Heritage Officials are Apparently Feeding US Media Blatant Lies About Bill C-18

Bill C-18 (Online News Act) is on the verge of being a catastrophic legislative failure. Officials, however, are pretending otherwise.

The Online News Act is on the verge of being a total failure. Facebook has already blocked news links in Canada, ensuring that the legislation is already a partial failure. Google has already announced that they would be doing the same thing between now and before the legislation comes into force. To our knowledge, Google’s position has yet to change despite the talks they are trying to conduct. Should Google pull that lever, it would mean that the Online News Act was a total legislative failure. This with news links being blocked on various platforms, media suffering huge losses at an increased pace, and nothing to show for the effort.

In fact, the damage is already being felt with Meta’s move. Facebook’s traffic since the blocking of news links has remained unchanged while the engagement on Facebook for media outlets plummeted. This proved that critics were right all along in their criticisms of Bill C-18, now called the Online News Act.

Yet, for supporters of the legislation and the government, all those credible concerns were resoundingly ignored with the media lobby stuffing the airwaves and their publications with massive lies like platforms “stealing” their content by scraping news sites and profiting off of the content after (Big Lie 1.0) and that platforms are, in response, “censoring” the media by completely blocking their news on the internet as a whole (Big Lie 2.0). These lies were stacked on top of other lies such as the lie that platforms wholly depend on news content to keep their business models afloat (they definitely do not) or that blocking news links was just a big fancy bluff (it was not) and that the platforms would fold their position within a week if they did (they did not).

While it was lies all the way down to push this legislation and to try and service any semblance of credibility (the legislation has no credibility), it seems that the impending disaster isn’t stopping the lies. As it turns out, Canadian government officials have now taken to the task of lying about the results on top of it all. Today, there was apparently a conference between Canadian officials and US media is going on and University law professor, Michael Geist, has been tracking it (we can’t seem to access it). First up, Heritage Minister, Pascale St-Onge said that the Online News Act was a “win-win” situation for everyone:

Heritage Minister @PascaleStOnge_ tells US media conference Bill C-18 is a “win-win” solution. Urges other countries to stand with Canada. As Canadians know, the reality is it has been lose-lose-lose for users, media outlets, and the platforms. Now a model for what not to do.

It is astonishing that this argument was made in the first place. No one is ‘winning’ with the Online News Act. First of all, the media companies, both big and small and both for and against this legislation is losing. Smaller outlets have announced slowdowns in response to these developments. Others, such as Village Media, have frozen hiring altogether as they attempt to weather this storm. Media outlets have already begun losing money with the sharp drop in referral traffic.

The government lost because they have been instrumental in creating this disaster in the first place. Their credibility was left in tatters as a result of this unfolding.

Average ordinary people lost because they have lost some of the functionality on platforms. It is now much more difficult to passively consume the news. It isn’t enough to get users to leave these platforms, but a number of users out there will no longer be passively consuming media content as they scroll through their Facebook feeds.

On top of that, platforms lost because their content streams are left less rich with content. Though their traffic has been left unchanged, an argument can easily be made that this will do nothing to keeping the populace as a whole informed of what’s going on in the world around them. To be clear, this is not the platforms fault. The fault lies with the government and the media for the situation they caused.

At any rate, no one is “winning” here. To say otherwise is just foolish fantasy.

The lies, apparently, kept going. Apparently, a Heritage official said that the media is “holding strong”. Apparently, this isn’t a joke:

Canadian Heritage official tells US media conference that Canadian media outlets have been “holding strong” in support of Bill C-18. This is so telling: the government only seems to listen to handful of lobby groups. Small, independent and digital media concerns ignored.

Yeah, the talking point by the Heritage official is ridiculous. The losses by the media is already massive and the media lobby, itself, within their own complaint to the Competition Bureau have said that the harm caused by this situation is “devastating”:

In our respectful view, the following corrective measures are the minimum of what is required to cease the devastating harm that Meta’s conduct is inflicting on the Canadian news industry

(emphasis mine)

This alone should tell you everything you need to know. Everyone, including the media lobby, knows that the events unfolding as a result of the Online News Act is currently wreaking havoc on the news sector. This over top of what I already covered above with hiring freezes and announced slowdowns.

Apparently, the lies only continued with the lie that the Online News Act has nothing to do with links:

Heritage Minister @PascaleStOnge_ to US media conference today: Bill C-18 is not about linking.
Heritage’s lead official to Heritage committee last year: Linking must be included. At its core, that is what it means to facilitate access to news.

The legislation has everything to do with linking. Without news links, the platforms won’t have to pay into this link tax. There’s no wiggle room or room for alternative perspectives on this. Without news links, the Online News Act becomes a worthless piece of paper. As highlighted by Geist, this is the interpretation of the government. The moment news links is dropped from the platforms, then this means that the platforms have exited the news links environment and is no longer required to pay. It’s as black and white as you can get.

Apparently, throughout the process, the government has been urging the US to pass their own link tax law. This hints at why they are blatantly bullshitting the American’s. There has been a persistent lie originating from Australian lobbyist that says that if every country passes their own link tax law, then platforms have no choice but to bend at the knee and go along with the link taxes in various countries. The truth in the matter is that Facebook traffic to US media outlets have been plummeting for some time now. Further, Facebook has also dropped Facebook News in France, Germany, and the UK.

The hard reality is if countries everywhere passed their own link tax laws, it would only just hasten the demise of the large media outlets. The platforms do not even come close to relying on news content to stay afloat. Instead, they would rather drop news links altogether to avoid paying unlimited liabilities for such, from their business perspective, trivial content.

Canada’s situation is a nightmare scenario and no one should wish other countries live through a very similar one. The Online News Act in Canada is a model for the rest of the world for what not do to when it comes to legislation for large tech companies. If other countries decide to believe the lies, then we are returning to the classic definition of insanity of trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Countries around the world should be working to limit the harmful impacts of link tax laws. It is distressing to see Canadian officials trying to further exacerbate the harms.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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