Canadian Heritage Committee Proves Government Has Learned Nothing From Online News Act Debacle

Today, the department of Canadian Heritage held a committee hearing. It shows how the government has learned nothing from the Online News Act failures.

We are now 21 days away from Google pulling the plug from hosting news links. This in response to the idiotic Online News Act, Canada’s link tax law. This multiyear long debate has been incredibly lopsided in favour of critics where the critics were basically right about everything and the proponents were wrong about everything.

For supporters of the legislation, here’s a sample of the arguments:

  • Platforms are scraping news stories and republishing those news stories without permission: wrong
  • Platforms are profiting heavily from the republishing of news content: wrong
  • Platforms are stealing news content from publishers: wrong
  • Platforms depend entirely on news content shared on their services: wrong
  • Platforms blocking news links is censorship: wrong
  • There’s no way that Meta would block news links: wrong
  • Meta’s threats to block news links is just a bluff: wrong
  • Meta’s threats to block news links is just an intimidation tactic: wrong
  • Meta blocking news links is censorship: wrong
  • Meta won’t last a week without news links: wrong
  • Meta will come back any day now: wrong
  • Meta’s traffic will collapse overnight without news links: wrong
  • An advertiser boycott against Meta will totally be successful: wrong
  • A user boycott against Meta will totally be successful: wrong
  • A second user boycott of Meta will totally be different from the first two boycotts: wrong
  • Meta will lose huge amounts of money without news links: wrong
  • Meta will change their minds on this whole thing, you’ll see: not so far
  • Google wouldn’t dare block news links: not looking good for that one

Then there is the critics side of things:

  • The sharing of news links on platforms represents a symbiotic relationship between publishers and platforms: correct
  • News links on platforms arguably falls under fair dealing under Canada’s copyright laws: very likely correct
  • Publishers are the ones largely responsible these days for the sharing of news links: correct
  • Publishers get traffic from platforms to their respective websites: correct
  • Platforms depend little on news links and can replace such content with other content if need be: correct
  • Publishers need platforms far more than platforms need publishers: correct
  • The Online News Act represents a serious threat to small publishers: correct
  • If the Online News Act passes, Meta will definitely block news links: correct
  • The blocking of news links represents an existential threat to smaller publishers: correct
  • Meta will not suffer without news links: correct
  • Meta dropping news links will be the straw that breaks the camels back for some publishers: correct
  • The situation will cause significant harm to innovation in the Canadian news sector, killing off smaller players in the process: correct
  • Google will likely follow suit and drop news links: looking likely

It’s about as definitive of a result as you can get, there. Critics made their case, but the government flatly ignored these calls for common sense. Instead, the government chose to bury their heads in the sand and rely on conspiracy theories like how anyone criticizing the Online News Act is a card carrying Conservative or that they are a “Bit Tech” “shill” and nothing more. Naturally, they are wrong about that too. We have reached the point of the debate where the only argument you need to easily refute supporters assertions about the Online News Act is simply “look around you”. Reality is here and it is set to hit harder.

To some degree, even the government has more or less acknowledged that the Online News Act is on the verge of failure, making the entire news sector collateral damage in what is arguably one of the biggest policy blunders the Canadian government has done in recent memory. How did they acknowledge their failure? By announcing massive bailouts for the large news sector. Why quickly unveil something like this if you knew that the media players are going to get the “deals” they thought they would? The timing and haste of it all pretty much speaks for itself.

Yet, comments by the government would otherwise suggest they aren’t backing down in this impending failure. Earlier this month, Justin Trudeau conducted an interview which suggests that they aren’t exactly hesitant on anything they are doing. Last month, the Heritage Minister called the Online News Act “necessary” even as News Media Canada started to realize that they might have made a teensy tiny mistake with this whole affair.

One thing that would restore some hope is the Canadian government finally recognizing the situation they are in and acting accordingly. If that is your hope, you would be sorely disappointed. Instead, they have actively chosen ignorance with a recent Heritage Committee meeting. The title tells you pretty much everything you need to know about where the government’s mindset in all of this is: Tech Giants’ Current and Ongoing Use of Intimidation and Subversion Tactics to Evade Regulation in Canada and Across the World.

Currently, there is a video of this hearing that you can see right here, but a fair warning: listening and watching that could cause you to lose IQ points.

Some of the arguments heard include the notion that Meta blocking news links proves that they have editorial control over every single one of their posts (no it doesn’t), that algorithms are entirely responsible for radicalization in hate online and misinformation (where do you even begin with that nonsense?), that platforms blocking news links violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (how many lines of cocaine did it take to conjure up that idiocy?), and that people who criticize things like the Online News Act are well funded by “Big Tech” as part of a grand conspiracy to shut down or slow any “regulation” of “Big Tech” (a statement that would fit nicely on an Info Wars vidcast and would be equally preposterous).

University law professor, Michael Geist, was also present and wound up being the voice of reason among the panellists. Geist pointed out that the debate has gotten so ridiculous that he has to say up front that he doesn’t obtain financial compensation for his views (for that matter, neither do I). He feels he has to say that simply because of the defamatory rhetoric from supporters of the Online News Act has gotten to the point where anyone criticizing anything the government does is being paid off by “Big Tech”. On the subject of intimidation, while the committee seemed to be suggesting through the title that the hearing was about intimidation and influence by “Big Tech”, the opposite wound up being true with the intimidation of digital first creators, the attacks some of them received from government officials, and the fact that the number one lobbyist on the Online News Act was News Media Canada.

While there was a voice of reason that was present in the hearing, the hearing was simply about lawmakers airing their personal grievances against the platforms or launching various tirades and conspiracy theories, pushing failed talking points like how the blocking of news links is just an “intimidation tactic” among other things. As Geist alluded to, the hearing was misguided. As far as I’m concerned, the hearing, just based on the title alone, had no shot at being even remotely productive. All it did was give politician’s a chance to throw temper tantrums over the consequences of their actions while ironically accusing the platforms of being the ones throwing the temper tantrums. It was an exercise in projection for supporters of both the Online News Act and the Online Streaming Act.

While the hearing wound up being a colossal waste of time and taxpayers money, a silver lining (if you can call it that) in all of that is that it revealed a government that has learned nothing from the events in the past year. They didn’t learn from Meta’s decision to pull news links, they didn’t learn from the ongoing threats from the United States government, they didn’t learn from the announcements that Google was pulling news links in a few weeks time, they didn’t learn from the error of ignoring expert testimony, they didn’t learn from the messages of concern from Canadian’s, and they didn’t learn that bad talking points giving themselves warm fuzzy feelings won’t make the problems happening today go away.

Further to that, it shows that nothing has changed for the government. If their own personal ego’s demand that they defend a law by slitting the throat of the viability of the Canadian news sector, then they would do so without a second thought. In that light, the outcome that’s going to happen by December 19th is all but a sure thing. The only thing that could possibly make the outcome any different is if Google, for reasons that would absolutely make no sense whatsoever, decides to cave at the last minute and go along with that. Even then, that alone won’t reverse the damage being inflicted on the Canadian news sector. If that were to happen, then supporters of the law need to buy lottery tickets because the likelihood that something like that happening is almost non-existent.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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