Mainstream Media Temper Tantrums Continue As Google Decides How to Spend Its Money

Google is getting to decide how to spend its own money. Naturally, the mainstream media has a problem with this.

Throughout the years of the Online News Act (formerly Bill C-18) debate, many experts including us and organizations warned that the legislation could result in the news sector being wiped out. This thanks to the major platforms simply choosing to drop support for news links rather than pay Big Publishing’s poorly thought out ransom demands. The delusional media lobby responded to those concerns by calling the warnings a “bluff” and that platforms completely depend on Canadian news links for reasons that only make sense to them.

Reality, of course, had different plans. Meta dropped news links in response to the legislation, fulfilling the obvious outcome that was destined to happen. Big Publishing, still high on their own talking point supply, insisted that Meta wouldn’t last a week before they would come crawling back after hurting something fierce from a lack of Canadian news links. Meta, and the rest of the world for that matter, gave Big Publishing a collective eye roll and moved on. To this day, nearly a year later, news links in Canada are still unsupported.

What Big Publishing was fulfilling, however, was pulling off a Trump style “every accusation is a confession” moment. It wasn’t Meta that was hurting in all of this, but rather, news websites of all shapes and sizes. The move resulted in the widely predicted string of bankruptcies and surviving sites getting hit hard by a loss in traffic. While the harm inflicted onto the media sector as a result of the Online News Act was severe, there was a time when it seemed like the worse was yet to come.

Last year, Google had vowed it would make a decision on whether or not to drop support for news links before the law came into force. With Meta already out of the picture, it seemed like all but a sure thing that Google would follow suit. If Google dropped news links, the entire Canadian news sector would basically be set for a widespread collapse. I can confidently say that if Google dropped news links in Canada, and we were impacted, we would be shutting down as well. Meta’s exit from the “marketplace” put the entire news sector on the ropes, a Google exit would finish off the sector entirely.

Fortunately, the Canadian government realized this (WAY too late, mind you) and desperately did everything they could to keep Google on board with supporting news links in Canada. While it was unclear where things were, it wasn’t until the day the Canadian government effectively announced that it had folded to Google that we knew that we were going to live after all. The Canadian government had effectively given up on every position it had on the matter and agreed to Google’s originally asked for $100 million fund model. As a result, I wasn’t going to have to do some soul searching and restructuring of my regular routines as I look for another career to build at “night”.

The development further cemented the fact that Big Publishing was never really in control of the situation. They might have had a taste of power throughout the legislative process when they got lawmakers to bend to their every wish, but in the grander scheme of things, they were entities that ultimately had no power in all of this. In fact, as a result of this whole sorry affair, considerable worries continue about the overall independence of the press as publishers now find themselves entirely dependent on government to keep the lights on (even as some of the biggest beneficiaries finally admit their whole charade was a lie and hand the extra cash directly to shareholders after). The thing is, the fact that the independence of the press is now in doubt, that is not where Big Publishing is spending their time focusing on.

Instead, Big Publishing is focusing on freaking out about where Google’s money is going to go. Google, for their part, chose a collective made up of independent media companies to distribute the $100 million. Big Publishing insisted that a collective made up of almost entirely their members should have the power to distribute the money (likely largely to themselves). It made it clear that free money is all they really cared about in all of this. The problem is, this is not their money to spend in the first place. As I said at the time, it’s difficult to really envision a scenario where Big Publishing can decide how to spend Google’s money. However, they darn well are going to make an attempt to build up a conflict of interest heavy system.

It is what makes it so ironic that Big Publishing is whining that an independent organization will determine how the money is distributed. Today, we learned that the National Post is whining some more about not having a monopoly on where the money goes, giving us another opportunity to point and laugh at their stupidity. From the National Post:

Canadian news and labour organizations are raising conflict-of-interest concerns about the group of small publishers Google has selected to distribute a $100-million fund aimed at protecting Canadian journalism.

The Canadian Journalism Collective (CJC) is closely connected to the private Indiegraf platform, with six clients among the CJC’s 12 directors. The CJC is chaired by Erin Millar, CEO of Indiegraf, a Canadian-based platform for independent and local news startups with prior connections to both Google and Facebook.

The problem with this argument is the fact that had this been government money, the author here might have a leg to stand on (even if it would still be a difficult argument to make). The thing is, this is Googles money and they have a right to spend it however they like. The news sector is by no means entitled to this free money in the first place. What’s more, if given the choice between this deal and Google dropping news links, your taking whatever you can get your hands on at this point. It’s something of a miracle the bottom didn’t fall out on the entire sector as a result of Big Publishing’s greed in the first place.

The National Post then trotted out the long debunked tired lie that publishers are owed money in the first place (they are not):

According to the CJC’s corporate filing, it was founded as a non-profit organization on May 20, 2024, two weeks before the tech giant’s June 7 announcement of its choice of managers for the fund, which allowed Google to remain exempt from the Online News Act, which requires large digital platforms to compensate Canadian news organization for their content.

If they are a non-profit, then there is little reason to worry that they are going to somehow unjustly enrich themselves. Non-profits follow rules and with the media sector being a part of this system, it’s going to be closely scrutinized anyway.

The last part of the paragraph is a rehash of Big Lie 1.0 which we previously thoroughly debunked. The short of it is that when media companies post links to their own news sites on social media platforms, social media platforms are “stealing” or “scraping” articles. Therefore, platforms owe publishers money for this “theft”. The reality is that publishers not only post links to their sites so they can get more traffic (and, therefore, revenue), but also pay platforms money to show their material to more of the platforms audience through advertising on top of it all. There’s no legal basis for publishers to say that links posted on other sites constitutes a compensible activity as such activity is protected by Fair Dealing from the platforms perspective. This is ultimately Big Publishing trying to have their cake and eat it too.

Nevertheless, the laughable whining continued in the article:

In a statement, Lana Payne, president of Unifor, Canada’s largest media union, expressed concerns about potential conflicts of interest.

“Unifor is deeply concerned about the governance of the organization that has been selected to distribute Google’s financial commitment under the Online News Act,” said Payne.

Payne noted that in addition to Millar, six of the 12 collective’s board of directors are Indiegraf clients. The six committee members are Brandi Schier (The Discourse), Eden Fineday (IndigiNews), Gabrielle Brassard (Pivot), Matthew DiMera (The Resolve), Adam Reaburn (Energeticcity) and Dru Jay (The Breach).

Once again, this is not your money to spend. If this was government funding, you might have a leg to stand on, but this is Google generously offering their own money to news organizations. You don’t have a say in the matter. If Google chooses this organization to distribute the money, that is their choice and their choice alone. Heck, there is a contingent of people who argue that it was wrong of Google to hand out that $100 million in the first place. Quite frankly, they actually have a pretty strong case for why Google simply bowing out of supporting news links was the only reasonable choice in the matter.

I don’t say this very often, but the National Post and Unifor needs to check their privilege here. They got away with FAR more than they should have in all of this. Here, they both have the audacity to complain about the situation on top of it all? Give me a break!

The hilarious thing about this article is the fact that after spending paragraph after paragraph complaining about a conflict of interest, they fully admit that they have a conflict of interest with the organization they prefer the money go to:

The Online News Media Collective is led by News Media Canada (of which Postmedia, owner of the National Post, is a member), the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, and CBC/Radio-Canada.

So, with this paragraph, what the National Post is really arguing here is that it’s a conflict of interest the organization Google has selected. Instead, they’d prefer the money goes to a collective in which they have a controlling stake in because that totally isn’t a conflict of interest. Seriously, National Post, people can read, you know? I have to seriously ask if the National Post has even a shred of self-awareness here.

From there, the National Post decided to engage in a little revisionist history on the events leading up to now:

In a victory for the Liberals, who became one of the first governments to implement a law other jurisdictions around the world hope to adopt, Google complied, committing $100 million, indexed to inflation, as part of its agreement to remain exempt from the Online News Act on Dec. 1, 2023. News organizations were asked to apply and receive compensation upon review by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

Obviously, this isn’t true. In reality, the international reaction to Canada’s Online News Act was to try and figure out how to avoid becoming the next Canada. People in other countries hoping to implement similar laws were ultimately trying to figure out how to push a link tax while, at the same time, not go too far like Canada and see platforms banning publishers links in the process. The international community looks at Canada’s Online News Act and considers it an object lesson of what not to do (which really is the correct way to react to this).

Additionally, Meta also complied with the Online News Act by dropping news links. By dropping Canadian news links, Meta has “exited the marketplace” and is in full compliance with the Online News Act. That’s not just my opinion, but also the opinion of experts, observers, and the Canadian government itself. So, it’s misleading to suggest that Google is the only one in compliance here.

The National Post went on to say this:

The CRTC’s consultations, which have yet to begin, could still see the larger media group contest the CJC’s proposal outright. The CRTC has said it is committed to involving media stakeholders in the consultation process.

This is actually inaccurate. The consultations are actually ongoing. As we noted back in March, the CRTC’s consultation was opened to the public (since closed). In response to the Online News Act consultations, Canadians overwhelmingly opposed the Online News Act as a whole. You can check out our own submission here. So, I have no idea what the National Post is even talking about when they say that the consultations “have yet to begin”.

The article then concludes with this:

MacNeill acknowledged the “bad optics” around the choice of CJC, but says the CRTC could establish policies to address deficiencies and conflicts of interest.

“The conflict is a real issue. As journalists, we hold politicians and organizations up to conflict every single day, and if we’re not willing to hold ourselves to the same bar, then why in the world would anyone trust journalism?” said MacNeill.

(insert audience laughter here)

These comments are brand new and have already aged like fine milk. Trust in the media has already collapsed due to unethical reporting on the Online News Act among other things. For the last few years, large media companies have largely abandoned basic journalistic integrity to push talking points, misleading messaging, and outright disinformation on tech issues. This National Post article is a prime example of this. Large media companies have misled the public on the Online Streaming Act, the Online Harms Bill, and the Digital Services Tax among other things.

Even worse, in response to the failure of the Online News Act, the Canadian government has repeatedly issued bailouts for the largest media companies. We’ve gotten to the point where 35% of journalists paychecks are paid for by the government. As I’ve asked so many times before, how are you expected to hold government to account when your pay depends on the government writing your paycheck afterwards? So, it’s quite rich seeing MacNeill pound the table screaming about conflict of interest and shouting about how they are the ones with integrity in all of this when the facts and evidence pretty much says otherwise.

It’s worth repeating here that nothing is stopping Google from saying, “you know what? Giving these weirdo’s $100 million was a mistake. Let’s just drop news links because, clearly, none of this is worth it.” Google has no financial incentive to even give that $100 million as their business model doesn’t depend on news links. During the senate hearings, Google themselves told senators that less than 2% of their search queries is related to news links. If Google dropped news links tomorrow, their traffic and revenue would remain the same just like Meta. So, it takes a lot of gall to complain about the situation when things have technically been going their way throughout all of this already.

Ultimately, it’s kind of amazing that Google has put up with as much as it has throughout this debate. They didn’t have to put up with this crap, yet they chose to anyway. Big Publishing has been divorced from reality for quite some time now on this debate and this article shows that they still are living in their own reality bubble. It shows how much they believe that the world still revolves around them.

It’s likely a symptom of being in a privileged position for a very long time where everything gets handed to them on a silver platter. Someone finally said “no” to them and the reaction of Big Publishing pretty much says it all. Big Publishing will throw out even the most basic levels of integrity to try and get their way. Whether it is lying, misleading, or just otherwise publishing blatantly biased reporting, the unprofessional conduct has been way off the charts with this debate. Remarkably, they are willing to throw even more temper tantrums even as they got away with way more than they probably should have.

(Via @Magmenzies)

Drew Wilson on Mastodon, Twitter and Facebook.

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