Abacus Poll on Defunding the CBC
April 23, 2023
On Friday morning MediaPolicy published its recommendation to the Prime Minister that he concede that Pierre Poilievre has succeeded in making the CBC into a wedge issue, and to meet that challenge.
An hour later, Twitter’s Elon Musk repealed his ‘government funded’ label for CBC, walking back the calculated insult to CBC’s editorial independence as encouraged by Poilievre.
An hour after that, Abacus published a poll suggesting that public opinion supportive of ‘defund the CBC’ has broken out from the Conservative base and sits at 45%.
On April 20th Google’s senior American executives Kent Walker and Richard Gingras appeared before Heritage Committee MPs after ignoring their previous summons in March to explain their news blocking activity (the Globe and Mail story is here).
Walker and Gingras were exceedingly polite, which just goes to show you they do understand Canada after all. Although they never said ‘sorry.’
Heritage MPs wanted a number of questions answered and confessions made about Google’s five-week news blocking demonstration, fired as a warning shot across Parliament’s bow over Bill C-18, the Online News Act. It was unusual to see the happy warriors Conservative Rachael Thomas and Liberal Chris Bittle team up for a little hazing.
For their part, Walker and Gingras delivered a polished performance trying to turn the meeting into a discussion of why Canadian MPs ought to walk away from the legislation they approved in December.
To summarize Google’s position:
- Yes, they could confirm that as the Search Engine for 95% of Canadians, Google blocked news to 1.1 million Canadians as a ‘test’ for a permanent block of 34 million Canadians should Bill C-18 become law.
- Yes, they might follow through on the threat.
- No, they won’t say how much money they would put behind their proposal to fund Canadian journalism on a voluntary basis if C-18 was withdrawn. (On this point Alberta MP Martin Shields stole the show).
- No, they won’t disclose the Canadian activist groups they are secretly funding in an alliance against Bills C-11 and C-18 (to their credit, some organizations have always acknowledged the funding).
- Yes, Google says they believe that C-18 will shortchange the small Canadian news outlets that Google itself has ignored in a series of voluntary compensation arrangements made mostly with larger newsrooms.
- Yes, Google played ball in Australia when it introduced the forerunner of Bill C-18 and made approximately $130 million worth of voluntary agreements with almost all Australian news outlets, large and small, but Google says Australian News Media Bargaining Code was different than Canada’s C-18 (it’s not, but that’s another blog). Correction: an earlier version of this post included Facebook’s share of the Australian settlements.
Now that Bill C-18 has passed the House of Commons —it goes to the Senate’s Communications Committee very shortly— the question arises why Google has stepped up its threats to block news even though the horse is out of the barn.
One reason: Google still frets about preventing the Australian-Canadian contagion that C-18 represents from spreading to United States Congress. An American version of Bill C-18 almost made it through Congress in December, only to fall off the table at the last moment. It appears stalled for now. If it revives, Google might pull the trigger on news blocking in Canada as an offshore demo.
The other reason for the threats is a classic bargaining stratagem.
It’s not just Canadian Parliamentarians who were supposed to notice Google’s news block. The target audience included every Canadian news outlet with whom Google will be negotiating as soon as the Senate approves Bill C-18.
Google has now made the proverbial capitalist threat ‘accept our terms or we will close the plant.’ You can’t un-say that kind of threat.
That kind of threat is not illegal in a conventional labour impasse where employers have the right to lockout and workers have the right to strike.
But a capital strike is not permitted in Bill C-18: the legislation mandates dispute resolution by binding arbitration, not the withdrawal of services. Parliament made it so because Google has a near monopoly on Search Engine distribution of news. In short, Google is obliged to play ball.
Parliamentarians pay attention: if Google figures it’s going to play hardball, we better not be playing tee-ball.
The Heritage Minister ought to have one last look at section 51 of the Act (which deals with blocking or throttling news content) and section 61 (which caps the daily fine for violating the Act at $15 million) in case a Senate amendment is in order.
Last weekend I hyped the Canada Screen Awards broadcast on CBC on the Sunday night. This was the first year of an experimental format: a taped and curated one-hour show instead of the traditional live, two-hour award ceremony.
The next morning, the Globe’s Barry Hertz panned it. I mean, he hated it.
In some ways, it was deserved. The show was not subtle in asking Canadians to support the Canadian film and TV industry as our patriotic duty: yet host Samantha Bee anchored the show from…her home in New York City.
On the other hand, the show did a lot of things right, beginning with showering honorary awards on Hollywood-made-it Canadian talent like Simu Liu, Ryan Reynolds, and Catherine O’Hara. People watch award shows to see the stars, so you might as well include the best.
Hertz frowned on the lack of trailers from nominated films, another reason why people watch. Perhaps he gave up before the 53 minute mark (of a 62-minute show) when we finally got trailers from the films nominated for the ‘Audience Choice’ award. Three minutes of them.
A brave attempt at changing the show’s format. The old format is dying (even the Oscars’ numbers are diving, and look at the money they spend). Next year, should be better right?
By the way, here are CBC reviewer Jackson Weaver’s recommendations for new CanCon being released.
The recommended weekend read is Tim Wu‘s mildly dystopian vision of the future of work in the age of AI.
Wu speculates that as a productivity-enhancing technology, AI could put us out of work but the other thing to expect is that it will touch off a work-speed up for humans. Didn’t e-mail raise expectations of your availability and response time?
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