Lobby Group, CAB, Demands More from the Online News Act

With Google seemingly soon to head for the news links exits, the CAB is demanding more out of the Online News Act.

With Google announcing that they would end support for news links and recently saying that their position hasn’t changed, the situation for news organizations (whether for or against this legislation) isn’t looking all that great. This is especially true since Facebook has already dropped support for news links, causing business slowdowns, the collapse of user engagement, and even the shutdown of newspapers in 3 communities after web traffic for at least one of them got chopped in half.

It really doesn’t take much to figure out at this stage that the Online News Act was a horrible mistake. With so many news organizations already teetering on the brink of collapse, traffic being effectively wiped by both Meta platforms and Google will very easily give the news organizations that last push over the edge into financial oblivion. In fact, as we just noted, that has already begun to happen. Even News Media Canada, that organization that has the ridiculously dense Paul Deegan, has finally realized that they may have dug themselves a pretty big hole after recently surrendering their no compromise position by calling for compromise with Google. The surrender was not likely enough to turn the tide, but it did offer a ray of hope that maybe the situation isn’t as hopeless as it seemed.

It didn’t take long for cold water to be poured on that tiny bit of hope. Shortly after, Heritage Minister, Pascale St-Onge, was obliviously cheering the development that the City of Hamilton joined the long failed advertiser boycott – a boycott that was largely dead on arrival with so few organizations participating. It made it clear at that point that the government still has every intention of driving full speed ahead towards the cliff with this law.

If you wanted more evidence of this, it turns out that the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) published a submission suggesting that they think that they are the ones with the bargaining chip in all of this. In fact, they are apparently making even bigger demands over what they expect to get out of the Online News Act (demands that they will unlikely see fulfilled). From Michael Geist:

In fact, the CAB proposes three changes that, if accepted by the government, would significantly increase the likelihood of Google blocking news links in Canada. First, as noted above, it wants a far broader definition of journalist:

A full-time employee or a full-time equivalent employee of a eligible news business or its subcontractors, where the eligible news business adheres to Canadian journalistic codes and standards, that spends at least 75% of their time engaged in the production of original news content, including researching, collecting information, verifying facts, conducting interviews, photographing, filming, recording, writing, editing, video-editing, audio-editing, designing, assembling, and otherwise preparing, delivering and/or presenting original news content.

This matters because the regulations determine relative fairness of agreements between the platforms and different news organizations based on the number of full-time equivalent journalists. This approach already hurts smaller and digital-first publications, but the CAB’s plan would erode their support even further by artificially increasing the number of broadcast employees that would count as journalists for the purposes of the calculation. Google has argued that broadcasters should be excluded altogether and that the law should focus solely on the struggling newspaper sector. If adopted, it would leave even less for the newspaper sector.

Second, the CAB wants to massively increase the platform revenues that are calculated as part of the minimum of 4% of search or social media revenues. In what it calls a “small addition”, it proposes that the revenues also cover all “subsidiaries and/or associates.” In the case of Google, that would presumably expand beyond search revenues to also include Youtube, cloud computing, and other services that have nothing to do with news. The hubris in the money grab by the broadcasters is remarkable and would significantly increase the likelihood of blocked links.

Third, the CAB also wants Apple News and other news aggregators added to the law as it proposes to add that “aggregator of news content” would also potentially be treated as a digital news intermediary alongside social media and search companies. The submission is missing some key elements, however, since while it adds aggregator of news content to the definition, it fails to add the usage rates to determine which news aggregators would be caught by the regulations. The draft regulations feature specific numbers for both search and social media, but the CAB didn’t even bother to include a proposed threshold for news aggregators. As it stands now, any news aggregator could theoretically be subject to its proposal.

Geist, rightfully, went on to say that this proposal should be rejected by the government. If Google drops news links, then there are no platforms remaining that the legislation touches when it comes to extracting money from “Big Tech”.

What’s more, even if CAB somehow manages to expand the definition to which aggregator should be included for this obvious shakedown, on what planet does CAB think that they would even bother sticking around? It’s obvious that platforms do not rely on news content in the first place. Meta and Google won’t even go along with this, so why does CAB even think that other platforms would be any different? I mean, do they really think that they will be any different in getting Elon Musk to pay his bills? Get real. The only thing such an expansion would accomplish is banning news links on even more platforms. If CAB’s mission is to destroy the news sector in Canada, they are certainly doing a great job advocating for that.

Further, this call further highlights how the lobbyists were expecting to get a lions share of whatever revenue they were hoping to get out of this. Like so many other talking points by supporters of this legislation, the talking point that this legislation was somehow supposed to be about bringing the smaller players on board (as per the senate hearings) was just an obvious lie. Some players in this debate were right to be concerned that they would receive crumbs should money be flowing out of platforms to media players for no good reason. They were always destined to get almost nothing while the largest players hoard a vast majority of the cash for themselves. This was already a problem with the law and CAB wants even more for the biggest players.

Either way, there are still lobbyists that haven’t been beaten hard enough with the obvious stick. They still think that they are in control even with stupidly obvious signs that things are going sideways with this legislative effort. The Canadian government seems to still be oblivious to the harms they are already unleashing on the news sector as well as the greater harms moving forward. For those reasons, it is looking doubtful that we will see anything other than Google pulling news links out of Canada, sending the media sector over the edge in the process. In the event that this happens, the last minute second thoughts by News Media Canada will end up being a footnote in this sorry saga.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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