Bell Job Cuts Leads to Second Guessing on the Effect of Bill C-18

Bell shut down multiple radio stations and cut 1,300 jobs. In response, some are beginning to second guess Bill C-18’s effect.

Last week, Bell announced that it would be closing multiple radio stations and laying off 1,300 employees. The news sent shockwaves across the news sector as questions begin to emerge on what the future holds for the news sector.

First, the initial reports generally looked like what was found on Blogto:

Bell Media is cutting 1,300 job positions and closing or selling nine of its radio stations across Canada.

Employees were informed this morning of the layoffs and closures. The layoffs include a six per cent cut at Bell Media, which includes CTV, specialty TV channels, radio stations and production studios.

Management positions will see a six per cent cut, and there will also be a 20 per cent reduction in executive roles compared to 2020.

In an open letter, BCE Inc. President and CEO Mirko Bibic said that the layoffs are in an effort to lower costs and fund new growth opportunities in a changing media environment.

Among the radio stations that will close are Winnipeg’s Funny 1290, Calgary’s Funny 1060, Edmonton’s TSN 1260, Vancouver’s BNN Bloomberg Radio 1410 and Funny 1040, and London’s NewsTalk 1290.

Bell Media will sell Hamilton’s AM Radio 1150 and AM 820, as well as Windsor’s AM 580, subject to CRTC approval.

The news trickled down to other outlets. What immediately popped into mind for some reporters is the Online Streaming Act and Bill C-18. One CP24 report ran with the headline of “Bell cuts put Bill C-18 back in the spotlight as Meta tests blocking news“. The article itself showed a sector that is growing increasingly uncomfortable with the situation:

A bill meant to force big tech companies to compensate Canadian media for news content appearing on their platforms is back in the spotlight amid BCE Inc.’s decision to slash 1,300 positions, including six per cent of its media arm.

Bell chief legal and regulatory officer Robert Malcolmson raised concerns this week about Bill C-18, saying it won’t do what it’s meant to if companies such as Google and Meta restrict or block news links on their sites.

Indeed, Facebook has long warned that it would drop news links. Those warnings of such a response largely fell on deaf ears after the media and government responded by saying that this was all just a big fancy bluff and that the platforms would never actually do that. These talking points relied heavily on the talking point that platforms rely almost exclusively on news links and such a move would basically cause their operations to practically shut down overnight. The evidence never got close to supporting this theory as some tried to cherry pick figures to try an bolster those claims.

Of course, no amount of spin is enough to take on the freight train of reality. In response to the government moving full steam ahead with the legislation, Facebook tooted the reality train horn as it began started test blocking news links for 5% of it’s users. As the saying goes, “f*** around and find out.” In this case, the media began finding out with the test and started having second thoughts on what the heck they have done.

So, naturally, they went running to government officials for a response. Indeed, government officials have never really laid out a plan in the scenario that news links would get blocked. Understandably, the media was wondering what was behind the “in case of emergency, break glass” sign. Unfortunately for the media, they had Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez answering those questions. He basically said that this is all just a big fancy bluff and to just believe that things will magically work out on their own. If the media had even the slightest hint of self-preservation going on in their minds, this answer is nowhere near good enough. They needed something solid and concrete.

In response to this increasingly desperate situation, they went running to Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Maybe Rodriguez was an idiot in all of this and the Prime Minister would be able to show an ace up the sleeve in the situation. Trudeau responded to the increasingly worried questions from the media by saying that he is very very very disappointed in Meta. Yup, no planned amendment to compel linking, no reliance on international trade agreements, no alternative mechanism that was missed by others that could be used, and no anti-trust solution. Just a comment expressing disappointment to the situation. The response made it crystal clear that there is no “plan B” for this situation. That sinking feeling that reporters no doubt felt at that moment? That is the feeling of impending “finding out”.

If the large media companies were hoping for a sign that there is some really well hidden effective response to link blocking, then they clearly didn’t get it from Bell. After all, executives are admitting that Bill C-18 won’t have the intended effects some in the sector thought it would have. Fortunately for the internet, there is already a meme GIF that seems to nicely capture some of the feelings in the news sector right about now:

Yes large media conglomerates, the stove is hot. We didn’t warn you of this because we are part of some conspiracy trying to trick you into something bad. We warned you because the stove is freaking hot. Unless the media can find some sort of miracle to put the brakes on this bill, consequences are soon to follow. As a result, bravery or not, that hand is going to get burned.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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