Bill C-18 Supporters Fiddle With Partisan Attacks While the News Sector Burns

The news sector is in the process of being dealt with a severe blow. Bill C-18 supporters chose to roll out partisan attacks.

The government has been out of options for some time now. After passing the terrible Bill C-18 news links law, the damaging consequences are already being felt in the Canadian news sector. This was seen in the testing on Instagram where news organizations were losing access to their accounts. This along with the Google tests that occurred back in June.

The worst of this is yet to come. At the top of this month, Facebook announced that it would be rolling out the full news links blocking this month. The announcement basically says that the testing phase is over and we are moving on to the real deal. The damaging impacts are hard to overstate. Large news sectors will take a hit to their bottom line, smaller innovative players will now get completely knee-capped with their ability to grow (or in some cases, being unable to survive), and users will end up being worse off. It’s a situation where everyone loses, with the losses affecting the platforms the least out of everyone. Nevertheless, the move means that the platforms are in compliance with the new law.

Critics have long warned about this, offered alternative solutions, tried to bargain and reason with the government, and even begged the government not to go through with this. The government, however, only responded by accusing them of being shills for big tech and proclaiming that link taxes was the only solution to be had moving forward. Nothing was going to change their minds and get them to see the reality of the situation. Now, as a result, critics are watching their warnings and predictions come true one after another. Astonishingly, to this day, the government still refuses to see the situation for what it really is – a disaster for the entire news sector. In fact, they still cling onto talking points like “But Australia!” and are still banking on magical thinking and pixie dust to win the day.

Of course, rather than address the impending crisis in the news sector, supporters of the now called Online News Act decided that shooting the messenger in all of this is the best use of their time. This occurred in waves of personal attacks on those who dared to question the bill in the first place. Whether it was falsely claiming that the legislation has to do with news links or falsely suggesting that supporters never offered and alternative solutions, supporters are hitting the “shoot the messenger” gimmick hard.

Now, supporters are launching a fresh wave of personal attacks on those who dared to criticize their holy legislation. In the latest round of personal attacks, supporters of the legislation are using partisan attacks against non-partisan critics. This, of course, is a worthless line of attack form the start given that it assumes that critics actually care about such nonsense in the first place. The partisan attack is that the Conservative party, back in 2021, made similar calls for such a piece of legislation. In the 2021 platform, the Conservative party said this on page 154-155 (PDF page 78):

Protecting and Ensuring the Independence of Canadian Media

Canadian media is in crisis. The loss of digital advertising revenue to American tech giants like Google and Facebook is putting local newspapers out of business, costing Canadian jobs, and undermining our ability to tell local, Canadian stories.

Canada’s Conservatives don’t believe that the solution is for the government to provide direct funding to hand-picked media outlets, something that undermines press freedom and trust in the media.

Instead, we will secure a level playing field for Canadian media, ensuring that Canadians are paid fairly for the content they create while encouraging the creation of more Canadian media and culture.

Canada’s Conservatives will:

  • Introduce a digital media royalty framework to ensure that Canadian media outlets are fairly compensated for the sharing of their content by platforms like Google and Facebook. It will:
    • Adopt a made in Canada approach that incorporates the best practices of jurisdictions like Australia and France.
    • Include a robust arbitration process and the creation of an intellectual property right for article extracts shared on a social media platform.
    • Ensure that smaller media outlets are included, and that the government won’t be able to pick and choose who has access to the royalty framework.
  • Introduce a Digital Services Tax representing 3% of gross revenue in Canada to make web giants pay their fair share.
  • Significantly reduce the amount of money the government is spending on advertising with big foreign tech companies like Twitter and instead direct federal ad dollars to Canadian media, including community weeklies, regional media, and ethnic media.
  • Recognize and correct the adverse economic impact for creators and publishers from the uncompensated use of their works in a manner consistent with the unanimous recommendations of the Heritage Committee of the House of Commons Report in 2019.
  • End Trudeau’s $600 million media bailout. While we support Canadian media outlets, they should not be directly receiving tax dollars. Government funding of “approved” media undermines press freedom, a vital part of a free society.
  • Conduct a review of federal book publishing policy to enhance the commercial viability of Canada’s independent publishing sector.

Yes, the entire news sector is in crisis and this is how the bills supporters choose to spend their time: digging through past Conservative party platforms.

The first appearance of this partisan attack seems to be when former Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez, used it during his appearance at the senate on this legislation. My response at the time was basically, wow, I don’t care, I never supported the Conservative party in the first place.

Current Heritage Minister, Pascale St-Onge, has basically reinvigorated that more recently in a more recent tweet:

Pierre Poilievre and the Conservatives ran on this promise only two years ago. They’d hoped you’d forgotten.

Now they’re spreading misinformation about it in support of American billionaires and tech giants instead of doing what’s right for Canada.

Other supporters were also pushing this line of attack on social media as well against those who were opposed to this legislation.

The real question is, on what planet is this supposed to make a difference?

First of all, back in 2021 when the election was called, this very point was something I called out as bad back then with the following:

The Bad:

  • Pushing broader implementation of the CPTPP and TiSA which criminalizes breaking a DRM and unmasks domain name owners to increase the threat of potential abuse for domain name owners in Canada
  • Mirroring the notorious link tax pushed by the Liberals, though leaving the door open for smaller independent creators to getting the funding afterwards

Further, earlier this month, I noted that current Conservative leader, Pierre Poilieve, takes a bizarre path to the correct response to this legislation.

With all of that, it shows that I’ve personally been consistent on this issue for years. Link taxes are bad laws. It will cause mayhem in the news sector. I knew this back when this was first being pushed and I know this today. My personal position on this has never changed.

To that end, a critical flaw is that this attack on critics assume that everyone who is against this new law is a Conservative. This is a fatally flawed assumption because critics span the entire political spectrum. What’s more, a number of critics, such as myself and Michael Geist, are non-partisan observers. Always have been, very likely always will be. As a result, our collective response is, “So? Why should we care?” Trying to turn this into a partisan issue is a fruitless exercise from the beginning and only makes supporters look even more desperate to grasp at anything and everything at this stage.

The overarching problem with this is that it does nothing to change the situation that the Online News Act is causing in the first place. Meta is already in the process of dropping news links in Canada. Google is likely to follow suit at some point in the future (which would be even more damaging than Meta’s move). Do supporters of the new law honestly believe that by saying how the Conservative party supporting link taxes in 2021 is somehow going to bring the platforms back? That is extremely laughable.

What is sad is that while the media is faced with an existential crisis in Canada, supporters have decided to use what little time is left to play partisan games, pretending that everyone who is against this legislation are card carrying Conservatives. At the end of the day, supporters of this new law are desperate and are wasting their time with these stupid political games. People’s livelihoods (mostly people who are trying to build innovative startups in the news sector) are at risk. For all the bluster that this whole exercise was about looking after the little guy, this latest effort certainly proves otherwise.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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