Mainstream media took another credibility hit in the Bill C-18 debate when one article accused internet startups of being “questionable”.
Late last month, Liberal MP, Lisa Hepfner was at the centre of a political scandal when she suggested that online outlets are “not news“. The asinine comments went viral and did a number of things in the Bill C-18 link tax debate. For one, it served as yet another round of confirmation that mainstream media outlets and those supporting the legislation have the view that only the biggest publishers count as “real journalism”.
For those who are a huge part of the Bill C-11 debate, it was a moment where the playbook of demonizing those who would suffer the most under the legislation was being copied over to the Bill C-18 debate. As such, online news outlets received a great deal of sympathy because digital first creators were put through some of the worst in defamation and personal attacks including the declaration that their work was “not art”. Really, the accusation levied of digital start-ups being “not news” only changed a single word and got recycled in this debate.
While Hepfner since apologized for her remarks, the damage was already done. Some concluded that she was only sorry she got caught in a rare moment of honest of how the Liberal party really feels about digital startups competing against mainstream journalism today. This over top of how mainstream news outlets have been seemingly working in tandem with the Liberal Party on this piece of legislation in the first place. If the Liberal party felt this way, for critics, then you can be sure that the media outlets felt the same way – some going so far as to say the charge is actually sourced from Big Publishing.
Some Bill C-18 apologists might characterize this situation as a one-off incident. Somehow, the MP misspoke and no one on the side of Bill C-18 really thinks this way. If anyone out there is actually still thinking that, the latest developments pretty much sunk that ship, sending it straight to Davy Jones Locker.
In a recent article in the mainstream publishing outlet, the Financial Times, an author has published a very similar charge that digital startups in the journalism space are somehow less legitimate than traditional outlets like newspapers and broadcasting. From the Financial Post:
Unfortunately, Bill C-18 is being slowed by the tech giants, but also by Canadian politicians and media hopefuls who want to use it to finance tiny and often questionable startups. This is only serving to delay what needs to be done. Canada should simply adopt the Australian model, instead of trying to re-invent the wheel.
In order to be eligible, Australian media companies must create and publish news, be editorially independent from the subjects they cover, have generated AU$150,000 a year for at least three of the past five years, have a predominantly Australian audience and be subject to professional codes of practice for journalism. Notably, the system is designed to support news outlets that have a history of serving the Australian public, rather than niche startups.
All of this, of course, re-enforces the point that Bill C-18 is not and never has been about supporting journalism or any journalistic ecosystem within Canada. Instead, it has always been about propping up legacy players such as traditional broadcasters and dead tree newspapers at the expense of anyone who would dare to compete against them in this rapidly growing online world.
While the above served as a hint that this is what this legislation was all about, a recent amendment to the legislation earlier this week proved this point plain as day. The amendment in question would mean that if you are a broadcaster with a license recognized by the CRTC, you could benefit from the link tax revenue without even publishing a single line of news. This at the same time of intentionally leaving newer online only players out. All that over top of the fact that the legislation doesn’t even consider the quality of news in the first place.
The rest of the Financial Post article was, of course, packed full of misinformation such as how the Australian model was somehow a huge success and was responsible for some kind of revolutionary revitalization of the Australian journalism sector (as opposed to being a massive gravy train for Rupert Murdoch which is what actually ended up happening).
Another gem was this complete fabrication:
The carnage to the news industry is global and is due to the fact that the world’s digital giants — notably Google and Meta (formerly Facebook) — republish or link to articles that they earn advertising revenue from, but don’t spend money creating.
This entire paragraph is a complete and total lie. Journalism suffered in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When businesses were forced to shut down, it defeated the purpose of advertising. As a result, many advertisers pulled their advertising from pretty much any and every source to conserve money and wait out the pandemic so they can start business up again.
Further, the paragraph insinuates that social media platforms are in the business of copying whole articles and republishing them while slapping ads on it to reap the rewards. The defamatory is, of course, not true because what actually happens on social media is that news publishers themselves post links and snippets to these platforms with the hope that people will click on it. The practice, from the social media sites perspective, falls well within the scope of Fair Dealing in Canada and also has the air of implied permission when it’s the publishers themselves who are posting those links and snippets in the first place.
What’s more, the article perpetuates the completely groundless claim that journalism is going extinct in Canada all because of Facebook and Google:
Yet Bill C-18 is about preventing the extinction of Canadian news-gathering for Canadian audiences. It’s also about levelling the playing field for the existing and proven news-gathering entities whose information is republished on tech platforms without compensation.
Any financing of niche platforms should should be outside the scope of C-18, as is already the case when it comes to government financing for the CBC and non-profit news outlets.
There is absolutely no evidence that journalism is dying in Canada all because of Facebook and Google. Further, Bill C-18 does the exact opposite of “levelling the playing field”. It extracts wealth from one industry and puts it into a small handful of players in a completely different industry. Hilariously, the next paragraph pretty much admits that this talking point is a lie and partially admits that this legislation is about picking winners and losers in the sector.
If this was truly about projecting journalism, the bare minimum would have been effort to find fair and balanced ways to identify journalism outlets that would qualify for compensation. Journalism, at its core, recognizes no size of a source for the news, rather that facts are being accurately reported – something that has been woefully absent from the biggest players in this particular debate. Case in point was the propaganda campaign called the “Disappearing Headline” last year. Ultimately, when it comes to the Bill C-18 debate, no source of misinformation and disinformation has been greater than the mainstream legacy publishers who have been a constant firehose of lies, half truths, and misleading statements.
It is no mystery why trust in the major journalism outlets have reached all time lows in recent years. The constant publication of content designed to look out for their own business interests while sacrificing balanced and credible journalism has reached a fever pitch. As a result, Canadians are forced to turn to the very digital startups that Big Publishing has been demonizing for quite some time now just to get a fair and balanced perspective on the issues. After all, the media has proven for quite some time that they can’t be trusted to fill such a role – a role that real journalism outlets such as ourselves are happy to fill before anti-competitive laws attempt to run us all out of business.