Senate Hearings on Bill C-18 – A Look At Hearing 6 (Segment 1)

The special coverage of the Bill C-18 senate hearings at the TRCM is continuing. This covers hearing 6, segment 1.

We are continuing out special coverage of the TRCM (Transport and Communications) hearings into Bill C-18. After quite a packed set of hearings with big players, the other hearings seem to be settling into a rhythm of smaller players. It’s also worth pointing out that this is the final hearing before the senate went into debating the governments budget bill, so there is going to be a gap of hearings should the senate choose to continue them at some point in the future. Still, we have this hearing to get through, so we are carrying on.

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
Hearing 5 – Lobbyists (3) / Lobbyists (4) / Western Standard

So, with that, we are continuing on with these hearings. As usual, the video we are following can be found here, so that is what we are basing out summary and analysis on. You can watch that yourself or check out our summary and analysis below. With that, enjoy!

Opening Statements

Kevin Desjardins of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters opened with his statement. He said that his organization supports Bill C-18 for two essential reasons: the legislation is necessary (it is not) and it is fair (it is not). So why is this legislation needed? (it is not) When he speaks to his members, be it small, medium or large players (emphasis on the large, no doubt) in small or large markets, the issues they face are the same. Advertising revenues are severely challenged, the cost of programming continues to rise as do their copyright and regulatory options, and the fixed costs of running their businesses are also rising. Maintaining professional news rooms across the country is a fundamental commitment to Canada’s broadcasters. Last year, Canada’s private broadcasters invested $681 million in news and community information. Sustaining those news rooms depends largely on entertaining programming that draws the largest audiences and the greatest ad revenues.

Over the past decade, Desjardins said, foreign online platforms aggressively cornered the market in search and advertising. Using their dominant positions, they have dramatically affected the advertising market through algorithmic exploitation of user data. As a result, foreign digital platforms take more than two thirds of those ad revenues out of the Canadian economy (there’s the fake “their stealing our money” argument). In a short time (10 years is a short time???) we have effectively developed a trade deficit in Canada’s advertising market.

At the same time, Desjardins continued, these platforms are exploiting Canadian news online content to deepen their competitive advantages in advertising (this is a lie). Search and social platforms may help to direct audiences to online news sites (this is true), but contrary to their statements here and the other place, these are not free links. In reality, Google and Facebook retain most of their user interactions with news sites with their ability to gather, aggregate, and resell user data to advertisers (this is an apples and oranges comparison. We’re talking about two completely different things here). Nevertheless, social and search platforms provide no compensation to news sites for the value they derive for those interactions (and the shouldn’t because this is links provided by the publishers we are talking about).

As news and publishers struggle to maintain resources necessary to inform Canadians, Desjardins said, the framework outlined in this legislation is critical to recognize the value of their online content (literally pulling value out of thin air since we are still talking about links provided by the publishers). The dominant internet platforms have told senators and members of parliament, that Canada’s news is of little value or consequence to them. (Indeed, they said that users have so little interest in news and if it disappeared from the platforms tomorrow, they would see little to no difference in their interactions.) They have blocked access to content and have threatened to remove all news from their platforms if they do not get their way with this legislation.

(So, here we see the contradictory argument. On the one hand, he says that he is not happy that platforms are stealing and reusing their content for profit – allegedly. Then, in the same breath, he says that he is unhappy that their content on the platforms might soon disappear. As I’ve said time and time again, pick one. Either you are happy that your content is on the platforms or your not. You can’t have it both ways.)

Desjardins continued by saying that if they are bringing an ‘our way or the highway’ approach to this legislative process, just imagine how they use their dominance in negotiations now when they are not even required to come to the table (how dare they not pay our ransoms!) They prefer the status quo of picking and choosing who they wish to support and on the terms in which they do so. Today, if they (daned?) to discuss an agreement to any Canadian news organization, there’s no realistic option but to agree to the platforms terms given their dominant positions online and a lack of a fair regime for negotiation.

Desjardins said that they believe Bill C-18 strikes an important balance. It would enact a fair and reasonable negotiation framework for all Canadian news organizations (False. It would enact a framework that favours the largest media players), allowing each organization to establish a fair value for the use of their content (misleading statement. We are talking about news links, not whole articles or full works.) It would also allow for collective bargaining so that small players can jointly negotiate and help to rebalance their bargaining power with digital behemoths. It provides an arbitrative backstop should negotiations not be constructive and, because a government agency is only involved as a last resort to resolve disputes when no agreement has been reached, the proposed legislation provides no threat to press freedom or free speech (dead wrong. It puts financial pressure on anyone who isn’t the largest players, meaning that it would be financially unviable to compete against the largest players. This is a full frontal assault on both press freedom and freedom of speech).

Ensuring the viability of our news rooms, Desjardins said, is critical to Canada’s democracy. This is particularly essential as Canadians today are increasingly confronted wit misinformation and disinformation online (it also doesn’t help that a lot of that misinformation and disinformation comes from the large media companies in Canada). Indeed, as the large platforms threaten to block and remove vital Canadian journalism from the platforms, these steps would certainly elevate sources of misinformation (and the large media organizations would only have themselves to blame for that problem). We need to ask ourselves, how is that good for Canada?

Desjardins continued by saying that Canada’s broadcasters want to continue to be a dependable source for the local, national, and international journalism that is the foundation of Canada’s democratic institutions. To do so, they need to be provided opportunity to be provided fair compensation for the value of their news content and they believe Bill C-18 helps them to achieve this (LOL!) They have submitted an ammendment to section 93 with the respect to the coming into force of this legislation. They recommend a clause about the legislation coming into affect, in its entirety, no later than 180 days after royal assent (no time like the present to destroy the market, right?)

Catherine Edwards of the Canadian Association for Community Television Users and Stations opened with her remarks. She said that community news media are a trusted part of the Canadian landscape. Their not for profit role in crucial replay have recently been recognized in Bill C-11 (and by “recognized”, they mean “had their competition wiped out completely by demanding that platforms downrank their content in favour of them”, but, splitting hairs, am I right?) CACTUS and (another organization) also co-manage the Canadian Journalism Initiative and are recognized by Canadian heritage as leaders of ensuring the availability of news in underserved communities.

With regard to Bill C-18, Edwards continued, they worked closely with the three community radio stations to ensure that not for profit news organizations are both recognized in section 4, the statement of purpose, and Section 11, Exemptions for news intermediaries. The amendments were non-controversial and were unanimously supported by MPs on the Stanting Committee on Canadian Heritage.

Similarly, Edwards said, both they and their radio colleagues suggested two articles to section 27 to ensure eligibility of community news organizations, even if they don’t meet the two journalist minimum. Many community news organizations that have been delivering news to local and underserved communities for decades may not employ two journalists. TV is a highly technical medium. They may have as few as one to three employees with technical or generalist media backgrounds as opposed to specifically journalistic even though they produce news. One journalist may work with citizen journalists and local organizations to produce news, so the threshold for two employed journalists is designed for more private than public sector news organizations.

Therefore, Edwards said, the first amendment they proposed which was adopted. Section 27(1)(a) ensures that community TV and radio stations that are licensed by the CRTC are eligible for compensation. While most community radio stations are licensed and covered by this amendment, the majority of not for profit community TV stations are not. The latter are either distributed by cable companies and do not hold their own licenses, or whose content are streamed in areas where community cable TV stations have been shut down. So, to ensure the eligibility of non-licensed Canadian media, they therefore proposed an amendment to 27(1)(b)(i), stating that not for profit undertakings, as defined in Bill C-11, should be eligible. (Once again, everyone and their dog should be eligible here.) This amendment was lost in the shuffle apparently because there was another amendment with the same line. They are, therefore, proposing the same amendment to section 27(1)(b)(i). She wants the section to say that ‘or is a not for profit undertaking that produces news’.

Amélie Hinse of the Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec Canadian Association for Community Television Users and Stations continued the opening statement. She said that this amendment was worked on by Canadian Heritage to ensure that it was consistent with the current wording of the legislation – the spirit of the legislation and what was previously enacted. Everyone whom they discussed the matter with agreed that this made sense, so they don’t know why it was lost in the mix at some point. It makes sense to include it here, because rather than under 27(1) because even if radio broadcasters that are not for profits don’t have a license, they would have to meet the same conditions as broadcasters that are licensed that produce news and have a journalistic role to play in the industry.

The explicit eligibility of community TV stations, said Hinse, is crucial. When they negotiated with the web giants, they’ve been already put at a disadvantage and a number of witnesses testified that they have attempted to contact Google and Facebook on a number of occasions without being able to enter into an agreement without even being able to speak to them. The example they use is Australia is TV and broadcasters that weren’t able to enter into agreements either despite that they were eligible under Australian legislation. She listened to Linda Lauzon yesterday morning (reference to hearing 5, segment 1) and she was making the same argument that smaller organizations are at a huge disadvantage under this legislation and the upshot of that is that it will be impossible to negotiate anything with these gaffers.

Evidently, Hinse continued, and it’s important to state this, community stations has, over the recent years, has been able to take some of the net revenue from cable TV stations, but this revenue has been in freefall for a number of years and has dropped by about half in recent years – especially in Quebec, that is. The not for profit television stations outside of Quebec have never been able to take advantage of government support in that regard before the legislation that has been enacted came into effect. (time appeared to expire)

Amy St. Amand of the Canadian University Press opened with her statement. She said that her organization was left out of consultation in Bill C-18 and that student journalists have been forgotten. Their membership faces the same problems as the rest of the industry: heightened distrust, public disinterest, and plummeting advertising dollars mean publications have had to cut production, slash staff, or in some cases, shutting their doors for good. Unlike other publications, student newspapers do not receive benefits from journalism initiatives. So, they demand a seat at the table.

Questioning the Witnesses

Senator Paula Simons turned to Desjardins and Edwards. She said that senators had Meta before them last week (reference to hearing 4, segment 2). They are seeking an amendment that would take all audio and all audiovisual out of the purview of Bill C-18, arguing that it should only be for print publications. She was wondering what they thought of Meta’s proposed amendment.

Desjardins responded by saying that he would say that, quite obviously, they were taken aback by that- not necessarily taken aback, just in terms of how they’ve seen the behaviour of the web giants throughout this process. Certainly, one of the things that they would point out is that when you look at where Canadian’s go to look at news, they have identified, on a number of occasions, that broadcasters were the places they go primarily, not just on television or radio, but on their websites as well. They are Canada’s most trusted sources for news.

So, Desjardins continued, to effectively cut out a significant portion of where people go to get their news and where they trust they will be able to find reliable news would be something that they would see as highly problematic.

The other thing too, Desjardins said, is that radio stations across the country have generally, uh, many of them have taken up the space that has been vacated by regionals or weeklies or dailies or whatnot that have disappeared. sharing news on their websites specifically. So, there’s much talk about news deserts and he thinks that radio stations have been able to help fill some of that gap that’s out there. So, uh, but, if there isn’t support and if there isn’t an ability for them to get fair recognition and get them to be able to negotiate on their fair compensation for their news content, then that is very much in peril.

(That has to be the most nonsensical answer I’ve seen yet in these hearings. It’s like he is sifting through all of his talking points and none of them actually are on the topic of audio and audiovisual content, so he’s just sitting there stringing together barely coherent answers, thinking that’s good enough. The guy was totally lost on that answer and, as a result, he would have been better off saying “no comment” in all of that. What an idiot!)

Hinse responded by saying that she doesn’t know why they proposed this, but in their minds, this is obvious. They have figures to back this up. That is that television stations have been victims just as newspapers are in terms of loss of revenues, advertising revenues, so she just doesn’t get their approach. (LOL, another swing and a miss.)

Edwards chimed in and said that she doesn’t get it either. Why would restricting it to print only help if the news giants are only compensating print news that limits potential revenue to Canadian media overall, she doesn’t see what the benefit would be.

Senator Simons said that it would be that they would have to pay less money.

Edwards responded by saying that, ooohhh, OK, quite right.

(Way for all three of you sitting at that table to look like three clueless morons.)

Senator Simons turned to Amand and noted that she got her start writing for the Gateway. Her office has been staffed with a series of CUP alumni. She then wanted to play devils advocate for a moment. If their advertising dries up because of competition – she thinks we need to be full of classified ads which it is not anymore – don’t university papers have the right to petition their student unions and their board of governors for funding, whether that is a check off of student union dues or money from university administration which, she knows creates a conflict of interest just as getting money from the government creates a conflict of interest for mainstream publications. What would be wrong with those options?

(It’s been my experience that student newspapers are paid partly from student tuition fees. It may suck for some to see tuition fees rise because the university wants to create a newspaper, but that has been happening for years. Senator Simons is on the right track. If ad revenues drop, that’s the fallback. It’s hard to see student newspapers somehow make the leap to demanding payments from Alphabet or Meta without, at minimum, a number of funny looks.)

Amand responded by saying that one of the problems with that option, she thinks, is that some of their publications aren’t even funded by their student unions anymore. The Gateway is not.

Hannah Theodore chimed in by saying that this is one of the ways the legislation could have targeted their student publications in a negative way. They knew what the Student impact initiative, what an impact that would have on their publications because they knew that student unions and student organizations are not always keen on continuing to keep funding flowing to their student newspapers. CUP advocated against the Student Choice Initiative because some of the threats to their publications can be coming from inside the house. Student organizations are not always on their side.

Senator Simons said that she supposes that the student organization is the government that they cover. (time expired)

Senator Donna Dasko turned to Desjardins and said that the platforms tell them that they provide great value to their members and others in the media who provide news. So, she said that she would like Desjardins to tell her how he sees this. What value to they provide and how is this assessed? Does Desjardins know how many deals they have with either of the two companies?

Desjardins responded by saying that they don’t know how many as the deals are private between them. Occasionally, there is someone that will tell them that they have one. Every time that he’s heard someone get a deal, they tell him that this is not what they think the value is (you’re not getting unlimited money for free), but it’s something in the door.

Senator Dasko said that it’s something that they feel they are not getting what they think they deserve?

Desjardins said that he thinks that he thinks that in the few instances where he’s heard, it’s been effectively just something in the door, but really not in negotiation. In terms of the other value that they said that they provide, again, he doesn’t think that these digital platforms become billion and trillion dollar behemoths by handing out free links (no, they also innovate and produce other services and products. Something his members could learn from, really). They are obviously able to monetize those (not news links as far as Google News is concerned) and even in an instance such as driving traffic to their own members sites, part of the game for them is that not only are they implicated in selling of advertisements, but also in terms of facilitating of selling it. So, just in terms of the ad stack that they have, they kind of have both sides so if one of their members has advertising through their website, these platforms get a chunk out of that (well, if you don’t like it, don’t take out advertising through them. Simple.) that online advertising is not something that really takes the place of advertising that has been lost over the past decade.

Senator Dasko said that, so the value that they provide to their members is not great.

Desjardins responded by saying that he means that it’s (random stuttering) commiserating with the value that they are deriving from them. (which would explain why they want to pull news links in the first place, got it.)

Senator Dasko asked him to tell her what he thinks will happen if Facebook or Meta pulls out. What impact will that have on their members? They’ve been talking about this.

Desjardins responded by saying that he thinks it’s possible that that would be something that would be difficult for them to do (you are living in fantasy land if you think that) given some of the language in the legislation (there’s nothing in the bill that says that they can’t just drop news links altogether). He doesn’t know if removing all news from Canadian’s would be considered undue preference (it wouldn’t). He doesn’t know if they would just remove Canadian sources vs all sources (just Canadian sources). He thinks that for as much as they have diminished or dismissed the value of news on their platforms (actually, the users did that, not the platforms), he thinks that would certainly be pushback from their users (it would be minimal). This is a threat they made in other places (and fully carried out in Spain which crushed their journalism sector back in the mid 2010s). It’s a threat that they made in Australia, it’s one that they clumsily moved forward with (his eyes are as wide as saucers just thinking about this possibility) and one that they had to pull back from. He doesn’t think that it’s in Canada’s best interest. He doesn’t think it’s in their best interest to take a step like that (it’s actually the most logical move to make under the circumstance). Again, he thinks we would certainly hope that they will do what they did in Australia (hoping for a miracle in that case) which is, when legislated to do so, they will come to the table (should we just go ahead and start preparing for the funeral of your members business model now?)

Senator Dasko turned to Hinse and noted that she said that their members have difficulty negotiating. So, she wants her to tell her if they are going to be able to negotiate under Bill C-18 or is there a change that needs to be made to ameliorate the situation she was just describing?

Hinse responded by saying that currently, given the current drafting of the bill, three quarters of their members will be excluded from deliberations. So Google, Facebook, any of these gaffers can stand up and say that they are sorry, but they just don’t meet the criteria. They are not going to back any agreement with them. This is legitimate and there would be no recourse. The limit of two journalists, well, they’re not explicitly mentioned in the legislation, before they are excluded by virtue of that effect.

Senator Andrew Cardozo said that he wished they were there because this is a personal moment of irony for him. 45 years ago when he got his start in journalism, the Excalibur of York University, he came to Ottawa one reading week with Mark Boudreau which took place in the Federal provincial conference which took place in this precise area which was, at one point, one big hall and the media bullpen was pretty much right where he is sitting. so, in 45 years, he hasn’t gotten very far. He’s still in the very same place – or full circle, he very much preferred that one. His question is for Desjardins. Him and his members deal with the CRTC a lot. There has been some questions whether the CRTC has the ability to monitor this when they take this new area on. So, he’d like his thoughts on whether he felt that they got that ability to oversee and regulate this field.

For others, Senator Cardozo continued, are they looking at doing joint negotiations with the platforms and how do they think that will work?

Desjardins responded by saying that yes, they think that the CRTC has the ability to manage a file like this (I personally don’t think they have the ability to regulate the internet, but each to their own). They have traditionally acted in a space of dispute resolution especially between broadcasters and distributors and broadcasters. So, they have knowledge and expertise in that area so, especially in understanding the fact that they will only be pulled in as a last resort as the final offer arbitration system which, you know, if it works as it supposed to, you’re not supposed to get to that point. You’re supposed to avoid that through your negotiations. So, they think the Commission is well equipped to be able to handle this.

Edwards said that because they are only 70 community members, their approach would be to negotiate as a group. Community radio has about 200 members, there’s 5 associations altogether so their approach would be to negotiate as a group. All they know, concretely, is that it does help that the bill has language that is about including a variety of businesses models. Many regions of the country have only community broadcasters in terms of broadcasting. So they hope that it will help and when they say that they don’t have any not for profit broadcasters, and they are required to have a variety of business models, look, you can get 70 within one contract. Will they sign with them? They hope that this will be appealing, but no one knows until they decline to answer anyone in the community media sector in Canada to date. So, none of their members have deals yet.

Senator Cardozo turned to Amand and asked for her thoughts on such negotiations.

Amand responded by saying that she thinks that they are in the same boat as the others. They are student newspapers and they wouldn’t be able to negotiate with Google or Meta. Shes definitely not an expert, but they would be acting as a collective for their members.

Senator Cardozo asked if it is going to be worth their time because, at the end of the day, once you get all of these papers into it, you’re not going to be getting a lot of money out of it. (Wow, that’s actually a surprising admission from that particular senator.)

Amand responded by saying not necessarily. She does think that any money is helpful (have fund with your five bucks if you’re really really lucky). Even the legitimacy that this would grant to some of their papers would be beneficial. Their board members are volunteers, but they are very passionate. At the end of the day, it’s worthwhile even if it doesn’t give them millions of dollars. (Well, you are correct, it won’t.)

Hinse said that it’s tough to say. They just don’t know. That’s the problem. Even if they were to work together, the fact that they are small organizations, so, she would bend over backwards if it meant entering into an agreement with their members. The structure proposed under the legislation is far from ideal.

Senator Peter Harder turned to Desjardins. He said that he thinks that the legislation is both necessary and fair. On the necessary part, he presumes that they are predicting that without this legislation, there will be an ongoing downward spiral in capacity. He’d like him to talk a little bit about what if this doesn’t happen, but also discuss what he thinks if it does happen. In terms of what is a reasonable expectation that they would have as to how their members- he understands that it depends on the negotiations – but what would senators look to as what success could be and are their members planning for what they might do should this legislation pass and negotiations be fruitful.

(Simple answer: Not passing Bill C-18 means that they would continue to spiral downward. Passing Bill C-18 means that they would fall straight down like a lawn dart, killing their businesses immediately by blowing themselves up mid air in the process.)

Desjardins responded by saying that he wouldn’t think that many of his members have started spending this money before they get through this legislative process and the next regulatory processes (that is smart given the odds of them ever getting that money in the first place). What he does know is that one of his radio members told him recently, they’re not counting the nickels and dimes, they are counting the pennies at this point. Broadcasting can be a very much a fixed cost business. There’s all sorts of costs that are already built in and when you are looking at where it is when your revenues are down, subscription revenues are down, the place where cuts are available to you are, at times, with people. It’s difficult, but that ends up what’s happening. (Just don’t blame a single source for your woes because you know it isn’t true.)

For them, Desjardins continued, it would represent more journalism jobs (not enough money in this for a meaningful impact.) It would preserve journalists in broadcast news rooms.

Senator Harder asked if his international analogues looking to them as to what is taking place in Canada? They’ve had the Australian model. Others have been looking to what they are doing here. Is he having contacts with their analogues in other jurisdictions?

Desjardins responded by saying that he thinks it’s still early days. There’s interest, he thinks, from other jurisdictions. Certainly, there was something similar in the US that started to come out. He thinks there’s been interest in a few other countries, but, they are not at the tip of the spear, but they are not far behind Australia and he thinks that other countries are looking to them as to what the experience would look like.

(Let’s see, what would the experience look like? Carnage, destruction, chaos, lots of closures in the sector, and disbelief that the platforms would actually do exactly what they said they would. There, you have an answer!)

Senator Julie Miville-Dechene said that, just as a point of clarification with Hinse, she intimated that community television stations, not for profit ones, aren’t going to be covered by Bill C-18. How many community or radio stations was she actually referring to? She is trying to get a handle on this. There are about 650 or 700 media outlets that will be covered by Bill C-18. So, how many TV or community radio stations is she referring to?

Hinse responded by saying that there are 42 members in Quebec that fall under the organizational umbrella of the federation. Then another 46. So, that’s, in Canada, about 30. When the owners of the licenses themselves are under Bill C-18, the license owners are now included. That will affect radio stations that don’t have a license. They could be broadcast by a cable TV. They’re the owners of the license. She has two members who are owners of the license. They are a digital license. They can also be broadcast on cable TV. That’s 2 our of 45 in Quebec alone and in Canada, she would say.

Edwards said that there is 9, she would say, that already have licenses, so they would already be eligible. There is about 25 that is streamed on cable community TV channels.

Senator Miville-Dechene said that, so they know that Bill C-18 is based on value. The value of what they are bringing to the table. Does she have any idea if the community radio and community TV are on Google and Facebook or are being shown there?

Edwards responded by saying that all of their members use Facebook. They use Facebook more than Google. They distribute through YouTube as well as Facebook all their video’s all of the time. So, they are very key in small communities that have no other source of media. The Facebook group for the town. It is an online only station that becomes their media. That sort of touches on Senator Dakso’s question, what’s the value of these platforms to them? They see it as very similar to the 1970’s when cable first came to Canada and the Canadian government was worried that, great, there is going to be extra programming from the United States, but they are just pipes – that they should be required to give back and support Canadian content so they wouldn’t just be awash in American programming. They see it as a repeat of that. Back when cable first came in, there was a recommendation that cable companies spent 10% on community TV to make sure that local communities would see themselves. It was reduced to 5%, then 2%, then 1%. They also fund BDU’s professional production fund as well.

So, Edwards continued, they see it as the same thing. These pipes that are not even owned by Canadian companies are filled with Canadian content that they don’t pay for and undermining their sources of ad revenue. So, they should be giving back to keep those pipes filled with some Canadian content. It’s the same process.

(That… made absolutely no sense. The platforms are hosting the content. The platforms are paying for the bandwidth. Those platforms are distributing that content for free. She sees that as a bad thing. Further, on what planet does this have anything to do with Bill C-18, anyway?)

Senator Miville-Dechene turned to Desjardins and said that he’s asked that section 93 be amended so that the bill will come into effect in 6 months. That is 6 months after royal assent if she understands that correctly. Could he explain the rationale behind this? They have the first draft of section 93 which said that while the dates would be set by order in council. To please the platforms themselves, there was an amendment that sets out various regulations when they would come into effect and Desjardins is saying no, he doesn’t want the first draft, they want 6 months. That would be the time frame. How did he arrive at that point? She doesn’t think there was that kind of time frame in the Australian deadline, was there?

Desjardins responded by saying that the concern on their part when they saw the coming into force provisions is that they saw that, especially knowing the players with whom they’re dealing, is whether or not there is going to be a phase for them to delay at each step along the way of the coming into force of this (no need to delay when they can just cut you off completely.) He would say that there is a fair bit of urgency in terms of moving forward with this legislation (destroying his members futures is a very urgent thing, apparently) and getting a negotiation framework in place. He thinks that all of the players at this point- all news organizations are very much why they haven’t spent the money at this point. In some ways, they have in the sense that they are very much needing for money to start coming in the door (I’d like to win the lottery soon, but I don’t plan on that happening.)

So, Deshardins continued, he thinks that the concern was that there would be a way to manipulate those coming into force provisions so that this could be pushed back in perpetuity (it would be in your best interest that that would happen). He thinks that what this allows is for some of those steps that are still to be taken in the way that had been asked for, but creating a deadline. (Well, I guess it would be interesting to be able to mark my calendar for when the news industry blows itself up.)

Senator Bernadette Clement said that, last week, Meta was here telling them that there is no way that they are going to benefit economically from the links. They don’t benefit from the links. (not quite. They said that there is very little economic value to them for news links and such content can very easily be replaced with little to no negative impact to them.) So, it’s OK for them to walk away from this because they don’t get anything from those free links. Desjardins said that there is a way for them to monetize those links. So, she was trying to get at what that looks like. The question she asks is that they use data, people click on links, that shows preferences that then allows Meta to target advertising to those people (that’s a very confused way of looking at that). Is that what Desjarinds means?

If there’s more, Senator Clement said, can he explain more? Desjardins also said that Meta should expect pushback if they stay out of the market. They don’t seem to agree (for very good reason). They say that, according to their analytics, people are not interested in news and the links.

Desjardins responded by saying that in terms of people interest in the news, he thinks that they are having to trust that their interpretation of their research that says whether or not people are interested in news. The example that he has been giving people in the last couple of weeks is that he is going into the Google machine and say what is open in Ottawa on Victoria Day weekend? He knows that what he is going to get out of that is at least two news organizations that are going to have stories that are going to feed that back. What does Google get out of that or what does Facebook get out of that? They know that he is in Ottawa (They don’t need a query for that. The IP address is more than sufficient for that). They would be able to pair that up with all sorts of things against his location of his past of his past history on these platforms. From the point of view of Meta, it’s what he is looking at on Facebook vs what he is looking at on Instagram, whom his friends are, there’s lots of data that they help to build into that.

By the way, Desjardins continued, if he is clicking through, as he often does, on a certain news site, a post for their news site that he gets through their platforms, they know that he is interested in news and they feed him more. What they are able to do then, is to sell that back to say are you looking for someone who is interested in news, who lives in Ottawa. There’s just a lot that they are able to do with this data. So, again, both in terms of the sites themselves, but also the content that people are going to look for.

(That is a lot of words to say that, sure, many people are not that interested in the news, but I am. So, therefore, it’s important.)

Senator Clement then turned to Amand and said that she was a bit concerned to hear that student unions don’t put in any money to university newspapers. So, can she explain how students, how their members engage with students, what platforms to they use? What is the connection with the community there?

Amand responded by saying that not every student union doesn’t fund a newspaper. She doesn’t have exact numbers. There are many that do, but there are also many that don’t. Their member publication uses every platform that there is. They use Facebook a lot. Many of them are entirely online publications. Using SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to ensure that many of them are seen. Many of them have Instagram accounts, Facebook accounts, TikTok accounts – especially for those that have not been able to print anymore. They have moved into the online world to get their news out there and really be seen by students in the same way that many large media organizations rely on podcasts or websites or newsletters. Their organizations are in the same capacity.

Senator Pierrette Ringuette turned to Desjardins and said that she is intrigued by his suggested amendment. 180 days after royal assent. When you look at the bill, and the clauses that have to do with the coming into force, and she’ll use the English word here, “blackmail”, that the government is getting from entities such as Google, doesn’t he get the sense that the government is going to rush into giving orders in council to make effective all of the clauses of the provisions of the legislation? She thinks that they will. Let’s not forget that an amendment that would be moved on the Senate side, for example, would cause delays because the bill would have to be referred back to the other chamber. One has to consider all of that when recommendations are made. So, it’s all about timing and Desjardins seems to be particularly in the timing.

Desjardins responded by saying that the timing is crucial and it’s about striking a balance between what might occur in the absence of such an amendment and if things were to drag on for years before coming into force. (Why does this feel like a JG Wentworth commercial?) That may very well happen. Then, of course, they would have to develop the regulatory framework. It’s the lawyers who are experts in the regulations who have told him that. He didn’t pull this out of a hat, but what he would like to see is the swift passage of Bill C-18 and it’s his hope that what he has put forward in terms of amendments are quite straight forward (Bill C-18 is far from straight forward) and not controversial (it is) and won’t upset the apple cart (it will). He doesn’t think that it would cause an undue delay, even days or weeks or even months. He hopes that it would be a quick discussion (one that involves anyone pushing this idea being told they are idiots, preferably) to move on to clause by clause consideration.

Senator Ringuette said that in light of the experience of Bill C-18, there were major delays, weren’t there? We have to bear that in mind. Of course, he is entitled to his opinion and she respects his opinion but she’s just got to say, she just doesn’t agree with it. (LOL! That was epic!) Another question: she comes from a small community. They have a community radio station, a private radio station, and local businesses buy the advertising. Now, given that, can Hinse tell senators that when it comes to their members, what local revenue is lost to them as a result of Google, for example, because they are going to take up advertising from the big order companies.

Hinse responded by saying that, well, data from Quebec. The revenue isn’t directly tied to commercial advertising. They don’t engage in that. It’s what the cable company gives to the community radio as a percentage of their net profit. If there is a free fall in terms of that net profit, subscribers will leave and they’ll turn to online streaming. The upshot of that is less revenue and less money for community radio. In 2015, she surveyed her members, and in the Montreal region, they are receiving $1 million for community radio stations across the region – not including (didn’t catch that name) TV, the cable TV station for Videotron which was getting $20 million. Now, it’s zero. In the space of 8 years, we’ve gone from millions of dollars to zero. That doesn’t include all of their other members whose seen their revenue free fall as well.

Senator Simons turned to the CUP representatives. She said that because of amendment on the House side in committee, there’s a specific reference in the bill that now says that campus radio stations must be included. Campus radio stations, and she used to work at one of those too, don’t do a lot of original news portage. There’s a lot of music and talk about culture, do they think it’s fair that campus radio stations are specifically numerated as saying that they qualify for funding, whereas campus newspapers are not?

Amand responded by saying that she doesn’t, personally – especially given the statement given that campus radio stations aren’t kind of reporting on news in the same capacity. She wouldn’t understand why they would be included in this and campus newspapers and campus publications are not. In fact, they are doing even more so than college radio stations in some capacities, their reach is potentially larger. The content that they are covering is a lot more similar to what large news organizations are doing. So, it doesn’t make sense to her why radio stations would be included and news publications would not.

Edwards chimed in and said that community radio stations and community television stations are managing the local journalism initiative, so community radio stations are required to have a certain percentage under their licenses of spoken word programming which is generally news (it’s not required to be news. This was pointed out last year, actually.) So, they do do news as do community radio stations and that’s why they have been handed the mandate of administering the local journalism initiative. She thinks that the perception that it’s only music isn’t accurate (the campus radio station I worked at was almost exclusively music.)

Senator Simons pointed out that this is specifically campus radio stations.

Edwards responded that, yeah, including campus radio stations. Many of them are employing LGI journalists right now. They were viewed as under resourced, so they are hosting professional journalists and doing professional news.

Senator Simons asked if that’s fair that they get the funding whereas newspapers do not.

Edwards paused and thought for a moment. She then asked if they are not eligible for the LJI. (there was some confusion between two of the witnesses.)

Edwards then spoke again and said that, yeah, she doesn’t think that’s fair either. She didn’t want their being excluded be a reason for community radio stations to not be included as well as she thinks that they are both doing important reporting that they need, particularly in smaller communities and for minority communities in big centres too.

Senator Simons said that she thinks that they are talking about apples and oranges here. She is talking about the Gateway as being the campus newspaper, CJSR is the campus radio station. She is not slighting the radio station, she thinks that- and she’s not particularly a fan of Bill C-18 as we all know, but it seems ludicrous to her that one would specifically innumerate the campus radio stations who must be in negotiations and leave out campus newspapers. As long as we are having a bill, it ought to have internal logic. (Very well pointed out, I’d say.)

Senator Miville-Dechene then thanked the witnesses for appearing before them and adjourned that part of the hearing.

Concluding Thoughts

First of all, that hearing clearly went horribly for Desjardins. It really seemed like he decided to show up with a list of talking points memorized and assumed that he would just rattle them off one by one, make a few asks, and call it a day. The problem, of course, is that senators are there to discuss the inner workings of the bill and see what details need to get ironed out. As a result, he just looked woefully unprepared and, as an added bonus, got completely clocked part way through by one of the senators when he asked for a super tight deadline for enactment. Like, did he expect to just show up and give orders and the senators would just nod to anything and everything he said? It was nice to see that level of belligerence get punished in the hearing.

As for the other witnesses, I go back to the concern that we are tacking on too many people to be eligible. The ask is that more and more get on board. There’s only three possible outcomes that come out of that:

  1. Platforms just get further motivated to drop news links altogether (most likely)
  2. The amount of money everyone gets drops even further from an insultingly low value to being payed in pocket change
  3. The platforms get asked to fork over even more money (and further increasing the chances that the first outcome happens

I honestly struggle with the idea that anyone who is smart in these debates would see increasing the number of people eligible being a good thing in the long run. There’s no logical outcome that is anything other than the above highlighted three I made above.

I think I was especially disappointed in CUP’s appearance. I would’ve thought that if anyone in that room would have half a clue about how the internet actually works, it would be them. I honestly expected them to worry that the platforms would pull out because they were best suited to figure this out. Instead, they just looked like just another opportunistic organization hoping to smash and grab the cash just like the other organizations.

Not only that, but I’m not sure their performance was all that great. They spent a considerable amount of time talking about how their members contribute to journalism and the many great things their members did, and not enough time actually getting into the details of why they were even there and what they hoped to get out of these hearings. Senator Simons largely bailed them out at the end by noting that campus radio stations qualify, yet student newspapers did not. All they could do is agree to that point, allowing their whole appearance to actually be worth it. That ultimately should have been spotted by the organization first, not the senator.

At any rate, we now have had multiple hearings from multiple organizations lobbying and supporting the bill. So far, every single hearing with them in those hearings resulted in a considerable face plant. They only have the loosest of grasps of how the bill works and, at best, they just focused on a singular issue of wanting inclusion at best. Softball questions about inclusion of audio and audio visual content shouldn’t have been that hard to answer, yet the witnesses in that panel pretty much fumbled hard, there. It makes it all the more annoying knowing that the ones with so little knowledge are the ones that are going to “win” by default because the system is so heavily stacked against those who know better.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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