From Clement Virgo’s ‘Brother’
March 18, 2023
This week MediaPolicy wrote about a media disruptor coming straight at us at pace: Open AI’s version of an instant-Wikipedia tool called ‘ChatGPT.’ You can activate it by signing up on Microsoft’s Bing search engine.
We tested ChatGPT’s capabilities by asking it if the Online Streaming Act was a good piece of legislation. Then we asked the same thing about the Online News Act.
The results are here.
You may end up agreeing with our observation that ChatGPT’s promise and danger are tied to the quality of the news and information sources that it synthesizes.
That points up the importance of media monitoring organizations like NewsGuard whose ratings of reliable journalism could be vital to the programming of Bing’s ChatGPT and whatever Google Search comes up with. Media commentator Ben Smith discusses that here.
Of course the disinformation empire might strike back. The MAGA-booster US Congressman Matt Gaetz wants NewsGuard “investigated” for being too hard on MAGA-friendly news outlets.
Gaetz would like that investigation to be carried out by the House Republicans’ newly minted Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.
It was a good week for Canadian movie-making.
Sarah Polley won an Oscar for ‘Women Talking’ and Daniel Roher won for his documentary feature on Russian democrat and political prisoner ‘Navalny.’
On the CanCon side of the moon, Barry Hertz gives a rave review to the new release “Brother” set in Toronto’s east end. Check out the trailer, here.
Another CanCon release on its way is the documentary “299 Queen Street West,” the success story of ‘80s upstart MuchMusic.
Journalists and media nerds can’t have missed the Gary Lineker/ BBC/ Conservative Party flap in the UK.
The former football star and top broadcaster Lineker was suspended by BBC management for reproaching the Conservative government on Twitter for its harsh policy on migrants. His fellow BBC sports commentators downed tools, BBC management relented, and the cozy connections between the BBC Chairman and the Conservative Party dominated coverage of the entire affair.
In the aftermath Press Gazette published an inventory of news outlet guidelines for social media activity of its journalists.
Last week’s escalation of the battle over the Online News Act Bill C-18 by Meta —making its strongest threat yet to ban news from Facebook— was certain to get a strong response from the Liberal government.
The Liberals are reconvening the Commons Heritage Committee seeking all-party support for five days of investigation into Meta and Google market power internationally and their attempts, through threats or public campaigns, to bully legislators into backing off from regulatory efforts like C-18. The Globe and Mail story is here.
The motion includes summoning senior executives from both Google and Meta with Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg as the headline attraction.
Zuckerberg won’t show up of course (he defied similar summonses issued by both Canadian and British Parliaments in the wake of the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal.)
The motion includes a subpoena of both Google and Meta’s internal communications about throttling Canadians’ access to news, a repeat of the Committee’s previous summons snubbed by Google.
It goes on to demand the platforms’ documentation of each company’s communications with possible proxy campaigners against C-18 and any Canadian who has communicated with them about regulation. That move from the investigatory to the inquisitorial is already attracting attention and the Liberals might not get support for that from the other parties.
It’s all political theatre since the die is cast on C-18: the Bill has long passed the House and is being prepared for consideration by the Senate Transportation and Communications Committee.
Nevertheless the threats by Meta (and Google) are reigniting the policy debate on how government ought to respond to Big Tech’s role in beggaring the Canadian news industry.
This brings us to our recommended weekend read penned by Konrad von Finckenstein and Peter Menzies.
Finckenstein and Menzies have never bought into the central policy argument underpinning Canada’s Bill C-18 and the Australian Newsmedia Bargaining Code, that Google and Facebook’s market power over news distribution results in news outlets being under compensated (or uncompensated) for their news content made available on those platforms.
But Finckenstein and Menzies do make a policy link to the platforms’ other oligopoly, their market power in digital advertising that has swept away market share from newspapers and broadcasters.
That leads them to propose abandoning C-18 and instead negotiating a news fund with Google:
Instead of forcing [Google and Facebook] into a forced and obviously loveless marriage based on a debatable economic foundation, a simpler immediate solution is available. Google has publicly said that it is willing to pay into a fund to support journalism producers.
Why not take them up on it?
Digital platforms over a certain size (say $75 million) would have to pay a given percentage (say five percent for the sake of argument) of their gross advertising revenue into a fund administered by a board set up by key journalistic bodies in Canada representing all sectors whose primary business is news.
The proceeds—in a manner somewhat similar to the Canada Media Fund but unburdened by its subjectivity and language politics—would be paid on a per (journalist) capita basis to each organization. The government would have nothing to do with it.
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