The social media conglomerate, Meta, has announced plans to cease the provision of news content to all Canadian users on its platforms in light of the recently approved Bill C-18, the Online News Act. This announcement was made on the same day the bill received royal assent.
The new law, designed to regulate tech giants like Meta and Google, requires these companies to pay news outlets for hosting their content. Meta has clarified that the implementation of these changes will be gradual, spanning over the next few months.
Government Stands by the Online News Act
In response to Meta’s statement, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez expressed the importance of a “free and independent press.” He underscored the bill’s purpose as a means to level the playing field between large tech companies and local news businesses, ensuring fair compensation for their journalistic contributions.
Despite Meta’s opposition to the Act, Rodriguez maintains that the company currently has no obligations under the Act. As the Bill prepares to come into force over the next six months, the Department of Canadian Heritage will be drafting detailed regulations regarding its application and execution.
A Test of Meta’s Stand
Earlier this month, in anticipation of the passage of Bill C-18, Meta began testing the impact of blocking news access for a small percentage of Canadian users of Facebook and Instagram. This test, according to the company, is still ongoing.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau voiced strong criticism against such tactics, insisting that internet giants should pay their fair share instead of resorting to what he referred to as “bullying tactics.”
Bill C-18: Aiming for Fair Commercial Deals
Introduced in April 2022, Bill C-18 was devised with the goal of compelling digital giants like Meta and Google to compensate news publishers for their content. It aims to redress the imbalance between tech platforms and Canadian news publishers, enabling them to strike “fair commercial deals” independently of government intervention.
If an agreement cannot be reached voluntarily, news businesses can initiate a mandatory bargaining process leading to a binding decision from a Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) arbitration panel.
The Future of News Industry in Canada
Bill C-18 was proposed as a means to support the dwindling news industry. Over the past decade, more than 470 media outlets in Canada have closed, with at least one-third of Canadian journalism jobs disappearing since 2008.
By enforcing compensation from digital giants for news content, the government hopes to encourage the creation of new content and protect the sustainability of the Canadian news ecosystem. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission reports that more than $190 million has been paid to Australian media companies since a similar law was enacted in Australia last year.
The Tech Giants’ Reaction
Both Meta and Google have expressed strong opposition to Bill C-18. Google announced it is “continuing to urgently seek to work” with the Canadian government, despite stating that none of its concerns with the bill have been addressed.
Although Meta initially threatened to end access to news content for Canadian users, it remains to be seen whether it will follow through with these plans. As Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said, “We cannot base our decision as a government on threats from a company.”