Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday August 4, 2023
Canada’s News Ban Sparks Global Debate on Tech Giants and Journalism Protection
In February 2021, Australia witnessed a showdown between tech giants Facebook and Google and the Australian government over a proposed law that would have required these platforms to pay media companies for the news stories appearing on their sites. In response, Facebook decided to block news on its platform in Australia, sending shockwaves across the globe.
Fast forward to June 2023, and Canada faced a similar crossroads. Rather than negotiating a deal like Australia, Ottawa passed the Online News Act, mandating that tech giants like Meta (formerly known as Facebook) compensate news outlets for the content they share or repurpose. In a move of defiance, Meta announced the end of news availability on its platforms in Canada.
The question now is whether Canada missed an opportunity to avoid this situation and secure a better deal. Some industry leaders and academics seemed to believe that the Australian incident was merely a bluff and that Meta would back down. They underestimated the tech giant’s resolve and misread the situation.
The crucial difference between Australia’s legislation and Canada’s Online News Act lies in the concept of “designation.” In Australia, the News Media Bargaining Code granted the government the power to designate digital platforms like Meta and Google, effectively forcing them to pay for news. However, the Australian government removed this aspect during negotiations, allowing Meta and Google to make separate deals with media companies on their own terms.
Consequently, Meta and Google struck deals with more than 30 Australian media companies, resulting in approximately $200 million in value to news organizations. In contrast, the Canadian law lacks this flexibility, making it challenging for the government to engage in such negotiations.
While many believe the issue revolves around money, it runs deeper. Tech giants like Meta fear being regulated and setting a precedent that might apply to other jurisdictions. They don’t want to be cornered into accepting Canadian legislation and subsequently face pressure to do the same elsewhere. The outcome of this struggle will have global implications, as other countries and regions observe how these tech giants respond to regulatory measures.
However, beyond the financial and regulatory aspects, there is an underlying concern for Canadian journalism. The absence of news on platforms like Meta leaves a void that online trolls may exploit. By depriving trolls of mainstream Canadian news to devour, regurgitate, and berate, a news ban could help protect the integrity of journalism and promote responsible online discourse.
Canada’s decision to pass the Online News Act without a flexible designation mechanism might have limited its ability to negotiate deals with tech giants, resulting in a news ban similar to Australia’s earlier experience. Beyond financial considerations, the battle between tech giants and governments raises broader questions about regulation and global implications. Moreover, safeguarding Canadian journalism from online trolls adds another dimension to this debate. As we navigate this complex landscape, it is essential to strike a balance between protecting journalism and ensuring fair and responsible regulation of tech giants in the digital age. (AI)