the subtext to the Globe story and Waugh’s comments is an argument that the CBC and the major TV networks don’t need or deserve the money for local news, and neither do their audiences. If Mr. Waugh keeps at it, I am sure I will be posting on that very soon.
The Friday committee hearing itself was a disappointment. The Minister deflected most of the specific questions he didn’t want to debate.
Bloc MP Champoux was persistent in asking why C-18 does not include tougher criteria for news organizations to establish their journalistic legitimacy, but the Minister seemed cool to any amendments.
He also discouraged suggestions that the rule requiring news publishers employ at least two journalists should be changed, citing existing government programs that support those news minnows. In doing so, he erroneously stated that these small publishers would have to choose between C-18 funding and government programs.
The Senate hearings on C-11 continue as well.
I posted an account of the Senate’s customary twice weekly review of C-11 and queried what might spill out if everyone downed a shotglass of truth serum.
The Bill continues its march towards a self-imposed November 18th deadline to amend the legislation and return it to the House. There is speculation that Conservative senators may renege on that deadline which would mean a third filibuster on the same Bill.
If you want a crash course on C-11 (besides all my posts!), there’s a 40 minute Toronto Star podcast here.
The first half is packed full of some polarized views about the Bill, supplemented with analysis by Star reporter Raisa Patel.
The second half of the podcast is the most intelligent discussion about C-11 I’ve heard yet, hosted by the Star’s Althia Raj in conversation with two Senators and former journalists, Julie Miville-Dechêne and Paula Simons.
Last but not least, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has declined to attend the Parliamentary Press Gallery gala, the annual event where party leaders put down Parliamentary cudgels to indulge in self-deprecating and other-deprecating humour.
And no, he’s not sending Jenny Byrne as a stand-in.