Senate Hearings on Bill C-18 – A Look At Hearing 5 (Segment 1)

The special coverage of the TRCM Bill C-18 hearings continue. This summary covers the first segment of hearing 5 at the TRCM.

Our special coverage of the Bill C-18 hearings at the TRCM (Transport and Communications) committee is continuing. With government officials, experts and platforms already heard from, we can conclude that the first handful of hearings was certainly loaded. Is it a sign that these hearings are going to be much shorter? Who knows? What we do know is that we are going to continue listening in on these hearings.

Before we get into this hearing, we wanted to showcase the previous hearings we covered to date.

Past Hearings Covered

Hearing 1 – Heritage Ministry officials / Lobbyists (1) / Konrad von Finckenstein
Hearing 2 – Missing/Not Available
Hearing 3 – Michael Geist / Peter Menzies / Lobbyists (2) / The CRTC
Hearing 4 – Alphabet / Google / Meta / Facebook

With that, we continue these hearings with the next set. As always, the video we are listening in on can be found here. So, if you want to play back the video we watched yourself, you can do that as well. With that, let’s take you inside this next hearing.

Opening Remarks

Thomas S. Saras of the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada opened with his remarks. He said that the state of the ethnic press is dire. He said that the ethnic press has faced many challenges, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, things have only gotten worse. He said that the role of journalism has only become more important with the growing prevalence of misinformation online. He says that misinformation has been popping up all over the world, but they fight this misinformation with an important weapon: journalism. Today, their work is threatened by inaction. He said that we need to take action to protect journalism and it cannot be just three conglomerates controlling the information because it’s important to have a diversity of voices and opinion.

Saras continued by saying that when members hear about Bill C-18, they breath a sigh of relief. Here is, finally, a necessary lifeline that would allow their operation to stay afloat (not very well informed journalists if they think that). It is regrettable that the giants do not wish to invest in these diverse communities. If we want free journalism, then we must pay for it. That is what is Bill C-18 (oh, the journalists will find themselves paying for it when news links get blocked, alright.) He asks that senators vote in favour of Bill C-18 because it would make a vital difference to their outlets (I believe you meant “fatal difference”). Bill C-18 is a sustainable way to maintain what we have today and bring a brighter future for tomorrow (I’m sure he’ll believe that right up to the point where, best case scenario, the tech giants cut them a check for $50 and told to live with that for a year. Go ahead and start asking questions at that point, but the answers will all eventually lead you to the conclusion that you played yourself.)

Karine Devost of The National Council of Canadian Muslims opened with her remarks. She mentioned three terrorist attacks and said that all three attacks have a nexus of online hate. They have been urging the Canadian government to address online hate in ways to ensure that Canadian civil liberties are protected. They are here to ask senators to consider an amendment so that news businesses that promote hate are not eligible to be funded by big tech companies. She spoke about an amendment that would’ve included stripping eligibility from outlets that promote hate, but that amendment did not pass.

From there, Devost spoke about a large news outlet spreading hate and that there is a concern that Bill C-18, as drafted, would effectively fund such an organization by big tech companies. She commented that tech giants should be properly regulated. Bill C-18 represents an important opportunity for Canadian companies by incentivizing them to create more well sourced and balanced news content online rather than the clickbaiting and rage farming content that has become all too prevalent today (too bad Bill C-18 does the opposite). Making tech giants pay their fair share is reasonable, but they are concerned that if Bill C-18 passes in its current form, some news businesses peddling hate will inadvertently financially benefit from what would effectively end up being government imposed regulations to subsidize hate online.

Devost called for an amendment that blocks outlets that spread hate from eligibility by creating a code of ethics that apply evenly to all outlets. Second, Bill c-18 does not appear to have a complaints process for when a code of ethics has been violated. An amendment can empower the CRTC or another regulatory body to address public complaints when news businesses peddle hate.

(I hate to say it, but we are opening a huge can of worms with those recommendations. Specifically, trying to implement such ideas opens the legislation up for much larger abuse. Those very people who peddle hate will accuse the religious minority publications of spreading hate and work on shutting them down through the very channels that they called for. Bill C-18 is already a huge mess of unintended consequences and this dumps a fresh round of that on top of the bill itself. This over top of the additional Charter challenges that this bill will likely face.)

Linda Lauzon of the Réseau-Presse Consortium of Official Language Minority opened with her remarks. She says that the government knows what is happening with respect for digitization and digital news. She said that minority language newspapers have not been able to get a critical mass of advertisers because their community isn’t big enough. However, the advertising has diminished because of the existence of web giants and now they are just picking up the crumbs. (Yeah, COVID-19 was an innocent bystander in all of this. It’s all the tech giants fault.) Their small platform has never been able to keep up with digital news and it would be Utopian to think otherwise. She says that the consortium is concerned about the lack of focus on local media.

Lauzon went on to say that many of their full time journalists have been replaced by freelance journalists. So, she wants the bill changed to allow for the eligibility of freelance journalists. she says that she is concerned about the ability to negotiate with platforms. They have been able to draw up agreements with Google and Facebook, but she can tell senators that the administrative processes and complexity is really out of reach for most small radio stations and newspapers. (She went over time, seemed surprised and stopped when prompted on time. There was some laughter in the room about something that was said.)

(It’s a tough hill to climb to make any kind of “negotiating” process easier in this bill. The larger outlets are going to ensure that it’s going to be as difficult and burdensome as possible, so it’s unlikely the process will get any easier.)

Questioning the Witnesses

Senator Leo Housakos commented that he opposes the bill. He doesn’t oppose it because of the objective because he supports the objective. The objective is important. He thinks that we need to do something to help media which is part of our democratic process. Where he has difficulty with it is it doesn’t actually meet its targets. The government says that they want to help diversity in media. They want to get a healthy media and expand the media. Yet, when you look at what the PBO (Parliamentary Budget Officer) did when he evaluated this bill, he believes that the vast majority of the funding will be going to the three giants that are already eating up a huge part of the advertising base.

Further, Senator Housakos continued, the government is already giving advertising money to local media, probably not enough. Nowhere near comparable to what they give the three giants. He’s talking about the government advertising pie. Can saris tell Senators how much the government advertising pie currently goes to the ethnic media for which, his information says, is zero. He’d also like the comments on the PBO who believes the money will largely go to the giants and not local and ethnic media.

Saras responded by saying that they’ve had the problem for years with the government of Canada on the advertising side. The ethnic press was never over $1 million. He has the report in front of him (I think he was so nervous, he tried putting on his glasses upside down) and it says that the ethnic press only received $1.6 million. There are about 1,200 publications in about 79 languages all over Canada. The problem is that these people tried to maintain the work they are doing, but being an ethnic journalist is not something you want to do because you want to survive. Journalism is like a priesthood. You dedicate yourself to this thing to help community. He spoke about racking up credit card debt in his case personally for his paper and printing costs are continuing to go up.

Lauzon said that, further to his comment, all of them in the consortium agree that this bill was created for the web giants, for the major media. Not for small media. It’s not really accessible to small media. After having analyzed it all, it is clear that at the end, we are just going to be picking up crumbs one way or the other, once again.

(I absolutely agree. The small media outlets are going to get ripped off hard in this bill. Either they get shells of peanuts from the so-called “deals” or they get cut off from the userbase of the larger platforms. It’s a no win situation here for us small players.)

Senator Julie Miville-Dechene said that she is very much aware of the situation of the Muslim community in Quebec is a difficult situation. There are perceptions and Law 21. Their amendment really strikes at the heart of unity of the press for all. The intent of Bill C-18 is to allow media to acquire a code of ethics which would have to be respected by all media. In some provinces, it has been improved. There are articles out there that she disagrees with, however, the neutral discourse can only be treated by the courts. If we have hate speech in the media, what then should be done about it?

(I think the senator actually touches on a really good point. Hate speech is, in fact, against the law. If there are instances of hate speech going around, should such a matter not be dealt in the courts rather than in, say, Bill C-18? It’s not a bad argument at all.)

Rizwan Mohammad responded by saying that he wants to be clear that the NCCM supports a free press. They are committed to fundamental freedoms such as freedom of expression. That means freedom of the press, academic freedom, and so forth. From their perspective, their amendment is not meant to undermine that in any respect. What they are trying to get is that if this bill was about checks and balances and regulating news intermediaries, and who is eligible to be funded through a collective bargaining regime, they would like to see the eligible news businesses be those that are incentivized to actually be producing good quality journalism. If there is content that is objectionable that people want to go to court over, that’s certainly their prerogative, but they don’t think that that is what they are asking for this bill to do. What they are really looking at is for fairness and consistency so that if there is a code of ethics included in this legislation, it should be applied in a non-discriminatory fashion.

Senator Miville-Dechene asked who decides what is good journalism and what is not good journalism. What is heinous, what is not, what is discriminatory- this is the problem. The free press, you can’t have a regulatory body that decides on that. It was very clear that this was not what the CRTC could do.

Rizwan responded by saying that they aren’t proposing that the CRTC determine that. What they are proposing is that if there is a code of ethics in this legislation, and there’s no clarification on what to do, then if there is a code of ethics that appears to be breached, that there should be some clarification or guidance about what happens. That shouldn’t be imposed by government, it should be determined by a consultative process with the public.

(Yeah, I admit that these arguments are getting weaker and weaker at this point. We went from bringing the hammer down on anyone peddling hate speech to maybe we should have a consultation process… somehow… or something.)

Rizwan asked if that answers the senators question.

Senator Miville-Dechene responded by saying that it’s his answer (she was laughing).

Senator Rene Cormier turned to Lauzon and said that he thought that she was saying at one point that a certain media outlet has made a grievance with Google and Facebook. If that is the case, would she give senators an idea of the money involved and how negotiations happened between these entities?

Lauzon responded by saying that there is a larger group of media that negotiated that. They have small and medium type businesses that are attached to that. As the Senator knows, the agreements are confidential, but she can give them some figures. With respect to (a French name I have no hope in spelling right, but a news organization), there’s not a lot that has come out, but there’s a lot of resources. It’s a bigger outfit, so it is easier to attach recommendations to promote matters.

Now, Lauzon added, La Liberte is different. There was an agreement of about $100,000 with Facebook and Meta. The agreement was there. If there was to be a project to help the newspaper, but the capacity just wasn’t there. There was great difficulties with respect to that at this particular time. There’s a good capacity in the newspaper per-se, but there are others that are not able to put together a similar agreement in place. Something similar was done with Google, but it was for the network. It was $172,000 USD. Something like that. It was to the benefit of all the members. She has to emphasize this again, the complexity of managing the process and dealing with the outcome is not easy – is not possible for their members. Their newspapers, their radio stations, so to go through a process of negotiating all of that, etc. People just gave up.

(Same thing happened in Australia, actually. Still, $100,000 for a very large news organization? You might be able to barely cover the costs of two employees with that… maybe… depending on the circumstances. We keep talking about how these deals will bring in a new era of journalism, but I’m still struggling to see the benefits be that big in the first place. Heck, I’m not even sure that’s enough to cover the costs of renting out a commercial building for a year in a large metropolitan city in Quebec. Sure, that may be better than nothing, but a revolutionary thing? I’m not entirely sure.)

Senator Cormier said that Lauzon referred to clause 11 and 27 and asked about the recognition of language communities.

Lauzon responded by saying that it’s good that indigenous languages are recognized, but official language organizations in minority situations would like the same language.

Senator Cormier said that, in Lauzon’s brief, she was talking about journalists who are freelancers who should be eligible for this type of availability.

Lauzon spoke about having 160 journalists who are freelancers. The model has changes because of the decline in advertising. After an exchange, Lauzon mentioned one of the newspapers who have one manager and just freelance journalists. She said this is a prize winning newspaper. It just doesn’t have these permanent employees. Bill C-18 does not have that type of reality.

Senator Paula Simsons said that as a progressive woman of Jewish decent, she shares the concerns about news organizations that spread hate online, but as a journalist who has spent 30 years working in the trenches, she is deeply concerned of any suggestion that there should be any effort to control or censor what is in print as opposed to what is broadcast and regulated by the CRTC. She comes from Alberta in the 1930’s. The government of the day passed what it called the Accurate News and Information Act which gave the government the power of rebuttal and the power to “fact check and correct” anything the government believes was inaccurate. The courts properly struck that down as unconstitutional. She comes from a province where the current premier has said on the record, in her capacity as premier, that people who aren’t vaccinated are the most discriminated against people in history and who, recently, had tapes turning up of her comparing people that are vaccinated to Nazis.

So, Senator Simons explained, she is always concerned with people you don’t like or someone whose opinions you don’t share, suddenly has the power to regulate, even at arms length, what is said in the press. It’s a very long preface. She doesn’t usually go in for the long preface. She was very confused by the conclusion of Mohammad’s answer to Senator Miville-Dechene’s question. If he doesn’t see the CRTC as the body that regulates this, then how would he imagine this working because she must tell him that, as a journalist, lot’s of people think there are factual errors in a newspaper that are just things they don’t like. (Speaking from personal experience, some will even go to the extreme of threatening to sue journalists on top of it all. I know others have even had actual lawsuits filed against them over this too. I know this because I have personally been threatened three times by different people over the course of my career.)

Mohammad responded by saying that they have to be absolutely clear, with their experience with news businesses across the country over the past few decades, whenever they have appealed to the existing mechanisms that are in place – appealed to codes of ethics over breaches of codes of ethics, through non-legal processes, trying to meet with editorial boards, trying to communicate with journalists, trying to write op-eds themselves – to provide corrections of facts from their perspective, this has been a very difficult road to go on. What they have basically seen is that the current approach to having the media regulate themselves has just not been working, from their perspective, as effectively as it should. It’s led to spikes – especially during election cycles – of targeting religious and ethnic minorities, especially Muslims and immigrants. So, what they are looking for is some kind of measure that would incentivize the kind of mainstream independent fair objective journalism that they’ve come to expect.

What’s happened in the digital space, Mohammad continued, from their perspective, is that the sheer volume of hateful content of prejudiced, slanted, biased kind of content that’s not well sourced. The sheer volume of it is spreading so fast that the existing kind of mechanisms that have been in place to offer remedies for people to correct error’s of fact to have balanced coverage of something about a legitimate disagreement about things is just not working well. So, they see this bill as an opportunity to have news intermediaries that would be bargaining to compensate various news organizations, not to control what they say, not to undermine press freedom, not to adjudicate who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s engaging in misinformation and who’s not, but just to say that many sectors and industries have codes of ethics, many news businesses, maybe all of them have some, but given that we need some kind of modernization to address the new realities of our digital condition, that there is an opportunity to have a fair code of ethics that applies to everyone.

Senator Simons said that if he doesn’t think it’s the CRTC. If he thinks it’s the news intermediaries, why on Earth would we empower Facebook, which is one of the worst sources of disinformation and misinformation, which makes, as far as they can determine, virtually no effort that it is not spreading hate, it is not being weaponized by international actors, she would be, perhaps, even more uncomfortable trusting the filtering of news to American multinationals who have a terrible track record in this area, that she would even to (this date via the CRTC? I’m not sure I quite caught that right.)

Mohammad responded by saying that, to be clear, they agree with her. They are not proposing that the tech companies do this, they said the CRTC or another regulatory body (OK, now I’m really confused about this position about who is supposed to oversee this sort of thing.)

Senator Simons asked if he is calling for the regulation of the free print media? (Time expired)

Senator Donna Dasko said that she is actually seeking further clarification on this exact issue. Is he saying that (newspaper example) shouldn’t get compensation from this program because of the way they talk about minorities or is he saying that particular instances of things that appear in the paper that would seem to be discriminatory should be addressed on an individual case by case basis? So, they would say something and then you would have a mechanism for redress through this bill given what they said. So, are they saying that they should be excluded from receiving the funds on this basis or the other?

Mohammad responded by saying that they are saying that (news outlet example) should be eligible for funding if it abides by a code of ethics. If there is a mechanism by which a public complaints process can resolve complaints because they communicate with them. They recently called their CEO a terrorist, effectively, you as senators, are talking to people who are related to terrorists right now. That’s the kind of rhetoric that’s there (Sounds like a clear cut defamation lawsuit against the paper right there more than anything else). Now they aren’t saying that they should exclude them from being able to publish- they’re not calling for any legal constraint for them to publish whatever they want to say, what they are saying is that any collective bargaining regime that would be required by the government for tech intermediaries, for tech giants who are serving as news intermediaries to engage in the collective bargaining process that the should- for (newspaper example) to be eligible, they should abide by a code of ethics. (I’m personally still unsure about how enforcement would take place)

Senator Dasko said that, let’s say that they agree to a code of ethics, that means that they would pass the bar for getting the funding.

Mohammad responded by saying, “yes”.

Senator Dasko said that, but then they, say, express opinions that seem to be negative. Then what? Is there- then they violated a code, then what?

Mohammad responded by saying that if they breach that code, this is one of the concerns that they have of the bill, if the code is breached, then there isn’t clarification on what to do. So, what they are suggesting is that the CRTC engage in a public consultative process that’s independent of government that creates what those obligations would be and what a breach would look like and what the remedy of that breach would be.

Senator Dasko said that, but they would get the funding.

Mohammad responded by saying that they are not calling for them to be ineligible for funding because of what they say (Uh, your organizations opening remarks called for the exact opposite, here.) If they sign on to a code of ethics that this bill would be requiring of some- currently, there are two sets of obligations for a code of ethics and what they are saying is that the language of the bill should be clarified so that all eligible news businesses have to abide by that code of ethics. If they do that, then any major news business like (example newspaper) – any news business in the country – should be eligible for compensation under this collective bargaining regime.

Senator Dasko said that, in one way, she’s not sure why it would be different just signing a code, but their still, you know, operating freely, presumably. What is the difference- she doesn’t know the difference between having a code because they are going to continue the paper that they are. They enjoy press freedom, they can say this, they can say that. right now, there are ways of redress if they cross a certain line if they engage in actual hate – incentivized hatred. They are subject to the laws of the country right now, right? She’s not sure what is different.

Mohammad responded by saying that what has to be, what they think should be different, is there has to be, accompanying that, signing on to a code of ethics, or abiding by a code of ethics, there has to be a clarification in the bill that imposes real consequences for those who are in breach of that code of ethics. (I feel like we are going around in circles right now) Currently, there is no working mechanism. They’ve tried every existing mechanism that’s there and, if you can imagine, how much time and how much it would cost for people that are usually volunteers in their community organizations to actually go to court and try to litigate this and (example newspaper) has huge resources and not something that community members that are being targeted during election cycles or at other times can actually fairly compete with.

Senator Andrew Cardozo said that, one quick comment on that last piece, the CRTC actually does have extensive experience in dealing with these issues through the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. Something that he might want to think about. His question is for Saras. One of the criticisms of the bill is that it would make news organizations and newspapers beholden to the web corporations. So, his question is, if you are getting any support from the web corporations, or from the government in terms of advertising, does that make your papers beholden to them? Does it reduce their independence? (There’s a big difference between 1% funding and 30% funding which the government swore would happen)

Saras responded by saying that he doesn’t think so. First of all, at least at this point, they are an official agency that are (didn’t catch that word) from the government of Canada for two projects. One project is a local journalism initiative and the other project is the students that they are helping to get into the industry through the sector. In answering the senator and the person before, everyone who gets money signs a contract, and the contract clearly shows that they can not write anything against any other community or any other person. Nothing- it is based on the race or anything else. If he is going to do that, the contract is moot, the money is brought back and he’s losing the money. He cannot apply again to the program. So, there are things in the sector and the industry also. They are taking care and they want to make sure that no one is going to be- everyone is going to satisfy- nobody is going to complain about one or the other. He doesn’t understand why they have to put someone above them to tell them how to do the job (because there are bad actors who will flaunt the rules).

A code of ethics, Saras continued, we all have. The National Ethics Press and Media Council of Canada has a code of ethics. The same thing with the National News Media. So, they try their best. Sometimes, for whatever reason, one writer gets out of this. If the (didn’t catch that word) is going to catch it, he’s going to stop. If not, probably, they are going to apologize the next day.

(Saras could’ve given better answers, but credit where credit is due, he is doing a lot to bail out Mohammad here.)

Senator Cardozo said that his question is more about funding from government of corporations. If you get funding from them, does that affect your independence to criticize them.

Saras responded by saying that the problem is, if they receive- first of all, Google and Meta are making more than $2 billion a year in profit. He used to make $150,000 a year about 10 years ago. Today, he is making about $38,000. That is whatever money there is doing the advertisements. To this extent, he pays about $40,000 to printers. Plus, he has to pay the royalties-

Senator Cardozo noted that his time is running out. Does that funding affect his independence to criticize the government or the corporations?

Saras responded by saying that he doesn’t criticize. The government, the last two years, the government has done a very good job. He loves being at the government. The other witnesses love being with the government. They explain to the government that the industry is going down. It cannot survive unless somehow can be helped.

(Oof. There are actually reasons to criticize the government these days. You don’t have to criticize them on tech related issues, either, but there are reasons out there. Either way, Senator Cardozo doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere with those questions.)

Senator Cardozo apologized because he has to watch his time, but had to move on. He then turned to Lauzon and noted that she says that there are institutions that only have two staffers and that could be a problem for that entity. If it was a real media operation, would that create problems for her?

Lauzon responded by saying that it would be great if there are criteria. They wouldn’t have any problem.

Senator Cardozo asked if they wouldn’t have a problem with two members?

Lauzon responded that maybe she didn’t understand his question. They have a problem right now because some of their radio stations and newspapers are not eligible. Only 50% have employees, operate with freelance journalists who are bit full time employees. Then you have freelancers all over that contribute to the newspaper or to the radio station – and there’s a great turnover. So, that would restrict the eligibility of some of their media.

Lauzon continued that they, on their side, have put everything in place. They have used the funds for their news rooms and so on. They have put mechanisms in place to allow them to be completely independent that allow them to freely criticize the government even though there is money coming from it. It has in no way influenced their capabilities to criticize the government.

Senator Peter Harder said that he has had some difficulty finding out from the platforms whether any of their organizations have agreements with the platforms. Can Saras confirm whether that is true or not? Have any of their member organizations sought to initiate agreements with the platforms?

Saras responded by saying that they negotiated with them for about a year. At the beginning, they gave them the impression that they want to support. Then, suddenly, they cut off. They continue with the mainstream media. They did not give agreement not even one publication. he doesn’t say whatever language it is, but there is not even one ethnic publication having an agreement with either Google or Meta or any other company. The problem is, for whatever reason, they moved to the mainstream media and they stopped there.

Senator Harder said that he presumes that Saras support for this bill is, in part, by ensuring that there is a bargaining process that is more balanced and fair. In the absence of an agreement, there is a final offer arbitration available to either side. (really grasping at straws here to find anything to justify the existence of this bill, here.)

Saras responded by saying “no”. At this point, no. He doesn’t think- he means- he is expecting that if senators supports the bill, and that bill becomes the law, then, of course, they have to come down- they are going to negotiate with them for a very fair deal. If the bill does not pass from the senate and will be rejected, he doesn’t think that there is any way that they can come to them and ask them to negotiate or deal with them.

Senator Harder said that some of the critics of the bill suggest that in this digital age, we should all just move on to sources of digital information (that’s a very warped perspective on what we’re saying) In their community, what are the barriers of digitization from their readership? Are they able to use online as freely, as effectively as his grandchildren?

Saras responded that he has been publishing for 64 years in Canada. All those years, he had his audience. His publication goes all over the great communities of Canada and the United States. He never before had any problem and he doesn’t today with his publications. If he puts out a million copies, they will go. The problem is that those million copies need moneys. From the other side, they lost advertisement – private advertisement. Every day, they are losing. So, therefore, they cannot do anything. Eventually- the last two years, 67 – 80 publications from different languages – they shut down. Some of them moved to online, but for online, it’s only for a very small number of people who are going to work through computer and so on. The immigrant groups that come to Canada don’t have access to online and he or she is always going to look to get a paper – hard copy in their hands to get the news. This is exactly the problem and this is what he is trying to communicate with senators.

Senator Housakos thanks the witnesses for coming and adjourned that part of the hearing.

Concluding Thoughts

If Bill C-18 supporters were hoping to get a boost on their side of the debate, they largely came up empty-handed here. With respect to Saras, his complaint that someone has to pay for printing out a million newspapers for him, well, I think the person who pays for it is the organization doing the printing. Unless there is an exception that I’m not aware of, that is how it has always worked in the past from a newspapers perspective. When you want to have something printed, you need to pay money to pay for it. What a novel concept!

Asking for someone else to pay for the printing of a newspaper by law is like me asking for a law to compel for someone someone else to paying for all my hosting costs so I can enjoy all the benefits after. The logical response would be, “Dude! It’s called ‘cost of doing business’. Find some way of paying for it yourself!” There is a reason why I say people want to just freeload off of the success of someone else. Whenever someone criticizes the angle, those supporters just simply shield themselves with a line that more or less amounts to you just hate the media which is a just plain dumb counter argument.

As for Mohammad’s testimony, yeah, that was a self-inflicted ouch. Generally speaking, that organization is trying to shoehorn online harms into this bill. Those are two entirely separate debates. If you are going to try and force an online harms amendment into a bill that has little to nothing to do with online harms, you need to have a very compelling argument for why that suits this bill and very clearly lay out a plan for how it would all work out. That organization clearly didn’t have it. Instead, it sounds like the organization focused narrowly on one or more sources peddling hate and put together a quick fix thinking that this is all that is needed. Very unsurprising that the argument completely collapsed during the hearing.

Specifically, the organization, in their opening remarks, suggested that the CRTC should be in charge of enforcing an anti-hate provision. Part way through, the same organization said that the CRTC shouldn’t be in charge of something like that and said that maybe these issues could be discussed between two parties. Then when it was brought up that there is an issue of telling the media what it can and cannot say, then the pieces moved again and they concluded that we should just have a code of ethics. By the end, we still didn’t get any sense from the organization of who would enforce such things and what kinds of penalties there are for violations or any of that.

Saris, of all people, made a big assist by suggesting that one could rely on contract law which spells out that if hate is published, then the money gets pulled. While we didn’t get any real sense of the mechanics of how that worked, the organization relied heavily on another witness to rescue them in their arguments that went round and round. Not surprisingly, we got frustration from a number of Senators who were trying to get a clear answer out of the organization, but they just found themselves spinning their tires on that one.

Generally speaking, if you got an idea for amendment, you have to, at least, make an attempt to consider different perspectives on how such an idea would play out. You probably aren’t going to get every angle on this debate, but at least make an attempt to hit on as many of the bigger players in the debate – i.e. the media organizations, the platforms, and the CRTC who is likely to enforce that.

It’s a big reason why when I proposed protections from media organizations misusing funding from this bill, I spent a good deal of time talking about business confidentiality because that would have been a very reasonable counter argument to it. How would I adjust this plan that takes into account business confidentiality while still making my idea a viable one so that the public can have confidence that the money from these “deals” is actually being used to fund media operations instead of being embezzled by CEOs or used in stock buybacks and CEO bonuses. An attempt was at least made to address some of the concerns that would come out of such a proposal. That clearly didn’t happen with the organization trying to implement anti-hate provisions into the bill. You could tell by the way they were adjusting the plan on the fly as senators started asking questions just to clarify the position – to the point of contradicting themselves.

As for the other witness, Lauzon didn’t get too many opportunities to flesh out her ideas for senators. Of course, for her, the problem is that this is only contributing to the increasing weight of the class of organizations that are demanding payments. I mean, the problem to begin with is that there are too many organizations that are already saying they want a slice of the payment pie – some members who don’t even produce news if the bill is anything to go by. The problem you encounter is a simple math problem. If you have total payments to these organizations of $1,000,000, and you split that pie between 100 members, then each member gets, on average, $10,000. Not great, but not bad. If you split that same pie with 10,000 members, then each member gets, on average, $100. You are asking businesses to survive on that???

What all this highlights is that, apart from scrapping the bill entirely which would be most ideal, we need to rethink just who gets that money. If the solution is to just ask for more money, that only increases the chances that the platforms are just going to scrap the support of news links to Canadian sources. You’re not exactly going to just turn around and tell Google and Facebook that you changed your mind and you expect the platforms to pay out $10 billion to make up the difference. Make that ask and the other foot goes out the door. In fact, Meta pointed out this very problem during their hearing of too many organizations expecting to qualify. At minimum, we should be hiving off the largest players who are heavily subsidized and the smaller players and deciding who gets what. At the moment, the big players get a lions share of the wealth while, as Lauzon said, get the crumbs. The way this bill seems to be structured on who gets what, that is destined to happen.

Either way, I strongly suspect that this is a hearing that Bill C-18 supporters hope everyone forgets about. It was definitely a bad day for them.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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