Australia’s Chief Bill C-18 Lobbyist Calls for Even More Censorship of the News

Bill C-18 lobbyist and former ACCC chair, Rod Sims, is calling for even more censorship of the news on platforms.

The damage unleashed by Bill C-18 is already being felt with publishers already seeing their news links blocked on Instagram. The damage this situation can inflict on publishers is immense and it just seems like nothing is going to stop it at this point. All of this runs counter to everything supporters of the legislation have claimed – especially the claims that this is about ensuring the future of journalism in this country and helping out the smaller players.

For one Australian lobbyist, however, it seems that the damage inflicted by Bill C-18 isn’t actually enough. In his view, the platforms should be barred from being allowed to host news of any kind altogether. It would mark an escalation of censorship if he got his way, yet he is somehow seriously proposing this. From the Toronto Star:

News media content is essential for the full service needed to keep you on these platforms so they can advertise to you, which is how they make their enormous profits.

Canada recently passed a law (Bill C-18) that would require Google and Meta to pay news media businesses for the content used. It is similar to the News Media Bargaining Code (NMBC) passed by the Australian Parliament in February 2021. The NMBC’s objective was to address the massive imbalance in bargaining power between Australia’s news media businesses and the platforms. It required the parties to negotiate and, failing agreement being reached, arbitration would settle the appropriate payment.

First, Bill C-18 automatically designates Google and Facebook. In Australia, designation depended on whether Google and Facebook had done commercial deals with Australian media. Google and Facebook did not want to be designated for their own reasons and so did many great deals quickly in ways that completely achieved the goals the government, and the media, had for the NMBC. It was not the threat of arbitration that brought them to the table, but the threat of designation.

Second, the Australian NMBC says that if Google and Meta decide not to show news on their platforms then they cannot show any news at all from anywhere. In this context, it would mean that if Google and Facebook remove news it would not just be news focused on a Canadian audience but all news from anywhere in the world however targeted. That is, they cannot discriminate against Canadian-focused publishers. The Canadian government has the power to address this point through regulation, and I would encourage them to do so. The penalty of removing news would then so much larger for the platforms.

Canadian news media businesses need to be appropriately compensated for their content. The current situation is untenable. To its great credit the Canadian government recognizes this and the crucial role it must play on behalf of the future of journalism in Canada.

(emphasis mine)

This is one of the chief lobbyists for Bill C-18 advocating for he censorship of the news. The proposal is downright psychotic and should cause everyone to either distance themselves from Sims or outright condemn the suggestion. Supporters made the idea of Canadians being cut off from news on platforms a huge deal. If they condemn the idea, then they should be unanimously condemning Sims for this proposal. Bill C-18 is unquestionably going to cause enormous damage and if Sims somehow magically got his way, it would make the damage significantly worse. No reasonable perspective on this new regulation should be applauding such comments.

Mercifully, there is just no path for such regulation to take place any time soon. Demanding that all news links be blocked would require a major amendment to the Online News Act. With the bill being passed into law, that door is now closed. It would require a whole new bill to pass through the entire legislative process in the first place. Right now, the Online Harms Proposal is still awaiting to be tabled and, as such, it is a long way off from becoming law (thank goodness).

What’s more, even if a bill were to sail through the legislative process, it would be blatantly unconstitutional. It would essentially be a bill saying that platforms would be barred from allowing the publication of perfectly legal speech. That is the very definition of government censorship. There’s no political angle that would justify such a move here, either. The best you can hope for, in that scenario, would be that news publications are suffering because of the largest players making a disastrous mistake, therefore, everyone else should suffer as well in an effort to just wipe news completely off the internet in Canada. Outside of far right extremists, who the heck is supporting such an idea?

Sims has done enough damage in this country. The sooner he is out of this debate, the better everyone will be.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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