Bill C-18, the “Online News Act”, was introduced on April 5th by the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Pablo Rodriguez.
The legislation would compel tech platforms to remunerate news outlets.
According to the Canadian government, bill C-18 would “provide fair compensation, respect journalistic independence and invest in a diversity of Canadian news outlets, including independent local businesses, among other criterias”.
In a nutshell, tech companies such as Facebook and Google will need to pay simply because they allow for news stories to be published on their platform.
“More than 450 news outlets have closed since 2008. More than 60 of those closures have occurred in the last two years alone. Digital platforms and social media are now the gateways where people find, read and share news. Because of this, advertising revenues have shifted away from local news and journalists to these gatekeepers, who profit from the sharing and distribution of Canadian news content”, the Canadian heritage minister wrote.
Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce law has openly criticized the proposed legislation.
“There was a time when this government fashioned itself as pro-Internet, supportive of net neutrality, and a staunch defender of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the press and other media of communication. Yet it cannot credibly claim to support those principles and simultaneously legislate barriers to accessing media by mandating payments for facilitating access to media sources”, Geist wrote.
“Further, how is any of this possibly constitutional? Would the Supreme Court uphold a law whose effect could be to limit facilitation of access to news? Moreover, how does the entire Bill C-18 framework fit within the federal government’s jurisdiction? It isn’t broadcast, it isn’t telecommunications, and it isn’t copyright. If the government claims powers over anything involving the Internet then it believes there are no real limits on its jurisdiction.”
“Millions of Canadians choose to access media through search and social media. […] mandating payments for services that facilitate access to media sources runs counter to basic freedoms and casts aside the suggestion that the bill is limited to a “quid pro quo” of payment for links to news articles. Bill C-18 is shamefully over-broad, an embarrassment to the news media lobby that demanded it, and unworthy of a government that sees itself as a model for the rest of the world on media freedoms”, Geist added.
As the readership and profitability of legacy media has declined in the last decade, many outlets have failed to reflect on why they are losing the public’s interest. In the meantime, independent online outlets have emerged and thrived.