Bill C-18: As Government Talks News Media Bailout, Meta Denies Talks, is Dropping News Links

The temperature is increasing in the Bill C-18 debate. The government is talking bailouts while Meta is talking news links exit.

Recently, we reported on the government holding last ditch effort talks to try and salvage the Online News Act situation. All this after word that Meta said that it’ll be dropping news links in light of the bill becoming law.

With the situation growing more dire, news surfaced that suggests how the government is now contemplating issuing massive news media bailouts. From CTV:

Google said it came close to making the same choice as Bill C-18 came closer to passing, but an “11th-hour” meeting with Rodriguez resulted in the company delaying the decision. The company said it had “aggressively” pursued Rodriguez so that it could express its displeasure over the legislation.

Rodriguez disputed the characterization of the meeting as a last-ditch effort to co-operate. He said he usually meets stakeholders when a bill is introduced and again as it passes, and that his department met Google several times throughout.

He also said he remains firm in his view that Google will be subject to the law because of their market dominance in online advertising.

Rodriguez would not say how his government would ensure newsrooms have resources beyond the existing suite of measures, which include funding programs for magazines, newspapers and local journalism, as well as tax credits.

But he said every option is on the table should Meta and Google block news.

“We have to make sure that newsrooms are open, that (journalists) are able to do their job and (they) have the resources necessary,” he said.

For quite some time now, the large media outlets pressed the government. Early in the month, the CBC asked Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez, about how he plans on responding to Meta’s announcement that news links will be blocked on their platform. At the time, the minister didn’t even have any answers. Instead, he, in the midst of his stammering and borderline incomprehensible comments, suggested that this is all just intimidation tactics.

Obviously, those answers were not good enough for the media, so they asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about a possible response like, maybe, a plan “B”. Trudeau responded by saying that he was really really disappointed in the platforms and said that their decision is a “real problem”. Again, no answers, no plan “B”, no plans on responding.

So, getting an answer like this now suggests that the government is improvising at this point. Some might be wondering why it took so long to finally come up with an alternative plan. Well, in all likelihood, they internally looked at whether they can sanction the platforms, enforce other laws to try and encourage them to come back to Canada, or utilize international law to punish the platforms for dropping news links. In response, their internal experts probably eventually came back to the government empty handed, proving the experts in this debate right all along. Faced with no method of retaliation, the Canadian government probably then decided that massive media bailouts are the next best thing.

Obviously, the government has pretty much painted themselves into a corner in all of this. Now that they finally realize that the threats are real, they are looking at all options, hence the comment that all options are on the table at this stage. The only other option was to open up talked with the platforms to try and talk them out of their position… somehow. Beyond that, the tool chest to handle the situation is likely empty otherwise. That’s how we got the recent report of the last ditch effort talks. Obviously, the Minister is trying to save face by denying that these are last ditch effort talks, but there’s really no other way of describing them. Without such talks, the platforms walk. Salvaging the situation depends entirely on such talks in the first place.

Of course, a news media bailout is far from a good situation. We’re talking about temporary funding techniques to solve what could be a permanent problem. What’s worse is that we are basically describing raiding taxpayer’s money to solve a problem that was ultimately the government and large news media corporations own making. They all brought this situation on themselves here. That is politically damaging no matter what.

Then, we talk about the practicalities of the news media bailouts. The question is, who gets the funding? Picking and choosing which organization is going to get the bailout money is going to be messy one way or another. Obviously, the cleanest way to do so is to ask organizations to show that their news links got blocked before requesting financial relief. Then, there is the issue of the government possibly not liking some of those who apply for such relief. What if they determine that they are “not news” and deny that request? This opens up the possibility of litigation because the government has demonstrably injured their organization in the first place.

This isn’t even getting into determining how much in financial relief each affected organization gets. How do you determine a fair amount for compensation? How much is too much from the public purse? What about the whole idea of the media now being financially beholden to the government? Does that affect their coverage of news?

All of this is an innocent sounding idea at first, but when you get into the details of how to implement it, this is going to prove to be a logistical nightmare when put into practice.

While the initial reports suggested that Meta was skeptical of such talks, reports today indicate that Meta isn’t even in talks with the government. They said that they are out of the news links business and moving ahead with plans. From the CBC:

Meta’s head of public policy in Canada says there are no talks underway with the federal government on the new online streaming law and the social media giant is moving on its threat to drop Canadian news from its platforms.

“We are proceeding towards ending the availability of news permanently in Canada,” Rachel Curran told Power & Politics on Tuesday.

[disinformation removed]

Meta has said it will comply with the law by removing news from its Facebook and Instagram platforms by the end of the year.

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has said he hopes the Liberal government can negotiate an agreement with Meta that allows news to remain available on the company’s platforms and also follows the rules laid out in C-18.

But Curran said there is no room for negotiations with the bill as written.

“Our trajectory is set. There is no way to negotiate out of the framework of this bill,” she told host David Cochrane.

This is certainly far removed from the earlier reports suggesting that Meta is simply skeptical. From Meta’s perspective, there’s nothing to negotiate. The law is unworkable and they are eventually going to implement their plans to block news links.

The practical effect in all of this is that this will definitely put further pressure for Google to follow suit. After all, Google simply staying with Meta leaving is certainly not an outcome anyone would have predicted, but given what we know at this stage, that possibility has gone from being out of the question to a remote possibility. Still, that seems unlikely at this point.

Either way, with the situation that is unfolding, it is rewarding to see some of the larger outlets now seeing the disaster that is about to unfold similarly with what we saw all along. Even if it’s just Meta that drops news links, that is going to do considerable damage to the news sector as a whole. More outlets will likely survive the impending news link apocalypse, but some likely depend too much on those particular platforms to make much of a difference in survivability. Others will probably take a financial hit as well as a traffic hit to their web properties.

At this stage, we are seeing the government go from how the threats to drop news links is all just a big bluff to last minute panic efforts to try and avert disaster. Given that they only, just now, thought about bailing out the media, the idea of a government like this improvising their way through this mess isn’t exactly a scene that instills confidence. If people in the media weren’t panicking before about this whole situation, they probably should be now.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: