Careless Reporting Leads to Botched Bill C-11 Report in the Globe & Mail

The Globe & Mail is the latest mainstream media outlet to botch a Bill C-11 article. This time, it appears to be carelessness on the part of the reporter.

There’s been no shortage of bad reporting by the mainstream media on Bill C-11 and Bill C-18. In late January, we dismantled the big lie that the media was pushing on Bill C-18. In that case, it was an effort to intentionally mislead readers which is definitely a good reason to be angry at the media.

Recently, we uncovered another report that was badly written. This time, it came from the Globe & Mail. In this instance, it is unlikely to be related to any kind of malice, but rather, downright carelessness on the part of the reporter. The article in question is entitled “Film industry calls on minister to reject key Senate amendments, as Bill C-11 clears Red Chamber“. It appears to be a piece documenting reaction from lobbyists pushing for Bill C-11.

As you know, Bill C-11 recently passed the Senate on third reading and it appears to leave intact a critical fix to Section 4.2. There was always a threat that, during efforts to reconcile the two versions of the bill between the House of Commons and the Senate, that the critical fix would be removed entirely. Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez, seemed to signal that he wants to remove some of the work that the Senate has done including, potentially, the Section 4.2 fix. Obviously, the process has to proceed first, so we don’t know for sure that the correction will remain or not (no one does).

So, when the Globe & Mail reaction piece came out, it was easy to believe that the push to remove the Section 4.2 fix was sourced from the lobbyists themselves. In fact, the article itself was structured to suggest that:

The Canadian Media Producers Association and Writers Guild, representing screen writers, also called on the Minister to correct a “flaw” in the bill – which they say could cause “permanent and irreversible damage to Canada’s cultural industry” – through a ministerial directive.

The Conservative Leader in the Senate, Don Plett, urged the Red Chamber to steel itself for a fight and insist the government keep its amendments.

Reynolds Mastin, head of the Canadian Media Producers Association, said at the conference that it was unfair to “hold Canadian companies to one regulatory standard, and foreign companies to a lower one.”

“It undermines the minister’s entire mission to level the playing field for Canadians,” he said.

An Oscar-winning head of a prominent Canadian media company warned that another Senate change to the bill could penalize “hybrid” Canadian companies that both produce shows and run platforms and channels, including outside Canada.

Michael MacMillan, CEO of Blue Ant Media, whose shows include Canada’s Drag Race and the nature documentary Orangutan Jungle School, urged MPs to reverse a Senate amendment that would mean that producers affiliated with a broadcaster may not get the same level of financial support as independent Canadian producers.

“Being vigilant about this language is crucial in ensuring Canadian media hybrids, who produce and operate broadcasting channels, continue to be successful in a brave new world where we anticipate more media disruption,“ Mr. Macmillan told The Globe and Mail. “As such, we strongly suggest that the House of Commons reinstate its language to include broadcaster-affiliated producers.”

Mr. Plett urged senators to “steel their spines” if the government tears up amendments passed in the Red Chamber.

He said a key Senate amendment clarifying that amateur videos posted by YouTubers and other digital creators would not be regulated by the bill is “essential” to keep in.

If the government overturns the amendment, tabled by Senators Paula Simons and Julie Miville-Dechêne, senators will face a test of whether they have the “courage to stand by the provision they themselves have argued is essential,” he said.

So, you have a collection of quotes from lobbyists and the article then cites, quite clearly, that the Section 4.2 fix is what is being blamed. Indeed, lobbyists have made misleading statements in the past when they pushed back against any changes at all to Section 4.2. That was a theme in the early parts of the Bill C-11 senate hearings. However, as the debates continued, positions gradually changed and it became clear that lobbyists and digital first creators were fighting over two completely separate issues. By the end, lobbyists backed off attempting to block fixes to Section 4.2 with one admitting that his issue has nothing to do with “t-shirt sellers”.

What lobbyists were fighting over had more to do with copyright ownership of so-called “professional content”. They wanted to tighten the rules to make it harder for content to be certified “Canadian content”. The digital first creators, meanwhile, didn’t want algorithms to be manipulated to have their content downranked. At the end of the day, there is little to no overlap between what both sides were fighting over. If user generated content is left out of the bill, that shrinks the issue of any sort of “certification process” that is involved to certify anything as “Canadian”. This for the simple reason that online creators are not part of the system entirely.

Once both sides realized that they were fighting two completely separate issues, the temperature cooled from both sides.

Yet, when you read the above article on first blush, it well and truly looks like lobbyists are upset at the Section 4.2 fix and railing against that. Yet, some of their comments seemed a bit off. One could make the mistake that they were just using it as cover, but the lobbyists in question, as it turns out, were railing against completely different language. What it looks like is the reporter simply gathered a pile of quotes and later attributed to the Section 4.2 fix. On the reporters side of thing, that is a critical blunder and makes the entire article completely inaccurate.

What would have clarified things entirely was to have two separate sections, one for the rightsholder issue and one for the Section 4.2 issue, then attributing the quotes to either one or the other. Either that or just group the two issues and use a transition paragraph by making it clear that there is two separate issues. Something along the lines of, “while these organizations were upset at ownership language, others were upset at the issue of an amendment to Section 4.2” and attribute quotes accordingly. There really is a million ways to fix this article, but even with an apparent tweak, the article is still highly misleading.

We actually spoke to Senator Paula Simons about this article. Simons told Freezenet, “The Globe and Mail got the story completely wrong. There was NO such amendment made by the Senate. Someone – and not a senator – gave the reporter false information. She trusted her source, and didn’t check with me.”

For a major outlet, that is another major blunder. The reporter failed to contact the Senators who authored the amendment in the first place. At that point, either Senator probably would have been able to clarify that there was more than one major amendment to the bill and that what the lobbyists were upset over had nothing to do with their amendment. While smaller outlets have a significantly harder time (it’s rare that we ever get any responses from key figures in a story, though this story is thankfully an exception) getting responses from sources, larger outlets have much fewer excuses on that front.

So, how could such a horribly bad mistake like this happen? Two possibilities do come to mind. One possibility is that the reporter had little to no experience with this particular story, made a number of wrong assumptions and published the article. The other possibility is that the reporter does have experience with this particular story and never bothered looking into the deep details of Bill C-11 and published it as if it was just small non-important story that no one is going to read. In either scenario, carelessness can very easily be a cause for such a mistake.

Regardless of cause, the article is wrong and it is unlikely most, if not, all the lobbyists in the article were talking about Section 4.2. The article itself needs a major rework to make it clear which amendment that is being talked about (or, as Simons said, whether there was even an amendment that they were talking about in the first place). There were multiple amendments that did pass the Red Chamber. Clarify what specifically is being talked about here, because, as of right now, the article is completely wrong. Hopefully, the article gets fixed, but it’s hard to say if a fix is incoming.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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