Heritage Minister Decides to Badmouth Platforms on International Media to Woo Them Back

The Heritage Minister went onto the BBC and accused the platforms of putting peoples lives in danger. No wonder talks failed.

After ignoring every warning and dismissing every criticism, the Canadian government has successfully passed Bill C-18. For the government, the core priority was about finding out if they could. For observers and critics alike, the real question was whether or not they should.

Indeed, on the leadup to the passage of the bill, Meta announced that it would be blocking news links on their platforms along with anything else that is scoped into the law. Faced with the prospect of both platforms ditching Canadian news links, the government decided to hold last ditch talks in an effort to try and keep them on board with the very legislation the platforms so heavily rejected. As that happened, large media outlets began to admit that maybe, just maybe, their beloved bill wasn’t going to deliver what they had hoped (duh!).

Early signs of those talks weren’t looking good as Meta denied that they were in talks with the government and that they were already going to drop news links when the bill takes effect. So, for the sane observers out there, it was clear that Canada has lost one of the two big players, what about the other one? Well, that answer came soon after as Google announced that it would be ending support for news links in Canada. The announcement made it crystal clear that those last-ditch talks ultimately failed.

Shortly after, Meta had begun cancelling agreements with publishers as it was heading for the exits. This move was, once again, highly predictable because if the platforms were no longer supporting news links, why bother carrying on with agreements that get them to pay for links? Anyone paying attention to this story knew that if the platforms ultimately chose to exit the news link sharing business, that the deals would also be imperilled. The critics have, once again, been proven right with their warnings.

The developments have left the government scrambling for answers. On top of everything else, the US responded to requests for assistance by saying that they would not be intervening. This after months of sending warnings to Canada that they are actively considering sanctioning Canada for targeting American businesses through both Bill C-11 and Bill C-18. The chances that they would actually help Canada out of this mess was comically low.

While the Canadian government was talking a big game of using every tool at their disposal, that tool kit is a lot emptier then they might like. One tool they are seemingly planning on using is massive media bailouts. Such an idea is inherently going to be messy on all angles, but the critical flaw is that these bailouts wouldn’t necessarily have to happen had the government actually listened to the critics in the first place. It’s a bailout to get the government out of the very mess they created. What’s more is that there is nothing else to use. There’s no law forcing platforms to link to news, no international law that that can be used, and allies have already started to decide that Canada is on its own on this one.

So, what’s a government to do? Well, probably do what it does best, make the situation worse. Apparently, Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez, went onto the BBC to talk about the dramatic fallout and badmouth the platforms. He accused the platforms of putting lives at risk. From The Globe and Mail (likely paywalled):

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez warned Friday that Google’s plan to remove links to Canadian news stories from search results in this country could put people’s lives in danger, by not giving them access to information such as about wildfires raging here.

But Google said it would not block SOS safety alerts or information about forest fires or floods, or other crisis situations, if it exits from news. It told The Globe and Mail that weeks ago it began briefing federal, provincial and local public-safety officials to reassure them that it would continue to provide information during a crisis.

In a BBC interview Friday, Mr. Rodriguez said one of the “consequences” of withdrawing from news “is they’re putting people’s lives in danger.”

“You live in a region where wildfires are going on and raging and extremely dangerous and you’re going to want access to news and see what’s going on and you won’t be able to see it,” he said.

Google said it has a history of working with governments to ensure safety and public health information reaches people, including through crisis-response SOS alerts.

Indeed, the government has already implemented emergency alert systems on devices and broadcast TV and radio. If there is an emergency happening, the government can still issue alerts through various devices anyway. This means that people will continue to get those alerts as per normal. While this may very well be an act of revenge and tantrum throwing, it is also seemingly fitting well with what is classically considered the very definition of insanity.

Back in February, Google conducted tests to determine if the platform could block news links and what the implications are for them if they do block news links. Google would later testify that their findings after the test was unsurprising, amounting to less than 2% of search queries along with a drop in revenue that amounts to even less than that because Google News doesn’t have advertising. Nevertheless, the Canadian government ordered Google to testify at a House of Commons committee.

The committee proved to be a colossal waste of time as MPs were less interested with what Google had to say and more interested in grandstanding for the media lobbyists. Throughout the hearing, some MPs screamed at Google representatives, accusing them of putting people’s lives at risk with their tests. Months later, that grand standing did nothing as Google announced that it would be following through with their warnings and block news links.

So, here we see the government trying the same tactic of accusing platforms of putting peoples lives at risk and expecting a different result. To steal from the government and lobbyists talking points, it didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. The platforms are gone and if the government thinks they still have a bargaining chip in this debate still, they are woefully misinformed. If anything, the government is driving the platforms faster to the exits, potentially speeding up the demise of the very news industry they proclaimed they are saving. No secret why people think that the government is acting like idiots in this entire mess.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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