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Bill C-18: A Move to Balance Tech Power and Local Media Revenues

Online News Act: The Birth of A Regulatory Framework

Canada’s Heritage Minister, Pascale St-Onge, unveiled a new set of proposed regulations under the Online News Act in an attempt to ensure tech giants Google and Facebook compensate local media outlets for their news content. The act targets companies boasting over $1 billion in annual global revenue, functioning in the search engine or social media sectors, and attracting at least 20 million monthly unique Canadian visitors. Currently, only Google and Facebook meet these criteria, but Microsoft’s Bing may soon follow suit.

Digital Platforms and Journalism: A Tug of War

Introduced as Bill C-18 in April 2022, the Act emerges as a response to the dramatic decline in revenues for Canadian media outlets, particularly from advertising, a sector now dominated by these tech giants. Since 2010, Canada has lost about one-third of its journalism jobs, leading the government to take steps to balance the scales. “Canadians heavily rely on digital platforms for their news,” stated Minister St-Onge. “But it’s crucial these platforms act responsibly and offer support to the news sharing that benefits them and our citizens. The Online News Act demands they negotiate fairly with news businesses of all sizes.” However, the reception from tech giants has been chilly at best.

While Google dubs the bill as a “link tax,” Meta has began blocking Canadian news on their platforms. Data does support Meta’s claim that platforms elevate news outlets, with significant traffic directed to Canadian news sites through them. There’s a growing concern that leading platforms might face these blocks. Despite this, Google urges Canadians to interact directly with news outlets, assuring them of direct access to Canadian news sources.

Anticipating The Digital Future

St-Onge reinforced the government’s stance, emphasizing that the Act seeks to ensure all Canadians have access to quality news. On the other hand, critics, including media analyst Michael Geist, worry about potential censorship and threats to media literacy. As Canada ventures further into the digital age, Bill C-18 and tech giants’ subsequent reactions will certainly redefine how Canadians engage with online news. With the 30-day public consultation now open, the nation watches closely to see how the digital landscape transforms next. The Proposed Regulations for the Online News Act, released on September 2nd, lay out a comprehensive framework aimed at striking a balance between major digital platforms and news entities, specifically emphasizing the support and inclusion of smaller news businesses.

Regulations Respecting the Application of the Online News Act

The “Online News Act” introduces a new framework in Canada, addressing the relationship between major digital platforms and media organizations. Highlighting aspects from the nuances of small-scale news operations to administrative details, the Act touches upon various dimensions, including environmental considerations, diversity, and international alignment. At its core, the Act’s design focuses on fostering fairness and compliance, with an emphasis on representation in journalism and the responsibility of tech platforms.

Small Business Lens: Amid the giants, the smaller players in the news industry have concerns too. Canada acknowledges the potential ripple effects of its regulations on these businesses.

  • While the focus is on large digital platforms, there’s an indirect impact on smaller news businesses.
  • To ensure fairness, digital platforms must publicly invite applications for negotiations.
  • Platforms are encouraged to negotiate with collectives of news businesses, promoting collective bargaining.

Administrative Costs & The One-for-One Rule: With every rule comes a cost. The platforms are expected to navigate the Act’s administrative demands.

  • Platforms must self-identify to the CRTC, verifying if they fit within the defined criteria.
  • The anticipated administrative overhead is minimal. Costs are determined based on specific assumptions related to digital news intermediaries, verification time, notification time, and average wages.

Regulatory Cooperation & International Alignment: Canada isn’t alone in its quest to balance media and tech. The nation’s approach aligns with international counterparts.

  • The proposed regulations don’t follow any existing work plan or formal regulatory cooperation forum.
  • There’s a strong emphasis on fair compensation for news media, drawing insights from international models such as Australia’s.
  • The Canadian government assures alignment with obligations under the CUSMA agreement.

Strategic Environmental Assessment: Every policy has a footprint. The environmental implications (or the lack thereof) of the Online News Act.

  • Preliminary evaluations indicate the proposal has negligible environmental impacts, negating the need for an in-depth analysis.

Gender-Based Analysis Plus: Diversity takes center stage. The Act addresses gender and racial disparities in the news industry.

  • Emphasis on gender and racial diversity, particularly in leadership roles within journalism.
  • The regulations are designed to prevent larger news outlets from monopolizing benefits and ensure diverse representation in news agreements.

Implementation & Oversight: With the Act’s approval, the countdown begins. The roadmap for its implementation and the role of the CRTC in its oversight.

  • Regulations will be active 180 days post the approval of the Online News Act.
  • The CRTC is responsible for enforcement and interpretation and will also oversee public consultations regarding alignment with exemption criteria.

Compliance & Enforcement:

  • The CRTC holds platforms accountable, requiring them to share information to verify compliance with notification guidelines.
  • Provisions exist for the CRTC to issue violation notices or adjust interim exemption orders.

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