History is, once again, repeating itself with Bell slashing 9% of its workforce after getting two bills they claimed would “save” journalism.
Throughout the Bill C-18 (Online News Act) and Bill C-11 (Online Streaming Act), lobbyists repeatedly told lawmakers that these bills were necessary to “save” journalism and to protect Canadian culture. After all, all their poor business decisions, technological change, and failure to adapt to a modern age was clearly all the fault of “Big Tech” because they are perfect in every way and it is totally up to the rest of the world to simply serve their every needs and protect them from awful things like market forces.
Of course, the talking points ran into some headwinds when I wrote about NewsCorp Australia slashing 1,250 jobs after getting their own link tax law in place in Australia. The report resulted in Senator Paula Simons asking lobbyists on multiple panels questions about whether or not the same will happen here in Canada. The lobbyists couldn’t dodge the questions fast enough and, instead, opted to suggest that it’s totally just an isolated one off incident and nothing to be concerned about. Unsurprisingly, the Senator, a former journalist herself, wasn’t convinced and chose to later remark that she hopes things turns out well, but worried that this is a case of her concerns falling on deaf ears.
We would later find out that it was ultimately the latter in spades. The Online News Act would ultimately quickly collapse under its own weight. Meta proved it wasn’t a bluff and dropped news links in Canada. Months later, Google threatened to do the same thing. The Canadian government went in full panic mode knowing that they could very easily be the government that killed journalism in this country and surrendered to Google, giving up on the concept of link taxes and agreeing to the originally asked for fund model of $100 million and calling it a “deal”.
The lobbyists were divided on the outcome. Many of them cried foul and refused to accept the outcome. Others, however, declared victory and said that the $100 million price tag counts as a massive victory over “Big Tech”. I pointed out that Meta dropping news links comes at an estimated cost of $230 million, leaving a deficit of $130 million. Supporters insisted that people like us are simple moving the goal posts in all of this and re-writing the events that unfolded and that $100 million is still a victory, so there!
Unsurprisingly, however, it would appear that the Online News Act, even after the massive collapse, did little to “save” journalism. CBC, the biggest beneficiary of this with a then anticipated $33 million windfall, responded by slashed 10% of its workforce. That number was then reduced to $7 million after the controversy surrounding how much they get in government subsidies in the first place. Still, it showed that history was, once again, repeating itself. Once the corporations get their handouts, they go ahead and get to the business of hacking and slashing jobs anyway because the legislation was never about “saving” journalism in the first place.
The ones that insisted that the $100 million was a victory grew increasingly quiet about the affair. You can expect them to grow even more quiet because another major beneficiary of the Online News Act has announced a major hacking and slashing of jobs as well. Bell Media, who spent much of their time insisting that in order to tell Canadian stories, they must tell American stories (no, it doesn’t make sense) and defunding local journalism has said that they are cutting even more jobs in the workforce. Last year, we learned of at least some of those job cuts after 1,300 cuts were expected. Apparently, they are pulling in huge profits and cutting anyway. From the Globe and Mail:
BCE Inc. BCE-T is reducing its work force by 9 per cent, or 4,800 positions, its largest restructuring initiative in nearly 30 years, blaming a difficult economy and a regulatory requirement to open its network to competitors.
The Montreal-based telco announced the job cuts Thursday as it reported a 23-per-cent year-over-year drop in fourth-quarter profit, to $435-million. BCE says it will save $150-million to $200-million in 2024 as a result of the restructuring.
Its shares fell more than 3 per cent, or $1.72, to $51.35 on the Toronto Stock Exchange in Thursday morning trading, extending a recent decline.
Michael Geist pretty much pointed out what we saw immediately:
Brutal job losses but to hear a company that made “only” $435M profit last quarter place some of the blame on the government and CRTC for not moving faster to force Google, Meta, Netflix, Disney and Amazon to contribute to their news costs is something.
It is, indeed, something to see a company earn a $435 million profit and respond by slashing these jobs in the first place. On the surface, it really doesn’t make any sense. Some would say that a better explanation is that Bell is doing this to cut larger dividends with their shareholders. Either way, the last thing Bell wants to do is “save” journalism here.
The complaints for why Bell is making these decisions are quite laughable:
In an open letter to employees Thursday, president and CEO Mirko Bibic called the decision “incredibly tough” and said that, wherever possible, the company would use vacancies and natural attrition to reduce its work force.
“We continue to face a difficult economy and government and regulatory decisions that undermine investment in our networks, fail to support our media business in a time of crisis and fail to level the playing field with global tech giants,” Mr. Bibic wrote.
“Of particular concern is a recent decision by the CRTC forcing Bell to provide third party resellers access to our high-speed fibre network before we have even had an opportunity to recoup our multi-billion dollar investment.”
Last week, BCE urged the federal cabinet to overturn the Nov. 6 CRTC decision, which requires the telco to provide competitors with access to its network in Ontario and Quebec at regulated rates. BCE has also asked the Federal Court for leave to appeal the decision. That case is still pending.
What’s more, it is hilarious that part of the blame is being put on the CRTC not moving faster to demand platforms fork over their money to their business on top of it all. It’s a bizarre complaint given that even by May of last year when the CRTC released a timeline for their consultations, it was widely known that the CRTC is going to conduct a multi-year long consultation on how to implement the Online Streaming Act. Nothing about the fact that it was going to take years to implement the Online Streaming Act is surprising. Apparently, though, Bell was just expecting that the moment the legislation passed was the moment they start receiving hundreds of millions in free money. If that was well and truly the expectation from Bell, the same company that straight up told the CRTC during those consultations that “a level playing field is not enough“, then Bell is truly run by space cadets. They are not even on the same planet when it comes to expectations about the process.
This isn’t even getting into the fact that a number of streamers are already contemplating on leaving Canada over the Online Streaming Act. That would essentially reduce the amount of payments that would theoretically come out of the Act in the first place. Again, this is yet another bill that is in the process of collapsing – at least on the money front.
So, if these jobs are being slashed now, then there was no reasonable expectation that the Online Streaming Act was going to be any better at trying to “save” journalism than the Online News Act. I mean, the money is already about to begin to flow to Bell, one of the biggest beneficiaries of that. The Online Streaming Act needs more time for implementation. To say that either was going to “save” journalism is a joke. Those jobs were as good as cut and Bell was only using those impending job cuts as a political talking point to get what they wanted. Their employees were mere political pawns in the end.
Now, we have two major beneficiaries on their employee position hacking and slashing tour. It really wouldn’t be a surprise if other major beneficiaries are going to be found doing the same.
None of this is particularly surprising. I’ve long said that the Online News Act and the Online Streaming Act was never going to “save” journalism. There were many other forces responsible for the decline of employee ranks in these companies and both of these laws were going to to nothing but line the pockets of hedge fund bosses and CEO’s. Everyone else was going to get the shaft. After all is said in done, that is exactly what is happening. I hate to say it, but it appears that us critics were right all along.