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The Battle of Digital News: How Canada’s Bill C-18 Shakes Up Tech Platforms

Government of Canada outlines proposed regulations for the Online News Act
Canada's Bill C-18, the Online News Act, was passed into law this spring with the intent to ensure that dominant digital platforms fairly compensate news businesses when their content appears on these platforms. The Act establishes a mechanism for tech giants, like Google and Meta, to strike commercial agreements with Canadian news publishers. However, in response to the enactment of Bill C-18 in June, Google and Meta have shown resistance, with moves suggesting Canadians might soon be unable to access Canadian news content on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Google.

Today, the Heritage Minister Pascale St. Onge unveiled proposed regulations for the Online News Act, detailing platform exemptions and initiating a 30-day public consultation. The guidelines aim to ensure digital platforms support diverse Canadian news, with the CRTC set to oversee its implementation.

Introduced in April 2022, Canada’s controversial Bill C-18, known as the Online News Act, is a response to the longstanding decline in revenues experienced by Canadian media outlets, particularly from advertising. With one-third of Canadian journalism jobs disappearing since 2010, the Act has been promoted by the Canadian Government as a strategic move to redress the balance of power in the digital news sphere, compelling tech giants like Google and Meta to compensate news publishers for their content. Mirroring Australia’s News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, Canada’s version introduces added measures, including an independent audit process. Despite its passage into law this spring, leading tech companies Google and Meta have resisted, implementing potential restrictions on Canadian news content access on their platforms.

“Canadians rely on digital platforms to access their news and information, but these tech platforms have to act responsibly and support the news sharing they and Canadians both benefit from. The Online News Act requires these dominant platforms to bargain fairly with news businesses—both big and small. The consultation on the proposed regulations today helps to provide clarity for platforms and news organizations while opening a dialogue toward real results. I look forward to engaging with platforms in a constructive way. I believe we share the goal of ensuring quality access to information and news for Canadians. Tech giants can and must contribute their fair share—nothing more. Canadians expect a vibrant news landscape where we can get the facts when we need them.”

Pascale St-Onge, Minister of Canadian Heritage

Background to the Bill C-18

The rationale communicated behind the Online News Act is to financially support the Canadian news industry. Between 2008 and 2020, the traditional news sector saw revenues plummet by almost $6 billion, leading to the closure of 474 media outlets. To offer perspective on the current state, an Angus Reid report from July revealed that a whopping 85% of Canadians haven’t subscribed to any online news. Instead, most of the population, especially those under 64, turn to platforms like Facebook and Reddit for their daily news.

Furthermore, with 85% of Canadians not subscribing to online news and the majority of those under 64 using platforms like Facebook and Reddit, the traditional news outlets have seen significant financial strains.

Regulatory Insights

These regulations aim to provide clarity on which platforms are under the Act’s purview and the steps they need to take to gain an exemption from the mandatory bargaining process. Exemptions can be achieved if platforms support the production of diverse Canadian news across communities and if the total value of their agreements crosses a specified threshold.

For a broader public consultation, these regulations will be available in the Canada Gazette, Part I, for 30 days starting September 2, 2023. Once the consultation phase concludes, the finalized regulations will be published in the Canada Gazette, Part II. From then on, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will have to abide by these regulations.

Tech Giants’ Reaction

Google and Meta, the driving forces behind platforms like Facebook and Instagram, have not received this bill warmly. Google has labeled the bill as a “link tax,” indicating concerns over its potential to disrupt web operations. Meta, conversely, has indicated that it’s the platforms that boost news outlets and not the opposite. Traffic data to Canadian news sites support this claim. Instead of getting into compensation agreements, they propose blocking Canadian news on their platforms.

Implications of C-18

There’s a significant likelihood that prominent platforms such as CTV News, CP24, and BNN Bloomberg will bear the brunt of these blocks. However, Google has encouraged Canadians to directly engage with news outlets, emphasizing that they can still directly access Canadian news sources. Still, apprehensions persist. A majority, at 63%, are anxious about the potential inaccessibility of Canadian news on major platforms.


The Canadian government is claiming the bill is entirely motivated by in fairness. Their stance is that tech giants, which have reaped most of the digital advertising revenue, ought to pay their due to news organizations. Criticisms, however, vary – from concerns over censorship to potential threats to media literacy and the authenticity of news sources.

In a statement, The Honourable Pascale St-Onge commented, “Canadians rely on digital platforms for their news and information. The Online News Act mandates these platforms to negotiate fairly with all news businesses. We aim to guarantee quality access to information and news for Canadians. Tech giants should contribute their fair share to maintain a vibrant news landscape.”

Veteran Law Professor and media analyst Michael Geist has been one of the strongest critics of the bill. In a recent commentary on his site, he notes: “What are the competition and access to information risks if Google and Meta will become news deserts in Canada? The answer to that question is not in doubt: the loss of links would be devastating for media outlets and have a huge impact on Canadians ability to find and share information.”

“The government had many options to facilitate support for the media sector but has taken the riskiest approach at every turn. Today’s regulatory announcement may have made bad situation even worse as the companies become more likely to comply with the Online News Act by stopping to facilitate access to news in Canada.”

The news, and varying opinions surrounding Bill C-18 are fast moving, and as the digital landscape evolves, the consequences of Bill C-18 and the tech giants’ response will undoubtedly transform how Canadians engage with news in the digital realm.

Key Insights:

  • The decline of traditional news outlets, with a reported fall in revenues of nearly $6 billion between 2008 and 2020 and the closure of 474 media outlets, underscores the Act’s urgency.
  • By promoting fair commercial agreements and enabling collective bargaining, especially for smaller outlets, the Act is hoping to ensure minimal governmental intervention while retaining a free and autonomous press.
  • The inclusion of diverse eligibility criteria for news businesses reflects the government’s commitment to supporting a range of news providers, from established organizations to indigenous outlets.
  • The active role of the CRTC, an independent regulatory body with a robust history in the communications sector, hints at the government’s intent to maintain arm’s length from the Act’s oversight, reinforcing the ethos of press independence.
  • The overarching Government narrative, reinforced by quotes from both Ministers of Canadian Heritage, centers on the concept of fairness: both in leveling the playing field against big tech and in ensuring all Canadians have access to quality news.
  • Critics are deeply concerned that the bill will contribute, in an already fraught time for truth and access to quality information, to making Canada a digital backwater in terms of news literacy for the general public.


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