ChatGPT, journalism and Bill C-18

March 15, 2023

OpenAI just released its latest version of ChatGPT and the imagination runs wild. ChatGPT-4 transcribes video into text. 

The first thing that jumps to MediaPolicy’s Luddite mind is that ChatGPT-4 will put the folks creating Described Video out of work.

A similar concern about automation has already struck both the makers and consumers of journalism, just as educators at universities and high schools wrestle with their torment.

There is a well-known aphorism about innovation: we tend to overestimate its impact in the short-run and underestimate it in the long-run.

Less than six months after OpenAI’s release of its prototype, these are early days. Perhaps you have already taken ChatGPT out for a test drive. has done the same, starting with a couple of familiar topics, the federal Bills C-11 (Online Streaming Act) and C-18 (Online News Act).

Posed to ChatGPT through the Microsoft Bing search app:

Q. Is Bill C-11 the Online Streaming Act a good law?

The Online Streaming Act is a bill that aims to regulate how streaming platforms like Netflix, Disney+ and Spotify must treat all the audio-visual content posted online³. It would require them to contribute to the creation and promotion of Canadian content¹²⁴. The bill passed its third reading in the Senate last month with 26 amendments¹².

Whether it is a good law or not depends on your perspective and values. Some people may think it is a good law because it supports Canadian culture and diversity, creates more opportunities for Canadian creators, and ensures fair competition with traditional broadcasters⁴. Others may think it is a bad law because it interferes with consumer choice, imposes unnecessary costs on streaming platforms, and violates freedom of expression⁵.

Source: Conversation with Bing, 2023-03-14

(1) Bill C-11 – everything you need to know about Canada’s new Online …. https:// Accessed 2023-03-14.

(2) A new streaming bill is close to becoming law in Canada. Here’s how it …. https:// Accessed 2023-03-14.

(3) A new streaming bill is close to becoming law in Canada. Here’s how it …. https:// Accessed 2023-03-14.

(4) Pass Bill C-11 | CMPA. Accessed 2023-03-14.

(5) Online Streaming Act back in House, minister intends to reject some …. https:// Accessed 2023-03-14.

I tried a different question in hopes of a more in-depth answer. 

Q. How does Bill C-11 regulate media?

Bill C-11, also known as the Online Streaming Act, creates a framework to regulate digital streaming platforms like Netflix, Disney+ and Spotify, and would require them to contribute to the creation and promotion of Canadian content12. The bill passed its third reading in the Senate last month with 26 amendments32. The bill aims to modernize the 1991 Broadcasting Act and regulate how streaming platforms must treat all the audio-visual content posted online4.”

As you can see, a similar but shorter answer. 

I tried something more direct  —“write me a detailed summary of Bill C-11” — and ChatGPT generated an almost identical and terse reply to the previous question about how the legislation would regulate media.

But this time Microsoft supplemented the answer with several tiles of news stories (quaere do the news outlets have a commercial arrangement with Microsoft for making these available on Bing?) 

On to test number two. MediaPolicy asked Bing/ChatGPT if “Bill C-18 the Online News Act is a good law.

Bill C-18, also known as the Online News Act, is a Canadian bill that requires platforms like Facebook and Google to pay publishers for hosting links to news stories1. The bill has been criticized for being bad for journalism and bad for Canada1. The bill has also been criticized for mandating payments for merely facilitating access to news2. However, the Liberals argue that Bill C-18 would help the Canadian news industry, which has seen massive drops in advertising revenue over the past decade3.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions.

The footnoted sources with this last reply were skewed towards the Bill’s critics (Michael Geist, Sue Gardner), but not one-sided: they included a debunker on the trade issue from Hugh Stephens and a good explainer of the legislation from the Globe and Mail. 

In this C-18 reply, ChatGPT’s shortcomings were of omission: the answer actually misleads the reader into thinking the Bill is about lost advertising revenue (that’s certainly relevant to the politics) and fails to inform the reader of the stated intent of the Bill: requiring Tech platforms with monopolistic market power over news distribution to pay compensation for ‘making available’ editorial content without a license.  

Following our tests, here are some provisional conclusions about the state of ChatGPT and journalism:

(1) It will get better as a research tool, especially in its use of links to further research. In that way, it threatens to put Wikipedia out of business (unless that’s a classic short-term overestimation).

(2) So far the sources are confined to legitimate news outlets and academic opinion blogs (overlooking the MediaPolicy firehose, reader be outraged).

(3) As a journalistic tool to explain the world, early ChatGPT is very much an unreflective minute-taker, an automated imitator of ‘both sides’ journalism. 

(4) It is a great commercial opportunity for somebody, presumably Microsoft with Google soon to follow.

(5) If Microsoft Bing was a “designated news intermediary” under Bill C-18, its explicit use of news tiles in its ChatGPT replies would certainly be “making news content available” as contemplated by the Act. As for Bing’s prose replies to reader interrogations, a question arises: if a new version of ChatGPT stripped out the news links and just scraped news content from multiple journalist sources, would Microsoft escape the applicability of C-18?

For more, have a read of The Logic CEO David Skok’s comments on this topic.

Here’s an enthusiastic product review of ChatGPT-4 from PC Magazine.


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Published by

Howard Law

I am retired staff of Unifor, the union representing 300,000 Canadians in twenty different sectors of the economy, including 10,000 journalists and media workers. As the former Director of the Media Sector and as an unapologetic cultural nationalist, I have an abiding passion for public policy in Canadian media.

2 thoughts on “ChatGPT, journalism and Bill C-18”

  1. Nifty idea to ask ChatGPT about MediaPolicy’s turf. Love the MediaPolicy firehose reference. I will have to work up my nerve to ask the Chatbot about Ontario Public Service Employment and Labour Law.


    Liked by 1 person

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