The Online News Act: Next Steps

Aaron Wherry, CBC News:

Whether the Online News Act takes the exactly right approach to addressing the last of those problems [the financing of journalism] or not, it exists downstream from the real issue — the dominance over digital advertising that Google and Facebook have been allowed to achieve. The best that might be said for the legislation is that it could represent a “stopgap” solution for the industry, buying it some time to adapt.

(CBC/Radio-Canada’s corporate position is that the Online News Act will help level the playing field and contribute to a healthy news ecosystem in Canada.)

The American media industry is belatedly realizing that chasing the viral Internet traffic social-media platforms can generate was ultimately a fool’s errand. But as the fight over C-18 makes clear, that traffic also gave a platform like Facebook an incredible amount of power — power it is now wielding by blocking Canadian news.

This was published over the weekend. Today, the Department of Canadian Heritage, which is responsible for this legislation and its implementation, acknowledged it is negotiating some concessions to the Act:

The Minister of Canadian Heritage intends to propose regulations that would:

  • Establish a financial threshold for contributions to sustainability of the Canadian news marketplace, outlined in subparagraph 11(1)(a)(vi) of the Act. The threshold would be based on a platform’s estimated Canadian revenues and would be specific to each platform and their position within the news marketplace.

  • Reaffirm language from the Act that non-monetary offerings to news organizations, such as training or other products, be included in the CRTC’s evaluation of exemption criteria.

  • Consider existing agreements that the digital platforms have reached with news businesses, provided that they reflect the criteria outlined in Section 11 of the Act. […]

Michael Geist:

[…] There were alternative options proposed that look much like this structure. Those were consistently rejected and those proposing the alternatives dismissed as shills. Yet faced with emerging disaster that is Bill C-18, the government seems prepared to ditch the principles it said were critical in its news bill in the hope of a face-saving compromise. Whether it is also willing to drop the visions of hundreds of millions for the sector will likely determine whether it can convince at least one of the platforms to drop their plans to block news links or news sharing in Canada.

It would be quite something if this ends up by the Canadian government enforcing a watered-down version of this law while Google and Meta still avoid linking to Canadian publications. Quite a terrible something.