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“Canada’s information sector is in crisis,” Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said Tuesday at a news conference, announcing the introduction of Bill C-18, which would put in place a system for news publishers to negotiate with big tech companies like Google. and Facebook to ensure they are fairly compensated for their work.

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It is rare for a government—especially this government—to be able to clearly elucidate a problem and come up with an elegant solution, especially when it comes to an industry which, by its very definition, has a relationship conflict with the state. Yet even the most cynical politician must admit that while we view democracy as a core Canadian value, the news media plays an important role in holding governments to account and informing voters.

Millions of Canadians rely on media like this to keep up to date with what’s happening in their country and around the world. Yet over the past two decades, it has become increasingly difficult for the private sector to provide the resources needed to keep Canadians informed and governments accountable.

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The vast majority (78%) of Canadians now get their news online. Yet advertising dollars, which broadcasters and publishers have traditionally relied on to fund high-quality journalism, have increasingly been siphoned off by the big sites that aggregate news content, depriving the companies that produce it of essential funds.

Of the nearly $10 billion in advertising revenue collected in this country in 2020, 80% went to Facebook and Google, which made their living by monetizing the content produced by newspapers and other media, without paying them for their work. .

In part, more than 450 news outlets were forced to close between 2008 and 2021. This has been particularly problematic in smaller centers which now lack a local newspaper to keep citizens informed of issues affecting their communities.

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Bill C-18 seeks to redress the imbalance that exists between Canadian publishers and multinational corporations that increasingly act as gatekeepers to the Internet by creating an Australian-style system that will force online communication platforms, such as search engines and social media sites to negotiate fair deals with content creators.

If passed, the bill would establish “a framework within which digital news intermediary operators and news organizations can enter into agreements regarding news content made available by digital news intermediaries,” and allow Canadian media to collectively negotiate revenue sharing agreements.

In a situation where the parties fail to agree, the legislation would allow media companies to engage in a mandatory negotiation process, which would be backed by an arbitration procedure which the government says will only be used last resort”.

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This is similar to the system that has worked exceptionally well in Australia. Last year, the federal government passed the News Media Negotiating Code, which has helped level the playing field between Australian news publishers and big tech companies. Since its enactment, many media outlets have signed deals with tech giants that have created new jobs and helped fund quality journalism.

Australia’s system, however, has been criticized for being too secretive. And last month, a group of 30 small and medium-sized news organizations protested by refusing to publish content for a day because Google and Facebook left them out.

The Canadian law aims to prevent similar difficulties by creating an open and transparent registry of companies that fall under its jurisdiction, including the publication of public reports on the value of the agreements that have been negotiated.

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It also aims to ensure fair treatment of the industry by instructing the CRTC to ensure that digital platforms have met their obligations under the law. Once the CRTC is satisfied that a technology company has “entered into agreements with media companies” that meet the requirements set out in the legislation and the regulations made thereunder, it will issue an “exemption order” exempting the company to continue negotiations and cost recovery. charges.

Bill C-18 promises to remedy a level playing field that has existed in the marketplace for far too long. Crucially, it will do so by respecting the intellectual property rights of content creators and instituting a market-based approach to determining the value of news content – ​​while maintaining the independence and freedom of the press enjoyed by the media. . This will allow news outlets to continue to deliver the information Canadians rely on and to continue to hold governments and other powerful interests to account.



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