Bill C-18 Supporters Latest Claim That Critics Never Offered Alternative Solutions is Bunk

Bill C-18 supporters are scrambling to think of anything at this point. One attempt was to say critics never offered solutions.

Ever since Bill C-18 passed, the mood within the media sector has been anything but celebratory. With Meta and Google dropping news links, the days since has been extremely revealing on just how few options there are for the Canadian government and supporters alike.

Some may have looked at some of my commentary in the past about how the government and the media don’t have a bargaining chip to use and dismissed it as little more than partisan talking points. The problem is the fact that these observations weren’t born from trying to attack any particular party or make another political party look good. The origins of such an observation are based largely on market realities and how the internet works. The same is said for pointing out how allowing links to your content is not “stealing” by any stretch of the imagination.

Indeed, the fact that the government really doesn’t have many options in this situation is proving to be true. Earlier, Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez, announced that he would be cancelling all government deals with Meta. While some online media outlets that have publicly supported the legislation were shy about the actual numbers, those deals amounted to about $10 million. As we pointed out at the time, this is a laughably small number as Meta can make that money back in a single hour. Meta wouldn’t even really notice a difference if $10 million in revenue per year were to vanish.

All this leads to is the seeming forgone conclusion that when the platforms pulls Canadian news links, it will wreak absolute havoc in the news sector. There’s going to be layoffs and bankruptcies as some media outlets find out that this move is the straw that broke the camels back in their balance sheets. The simple truth is that if they were supporting this legislation all this time, they only have themselves to blame for this outcome – though it’s unlikely many of these publishers would admit as such.

So, with no real legal option or tool in the toolkit to use as leverage against the platforms, what’s left? Well, the minister certainly used badmouthing the platforms in international media as a method. It doesn’t really solve anything, but it does allow the minister to vent his frustrations about being completely out of options. Another option, which we have all been seeing a rise in is the launching of personal attacks on the bills critics. Again, this isn’t solving anything unless you think the main problem in this whole situation is that not enough people know that Bill C-18 supporters are psychotic maniacs. In that case, you’re finally solving that problem, so congratulations?

In the midst of these personal attacks, there was one myth some supporters were using. That myth was that Bill C-18 doesn’t deal with news links at all. This was easily debunked with both the text of the bill and statements made by the government itself.

Another myth that some supporters seem to be saying as of late is that critics of the legislation never offered any solutions or alternatives. Perhaps the real question in all of this is which is easier to debunk: the myth that news links aren’t part of the bill or that Bill C-18 supporters never offered alternatives? This is because both myths are very easy to debunk.

Probably one of the most widely known alternative solution to the news media crisis is a fund model. You really could make numerous arrangements or configurations of this. One such example is that the platforms pay into a pool of funding. After that, government, or a governmental organization could redistribute that funding to the media organizations they deem worthy of support. This suggestion by the bills critics was made repeatedly throughout the legislative process and one example was during the Bill C-18 hearings.

Indeed, this alternative approach would solve a lot of the problems that are brought on by the Online News Act. For one, you aren’t turning copyright law on its head and saying referencing material is now a compensable activity. For another, it does take steps to alleviate some of the concerns that platforms are pulling money from the advertising market and supposedly leaving these news websites with less (supposedly because there is also plenty of evidence that suggests that the platforms are not solely at fault for the decline of revenues for publishers in the first place). Are there concerns with such a fund model? Of course. How do you ensure equality in the distribution of funds? Are we increasing financial dependencies of the publishers on these funding schemes? It’s not as though these solutions are without problems to sort out, but such a solution is infinitely better than the link tax law that we have now.

Another solution put forward by, if you can believe it, a mixture of critics and supporters, is this idea of if we must have deals for linking, then establish caps or a formula to ensure all players get a proportionate amount of funding. This way, you don’t necessarily favour the largest players as the current law essentially does. This is something that does get support. Yes, we are still talking about link taxes, but at least there is a positive change to ensure that every player plays by the same rules.

There are, of course, other ideas. As Peter Menzies pointed out, there has been the publication of a whole host of other ideas as well. From MacDonald Laurier:

In that spirit, Menzies and von Finckenstein highlight six areas in which public policy-makers can assist in the development of legislation to support a sustainable news industry:

  • Reform the CBC’s role as a commercial competitor;
  • Encourage news subscriptions through tax benefits;
  • Support the digital transition of news media;
  • Reform current tax benefits and funds in support of journalism;
  • Re-evaluate the role of the CRTC,
  • And, create a Canadian Journalists Fund.

This is, by far, not a comprehensive list of ideas put forward to either improve Bill C-18 or offer alternative solutions to the now called Online News Act. Still, this proves that critics did, indeed, offer solutions and alternatives prior to the bill becoming law.

The problem wasn’t the lack of alternative ideas or solutions. The problem was that these solutions were presented to government at all levels and government and Bill C-18 supporters actively chose to ignore all of this. In response, people like us were called big tech shills or paid shill that know nothing or whatever other personal insult they wanted to lob at us because we were committing the crime of criticizing their holy and perfect bill.

Probably the only debate with these solutions is deciding which solution had the fewest pitfalls or which solution might have been more effective than the other. That may have been a very worthwhile debate to have, but the government actively slammed the door on this and actively forced the idea that Bill C-18 is the only solution that is worth pursuing, end of story – and sadly, that is probably the single worst solution the government could have come up with.

The sad truth in all of this is that the government and Bill C-18 supporters went all in on the legislation, thinking that their world view will hold out against all odds. It is clear that many never stopped and thought about any outcome other than platforms just throwing money at them for no reason at all. There was no discussion of “what if” or what would happen if the critics were right on anything. The lack of planning around, well, anything, is now biting them hard in the rear.

The fact that they have resorted to all of this obviously last minute band-aid solutions makes it clear that they are all scrambling to come up with anything that might come off as a remote solution. There is a solution, and that is repealing the Online News Act, but this is the last thing on their minds right now.

All the messaging in the world is not going to solve the very big problem that Canadian news links on platforms are going to eventually not be a thing. Media outlets, big and small, are about to get cut off from huge parts of the World Wide Web and most will not have a viable plan to make up all that lost reach once that news links lever gets pulled. Who could blame them, though? Have you tried replacing both Meta properties and Google with something else that will drive that kind of traffic to your site? Probably not.

There may very well be ways out of this giant mess that the government and big publishing created, but shooting the messenger is not one of those ways. Hurling baseless accusations at people like us won’t magically make the news links stay on the platforms any longer. Simply put, the supporters of the legislation are still not doing themselves any favours here.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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