Torstar co-proprietors Jordan Bitove and Paul Rivett are splitsville.
November 26, 2022
The Conservative Party’s stance on the Online News Act C-18 continues to ping-pong between critical support and dogged opposition.
The Conservatives had teed off on C-18 with a disastrous day on October 28th when they appeared to ally themselves with Facebook at a meeting of the Commons Heritage Committee.
At the next meeting, MP Kevin Waugh made a point of stating that Conservatives “support C-18” while also making it clear they will try to exclude television companies from getting compensation from Facebook or Google because that would, they argued, leave more money for newspaper companies.
Having pitched for newspapers, the Conservatives’ first amendment at this Tuesday’s session sought to exclude bargaining over compensation for news content made available through hyperlinks or constituting fair use of copyright. That would restrict bargaining to news content posted (not linked) as full text articles:
news content means content — in any format, including an audio or audiovisual format — that [is protected by copyright and] reports on, investigates or explains current issues or events of public interest. [It does not include a hyperlink that provides access to online news content and is presented without images or extracts of alphanumeric text that are part of the online news content]
Liberal MP Chris Bittle pointed out the obvious: the Conservative amendment would eviscerate the Bill of any meaningful compensation for news outlets. The amendment was defeated.
Yesterday the important challenge to the government’s Bill came from NDP MP Peter Julian who unsuccessfully tabled an amendment to limit the CRTC’s discretion to exempt Facebook or Google from bargaining with every eligible news outlet provided they reach voluntary agreements with “a significant portion” of outlets. His amendment expressly required agreements with “all eligible news businesses”:
11(1)(a)(v) they ensure a significant portion of independent local news businesses [and all eligible news businesses] benefit from them, they contribute to the sustainability of those businesses and they encourage innovative business models in the Canadian news marketplace,
The Liberals, with Bloc support, rejected Julian’s all-in approach and argued a single “bad actor” news organization could sabotage the voluntary bargaining scheme offered under the Act by refusing to come to terms with Facebook or Google. Small news outlets, Liberal MP Chris Bittle reasoned, won’t be shut out if they join together in a bargaining coalition permitted under the Bill.
What MPs never discussed was how the “significant portion” language in section 11(1)(a)(v) empowers the Big Tech platforms to ignore a faux news outlet without putting the CRTC on the spot to deny it “eligible news business” status.
Rebel-washing, if you will.
That kind of news outlet might have been on the mind of Conservatives in tabling an amendment making the diversity of “ideology and opinion” of news outlets one of the CRTC’s considerations when giving its blessing to a set of voluntary agreements. The amendment failed.
After six hours (over three sessions) of clause-by-clause consideration, the Committee has moved through about a third of nearly 100 amendments.
Bill C-11 is making slow but forward progress through the Senate Transportation and Communications Committee.
To help Senators along, at the beginning of the week MediaPolicy published a hubris-infused list of demands, “Six C-11 Amendments the Senate Must Pass.”
Senators were so impressed they ignored three of the six when questioning Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez the following day in committee: local news funding, the union-busting amendment to the Status of the Artist legislation, and preserving the public right of appeal to cabinet.
As for MediaPolicy’s remaining three amendments, the Minister’s deputy Thomas Owen Ripley assured Senators that the controversial section 7(7) did not intend for cabinet to usurp the Commission’s daily powers (see our post on “The Next Internet Czar”). Moreover, the Minister himself gave the impression he wasn’t especially committed to 7(7). It seems that if the Senate repeals 7(7), the Minister might accept that or perhaps the deftly worded revision submitted by the CRTC.
The Minister then left the Committee mid-way through proceedings to attend a cabinet meeting. This allowed the policy conversant Ripley to field questions about other controversial elements.
In responding to questions about C-11 provisions giving special treatment to Hollywood studios making movies in Canada [section 3(1)(f))] and global web giants operating content platforms [section 9.1(1)(i)], Ripley defended the Bill but in the end acknowledged the government was ceding ground to American concerns.
This left a weighty question unasked: if the Liberals have already made compromises in the spirit of avoiding trade complaints or retaliation from the Biden administration, what if any reliable assurances were obtained that we won’t see them anyway? It’s worth recalling the line in the sand that Google drew on discoverability when it appeared before the Senate in September.
Senators then began clause by clause review of the Bill on Wednesday evening. In three hours they moved through fewer than ten of 100 amendments.
The most significant amendment debated, and defeated, was a Conservative proposal to narrow the scope of the CRTC’s “discoverability” powers to key word searches by consumers.
Senators then began debating a revenue threshold for social media platforms to be included or excluded from regulation when time expired. The committee will resume amendments next Tuesday and Wednesday.
Speaking of C-11 amendments, MediaPolicy interviewed OutTV CEO Brad Danks on the Bell proposal to amend C-11 on the critical issue of distribution rights to American programming.
A good read for industry nerds and those who aspire to be.
If you didn’t catch the news report, the co-owners of Torstar have completed their commercial divorce and Jordan Bitove will become the sole proprietor of the Toronto Star and its regional newspapers.
It’s got all of the elements of corporate intrigue, culture clash between telco and creative executives, billion dollar windfalls and share value vaporization, and the Trump administration fixing its baleful gaze upon CNN.
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