Senate Hearings on Bill C-18 – A Look At Hearing 6 (Segment 2)

We continue our special coverage of the Bill C-18 senate hearings. This continues on to segment 2 of hearing 6.

(Note: This hearing took place before Meta’s test of blocking news links)

Our marathon coverage of the Bill C-18 senate hearings at the TRCM (Transport and Communications) is continuing. The theme has gone from large players to largely lobbyists pushing for this bill. So far, the hearings haven’t gone that well for the lobbyists, though. Probably little wonder why the larger publications have been reluctant to cover those hearings, really. Still, we are continuing on with 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
Hearing 5 – Lobbyists (3) / Lobbyists (4) / Western Standard

Previously, we covered the first segment of hearing 6. It featured more lobbyists. Things didn’t go so well for those lobbyists as one even wound up leaving the hearing humiliated over things his organization was pushing. Will this bad streak continue? Well, I guess we’ll find out.

As always, the video that we are following can be found here. As this is the second segment, and the start and end times are, once again, a little funky. So, the start time for this segment is at 19:49:41. Otherwise, though, enjoy our summary and analysis!

Opening Remarks

Benoit Chartier of Hebdos Québec opened with his remarks. On the margins of this perfect storm of a media crisis without their members benefit of a safeguard in the form of Bill C-18 which they are still calling on lawmakers to pass as soon as possible, please. The press is a precious bulwark of democracy with its duty to inform the public of its best journalistic rigour, must not be subjugated by the hegemony of a few web giants who not only line their pockets by appropriating content that they produce at great cost (that’s a lie), but also disseminate a lot of fake news devoid of true journalistic practices, ethics, unverified, and inaccurate content (they don’t produce that content).

These web giants, Chartier said, such as Facebook and Google also give free reign to the content aggregators that the internet has given rise to (what?). The gaffers have proliferated without producing original content (not actually true) with little or no investment in journalistic resources (not their job and a misleading statement to boot) with few ethical rules when it comes to the news. The weekly French newspapers in Quebec have played a fundamental role in delivering news to many local communities often in regions where there are no other local or regional media outlet exists.

In that sense, Chartier continued, one can argue that a weakened and embattled press forced to forgo its mission and facing its demise is seriously endangering our democracy (well, lift a finger and adapt). As for weeklies, they have made part of their economic and cultural landscapes some familiar century (?) are essential in our democratic vitality. Outside of our major urban centres, they are often the only ones to play such a role and their relevance remain just as great as before the advent of social media. He went on about how so important they all are.

Chartier said that their some 200 journalists help build a wall to guard against misinformation and disinformation that’s been sweeping across the nation in recent years (this is not a new phenomenon). He then went on to say how without news, there would be no debate on various things in societies.

Sylvain Poisson of Hebdos Québec continued the opening statement. He spoke about a poll of questionable reliability, trying to sell the legislation. In their minds, this represents a cry from the heart to support this bill and allow collective bargaining to address the market imbalance between web giants and local and regional media publisher (an imbalance that doesn’t exist). Even the agreements between some publishers and Google and Facebook are unequal and unbalanced compared to others (thus proving my point that big publishing has unlimited greed here). These web giants have effectively cannibalized their revenue streams (that’s a lie) without issuing any of the social and financial responsibility and they control the algorithms (as they should). They have disrupted their business model (that’s a false accusation) and desecrated the real value of news (that’s another lie). On top of all of that, they have succeeded in securing 80% of the investment revenue of local and regional businesses (again, should’ve adapted instead of wishing the internet away) without any tangible benefit to the communities themselves.

In the space of just a few years, Poisson went on, with scant tax contributions (actually, the web giants are taxed in this country) these web giants have often eaten into the revenue streams of traditional outlets that for decades have invested time and money in their communities, encouraged their businesses (questionable in my experience), supported their educational institutions, and serve the public interest (been my experience that this isn’t always the case with newspapers in general).

They garner the interests of their users, Poisson continued, whose data they harvest and crunch in order to target the ads that they sell (Bill C-18 encourages the platforms to double down on this). That’s basically their business model (well, they do more than that). To top it all off, these giants are threatening to block news in Canada (once again, are you happy or unhappy your links are on their platforms? You can’t have it both ways) if Bill C-18 is passed (which is a reasonable decision on their part). It doesn’t even make sense that they’d do so (it actually makes perfect sense if you looked past your own ego) as it would be a drain on their own business model (not really). Their threats are a copy and paste in a similar attempt they made, and later backtracked on, as a means of self preservation.

In closing, Poisson droned on, the onus is on all of us to protect our democracy (that’s why I’m opposed to Bill C-18), to protect the public’s right to be informed (that was not threatened here) and to take concrete and permanent steps to limit web giants outrageous hegemony (Bill C-18 would actually cement that). He then said that he trusts lawmakers to ensure the smooth passage of Bill C-18.

(That was probably one of the most poisonous opening statements I’ve listened to yet in these hearings.)

Dwayne Winseck then opened with his statement. The Online News Act has been mauled and mangled by its advocates and critics in equal measure. On the one side, the bill has been driven by spacious claims that Google and Meta steal the news and have caused the crisis of journalism. On the other side, critics claim that regulating Google and Meta is an assault on the free press and the open internet (Bill C-18 is an assault on the free press. It’s accurate to say that it’s an assault on the open internet as it demands payments for linking, the very building blocks of the World Wide Web.) These criticisms are ill informed (for the latter, no they are not.) Claims that the governments internet policy agenda is akin to a authoritarian regime in China and Russia and North Korea are preposterous (dude, right wing rags shouldn’t be taken seriously. This amounts to a strawman attack on real criticisms of the bill).

The Online News Act is about more than making Meta and Google pay for links to news (could’ve fooled me and the government). It’s about creating a fair carriage framework to govern how a select few very large digital platforms index, aggregate, rank, and integrate news content into their search, social media, app stores (not sure about that), advertising (since when?), marketplaces (what?) and other emerging products (so where’s the part that says it goes beyond that?). For instance, a news article from the Globe and Mail, Post Media, CBC, CTV, Toronto Star, etc. are featured in Google search results, News Showcase (where they have the agreements already), podcasts and Nest products, branded YouTube channels, and its apps and it’s online advertising exchange – the engine of its empire. (still talking about links, here.)

Indeed, Winseck continued, such services have become an essential part of news publishers multi-platform distribution strategies in Canada and around the world. This is one reason why Google have struck hundreds of deals with news providers (trying to make these problems go away and hope it doesn’t crop back up. Bill C-18 is proving that this was a bad move on their part). Another is to hold regulatory moves like Bill C-18 at bay. Because these deals are private, however, little is known about them. The Act will change this by subjecting to CRTC review (kind of questionable. We won’t get that much out of the transparency reports beyond totals – and that’s if the media outlets don’t veto that information being made public in the first place.)

Winseck said that these companies position at the crossroads of communications and commerce gives them the power to set, change, and withdraw the terms of carriage involving making news available to the public. Those terms influence how the news is distributed, promoted, consumed, and paid for. It also dictates who owns the audience data generated by such activities – the lifeblood of the digital media economy (depends on where you look. Wikipedia is an excellent example that contradicts this assessment).

Bill C-18, Winseck continued, is crafted in recognition of the fact that Google, for example, has held a near monopoly in search and controlled half of all app store revenues, mobile operating systems, and advertising spending for much of the last decade (it will cement that position after it makes it impossible for competition to pay the link tax ransoms). Meta’s share of social media traffic has not dipped below 60% for a decade while it’s share of online ad revenue climbed to one third of the market in 2021 (Bill C-18 won’t change that). Combined, Meta and Google had close to $11 billion in revenue in Canada in 2021. They rake in 80% of the $12.3 billion in online ad revenue and accounted for close to 60% of all ad spending across all media in this country – a sum that is now equal to twice that in the entire broadcast TV and newspaper sectors combined.

The EU, Winseck said, has dealt with these matters, deeming these platforms to have systemic-like characteristics that require a formal regulatory framework, risk mitigation framework, and public obligations to match their size and influence (If that was Canada’s approach here, I wouldn’t be complaining, but Bill C-18 is not this approach). Canada’s Online News Act sets out what some of those obligations will be for the platforms that make news available here. Initially, it will only apply to Google and Meta (worth noting that the government has already suggested that they are looking at making this apply to TikTok as well), but other large news aggregators such as Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, and Twitter could be swept into the Act in the future (I have been admittedly surprised that Twitter wasn’t also hit in the initial wave of heavy handed regulations as well).

Google and Meta, Winseck said, claim that they would withdraw carrying news at all rather than comply with the act because news accounts for only a tiny part of their services, however, this misses the point. These companies derive tremendous benefit from operating in our country. Canada is one of the most lucrative markets in the world. The revenue per user in Canada is amongst the highest alongside the United States. Double what it is in Europe, Quadruple what it is in Asia, and ten times what it is in the rest of the world. He doubts they will leave here lightly.

(Ironically, it’s Winseck that is missing the point. Saying that platforms derive huge value in Canada doesn’t address the fact that news isn’t valuable to platforms. Platforms are getting huge value from people sharing photos and communicating with one another among other things. The evidence is clear that news is of little value and that value is shrinking fast. Further, Alphabet and Meta never said that they were leaving outright, they just said that they were dropping news links. They’d still be in Canada benefiting from things that are actually lucrative. What Winseck just said was a logical fallacy.)

Coupled with their systemic characteristics, Winseck continued, they have thereby acquired a public obligation to distribute news because they are major pathways for the news between a third and half of all Canadians respectively (it doesn’t. Saying a business is a major source of something doesn’t mean that they are obliged to carry on providing such a service. Never was the case before and isn’t the case here and now.) Indeed, the public value of news in a democracy is a core part of where their systemic influence comes from and one of their core public obligations as set out in this bill (again, news is still not an important part of the platforms success).

Reflecting this, Winseck said, one of the best features of the Act, Section 51 bans designated platforms from giving unreasonable advantages, or conversely, subjecting them from giving undue disadvantages (Section 27, however, allows the government to give undue advantage and disadvantages to members of the press community, however.) This soft, ‘must carry’ measure, could prevent Google and Meta from pulling the plug on Canadian news media (the Heritage Ministry, specifically, Thomas Owen Ripley, disagrees with that assessment. Once news links are dropped, there’s no more exchange in value, meaning the platforms fulfill all their obligations in the bill.)

(Separately, Section 51 explicitly states the following:

In the course of making available news content that is produced primarily for the Canadian news marketplace by news outlets operated by eligible news businesses, the operator of a digital news intermediary must not act in any way that

(Emphasis mine. The provision cited hinges on news content being made available at all. If no news content is made available, then no preferential treatment of any kind can be given. Therefore, Winseck’s argument fails.)

Winseck continued by saying that the anti-discrimination provisions contemplated by Section 51 could even be improved on by including statutory limitations on the exercise of editorial control over the news services they do distribute similar to the one found in Section 36 of the Telecommunications Act. Together, these provisions could be used to prevent online intermediaries from blocking news in Canada including their ongoing efforts, right now, to sabotage the distribution of news in Canada as part of their respective bills to kill Bill C-18 (if there is such a provision, and we’ve already shown that there is not, then that just opens the door to a constitutional court challenge. The government would have an incredibly tough time trying to defend the concept of compelled speech.)

Despite its virtuous intentions, Winseck said, the Online News Act remains badly flawed. For one, it does nothing to break up Google and Meta’s entrenched monopoly power. Their dominance has caused news providers to get a smaller cut of advertising revenue, advertisers do pay higher prices for buying ads, and people’s privacy keep being made worse then they would otherwise be in a more competitive market (this is why I agree with calling for legislation to regulate digital advertising so that solutions can be made across the board in the online world instead of favouriting one particular kind of web service – namely news.)

Second, Winseck said, the Act tries to get a bigger slice of the platforms dollars in data in Canadian news media rather than curbing the forces of surveillance capitalism (this is why I am supportive of strong privacy reform – to directly tackle this very issue). Given that firms like Bell themselves are now in the data gathering business, Bill C-18 entrenches the status quo of custom ad driven social media and media.

Third, Winseck said, Canada’s largest media conglomerates, some with multiple times the revenue higher than what Google and Facebook earn from their Canadian operations, will likely be the biggest beneficiaries of the bill (I agree with Winseck on that one.) This also strikes a wrong note.

Fourth, Winseck said, Bill C-18’s pitifully weak information disclosure obligations means that we, the Canadians, who are supposed to be the public interest represented by this bill, will be left in the dark in terms of what these deals between publishers and platforms are all about (I agree with this point too).

Six was to fix the Act, Winseck said. Ass a clause at the end of Section 2(2)(b) to explicitly exclude the provision of naked hyperlinks or URLs (I don’t believe this really changes anything in the grand scheme of things). Second, add specific thresholds based on reach, market share, and capitalization to Section 6 similar to the criteria in the EU to designate very large online platform services or very large online search engines that are covered by the Digital Services Act or Digital Markets Act and also in several bills before the US congress (fair enough, that would help). Beef up the must carry common carriage measures of Section 51 (that would make the bill more unconstitutional). Improve the information disclosure obligations in Section 53 and 56 (agree with this). Add measures to ensure that the public can participate in CRTC proceedings (fair enough). Finally, add personal privacy and data protection measures for online news audiences (a good idea, but never going to happen because it wouldn’t fit well with this bill. You need a whole new bill to tackle something that complex.)

(I expected him to be a mixed bag. Not surprised that this was the result. The arguments for this bill are highly strained, rely on straw man arguments, misreadings of the bill, and strained arguments that simply do not stand under scrutiny. It’s not to say all of his ideas are bad, but if he hoped to add credibility to the bill, I don’t think that he moved the needle.)

Questioning the Witnesses

Senator Julie Miville-Dechene said that she would be interested if Winseck could send senators his data on Facebook revenues because she never heard that Canada was a better market than others. So, maybe because she doesn’t read enough, but if he could send senators his sources, she would be really interested in that. She then turned to Chartier and asked if some of their weekly newspapers entered into some agreements with Facebook and Google.

Chartier responded by saying none whatsoever.

Senator Miville-Dechene asked if they have attempted to do so.

Chartier responded by saying that no, they are not interested (well, there’s your problem.)

Senator Miville-Dechene asked something, but it wasn’t audible.

Chartier responded by saying that they are just waiting for the passage of Bill C-18 and arbitration thereafter.

Senator Miville-Dechene commented that so they get the sense that any negotiations would be fruitless with those two platforms. They are favouring arbitration, is that correct?

Chartier responded by saying that it depends. They are waiting for the coming into force of the act and when that happens, they’ll sit down together, the 150 newspapers, from Quebec and Canada’s other newspapers. It amounts to 600 newspapers across Canada and they’ll negotiate that in solidarity on chunk at a time. (The government has made it clear that these negotiations can happen now. There is no need to wait for the coming into force of the act. There’s no actual reason to wait for this. Clearly, he doesn’t understand how the act works in the first place.)

Senator Paula Simons turned to Winseck and said that, at the risk of embarrassing herself, what is a naked hyperlink? (bare text of a URL I’m guessing)

Winseck responded by saying that a naked hyperlink is his provocative label for basically a stripped down link you would get in, say, the old 2002 version of the Google search engine which basically sent you back just a straight up link without all the sponsored links and all the sidebars and the side with all the information boxes describing the particular elements that you are looking at for and things that are associated with it. The news carousal that’s underneath. All the things, so, basically a stripped down link so if he flips a link to Senator Simons and said ‘hey, go check out his new report’ or ‘go check out the testimony of somebody that appeared before them tonight or yesterday or whatever’. That would be a naked link, but when you start embedding it in Google News showcase, in Facebook news tab, in instant news articles which has been discontinued, and you start to build things like the app store, that is something else completely. (I see we have completely different ideas on terminology here.)

Senator Simons said that, so is Winseck suggesting then, that, say for example, she still writes a regular column for an Alberta news magazine. If she posts a link to her column on her Facebook page, Winseck doesn’t think that should be included? It shouldn’t be- this is not dissimilar, quite frankly, from what Google proposed to them – that it should only be included if it’s in Showcase or if it’s embedded in one of their proprietary windows. (If this was just about very specific services like Showcase, then this bill would be a heck of a lot less controversial.)

Winseck responded by saying that he thinks that gets them close to where we are at. He would have to see what Google was proposing to senators. What he is trying to get away from is two things:

1. The idea that just a simple link engages the act and to highlight all of these other ways in which these massive planetary scale digital conglomerates have been able to build a suite and portfolio of services around news and other content (except that news makes up a tiny part of it in the first place. Besides, I think we just saw a contradiction where, on the one hand, Winseck is saying that this is just about very specific services, but on the other hand, flatly admit that a simple link engages the act which puts us back to square one in the debate.)

Senator Simons said that she wanted to go back to Section 51. When Google was there before senators, they argued that that was too limiting because that would not allow them to curate the news to only send you reliable- they’re saying the clause, as it currently is, was read too literally, they wouldn’t be able to, say, send you the Wall Street Journal ahead of the Epoch Times, for example. They want to retain the right to send you the most reliable, the most popular links as opposed to all of them. Winseck is calling for even more rigorous rules to say that they can’t be prejudicial in the way they show their news. So, what would Winseck say in response to their claim that it would break the algorithm?

Winseck responded by saying that he thinks that they are being disingenuous here in that they are characterizing this kind of rule as if every single news story or piece of information has to be treated exactly the same way and what we already know is that the internet- the telephone companies themselves are already making distinctions between different kinds of traffic and so that an e-mail will be treated much different than a video or a voice call. Things like a cat video will be carried under different terms than a cat scan. So, we can make distinctions between broad categories of content and allow them to be handled in ways that meet the technical requirements – i.e. the cat scan is much more urgent and needs higher level quality than does the cat video. (That’s… not how any of this works.)

So, Winseck continued, what he’s suggesting here is that similar types of news content that is carried by Google in its search results in Google News Showcase have to be treated on similar terms and they can’t, for instance, single out Canadian news for special abuse because they don’t like a particular law, namely, Bill C-18, and therefore ban that news (Google can and probably will). That seems to him to be an unjust form of discrimination (Again, not how the discrimination provisions work). We would have to get into the details, but something along those lines (details like the first 6 words of the provision, perhaps?)

Senator Andrew Cardozo turned to Hebdos Québec and said that they presented a very solid brief (unlikely). some critics are saying that this legislation will support “dinosaurs” (an oversimplification of the criticisms). They claim that it will benefit news publications on their websites (if we are talking about the largest players, this was confirmed by the Parliamentary Budget Officer.) What is their take on that?

Chartier responded by saying that their response is straight forward. They’re the ones that benefit from their content. That much is clear (uh, we have to fact check the shoddy quality of their work, actually.) Their content is rigorous and very credible and brings a level of rigour and credibility to their platform (so says the person who has been lying all this time) and by virtue of that fact, they get a lot of viewership on their platform (that is flatly incorrect) and that leaves to the harvesting of data, gender, age, location and Google and Facebook end up raking it in thanks to users data who are there on the basis of their content on their platforms (then you should be celebrating the fact that the platforms will drop news links altogether, then. End of debate.) – rigorous quality content (you keep telling yourself that.)

When it comes to producing the news, Chartier droned on, they have a news room of over 200 journalists across Quebec. They benefit far more than they do. That’s a pretext for them. It’s far too easy for them to say that and it’s smoke and mirrors (So the PBO is now part of a grand conspiracy working with the platforms? That’s an elaborate hoax he sure conjured up.)

Senator Cardozo responded with something, but it wasn’t all that clear beyond “if I may”.

Chartier responded by saying that the world is changing, they say. They have their websites all over the internet and, as he said in his opening remarks, they are unique producers on their platforms. They are not dinosaurs when it comes to disseminating the news by any stretch of the imagination, but the fact of the matter is they don’t benefit from the advertising revenue. They are basically stealing away from them (don’t worry, the “theft” will soon come to an end – not that I expect you to be happy about it, but you’ll get exactly what you asked for.)

Senator Miville-Dechene said that the platforms, and we can think what we want of them, but they say they benefit from their content. The flip side of that is that, in their opinion, Chartier benefits from the fact- on their platform. It’s a two way street. It’s not a one way street, is it? Chartier spoke about value, and she understands what he is saying, but it is a two way street, isn’t it? (Yes.)

Chartier responded by saying that, well, maybe they benefit to a certain extent from Google or Facebook’s platforms (like, more than a third of your traffic perhaps?), but he thinks it’s more like 80%-20% in terms of benefit (and you are the 80% which is a bit of a modest number if you ask me). They benefit to the tune of 80% (LOL! Nope!) whereas they benefit to the tune of 20% (yeah, let’s see how those numbers stack up after the platforms drops news links, shall we?) So, it’s not equal by any stretch of the imagination. They’ve seen their revenue in freefall, it’s been catestrophic for the past 10 years since 2014 he’d venture to say (there’s something to be said about “change your business model”). Look at the profits Google and Facebook are raking in and how they are on the stock exchange! (Little to no relationship to your falling revenue) He doesn’t think it’s a one way street. (anyone who believes a word he says is an idiot.)

Senator Cardozo then turned to Winseck and said that there is another view about all of this. A more libertarian view, a more internet view. His counterpart of Michael Geist at the other university. What does Winseck think of their view that this is just and change and we’ll get over it. They don’t want the “state”, the “evil state” or the CRTC telling you what you should support or shouldn’t. (No idea what he was trying to say here, but I think that misses pretty much every point Geist was saying – a reference to Hearing 3, segment 1)

Winseck responded by saying that he thinks that the view might have made a lot of sense before the consolidation and centralization and remaking of the internet in the image of a handful of planetary scale digital conglomerates like Google, Facebook, and Amazon. These entities, he thinks, are now the antithesis of the open internet themselves as they have built these walled gardens that have substituted their own proprietary technical code over the former open common code on which the internet itself was built and celebrated by very interesting people like Lawrence Lessig, (multiple names), and so on, throughout the late 90’s all the way up to the 2010’s- er 2000’s. But that’s all changed now (copyright law and the Berne Convention is still relevant today, dude). If you want to, kind of, basically plug in to, say, the Apple app store or Meta’s products, you have to get access to their API, to their software development kit, go to developer conferences, and so on (and people think I exaggerate when I say that there are those who honestly believe Facebook and Google is the entire internet. LOL!)

So, Winseck said, you are not doing this as the kid in the basement making a web page and speaking to the rest of the world (uh, still happens). He thinks time has passed them by. (I’m sorry you don’t know the internet all that well.)

Senator Cardozo said that the walled garden is very interesting. He didn’t mean to say that professor Geist said that the CRTC is evil, but there are people out there who think that, just to correct the record (those people have very good reasons to think so, so it’s not something that got pulled out of thin air). Winseck’s walled garden issue is very important.

Winseck said that he thinks that it is very important that we recognize that we live in one of the most democratic countries in the world that actually ranks high consistently on questions of the free press and freedom of speech and we’re not living in an authoritarian country (not an excuse to crack down on those freedoms) and any slippage to authoritarian countries he thinks is preposterous as he said earlier on and his view and he is a harsh critic of the CRTC, but he’s also the director of a 40 company strong media concentration project and he can tell senators that the CRTC stacks up quite well to other regulators around the world and while he has severe concerns with them, he thinks they are up to the job (evidence says otherwise) and he knows that they will take the job seriously especially under the new leadership (the same leadership that couldn’t be bothered to show up for the hearings, got it).

Senator Donna Dasko turned to Winseck and said that she is going to play devils advocate which is dangerous because Winseck knows more than she does. She’s at a disadvantage in going in this direction. He did mention the vast revenues that these platforms get from Canada, and so it’s quite fantastic with how much money they get, but it may be the case, as Meta says, that very little of it comes from the news – the access to news. So, it could also, let’s say, very well be true that if they take away the news, it won’t affect their revenues one whit. Is that not correct? (Little to none, but I’d say that’s correct.)

Winseck responded by saying that here is what he would say to that: this is where he uses the phrase in his talk, “pathway to the news”. So, irregardless of what Meta or Google says, as he said, about a third to 50% of Canadians use google and Meta as pathways to the news (this sort of assumes that those same people do not use those platforms for anything else, but every study I’ve seen always says that people use the platforms for multiple reasons.) So, Canadians find it quite important. Second, the value of news is very hard – like many cultural and information commodity – to establish a price for. This has long been known in all the cultural industries. So the value does not come from any individual discreet piece of information or content, but rather from a catalogue of goods. Whether it is a catalogue of music recordings or of books or film titles or now, of the variety of content that is made available through news.

So, Winseck continued, trying to try and pluck out news and say, ‘what’s the value of that?’ It’s the same with the link. You cannot do that.

Senator Dasko responded by saying, yes, but if Meta says, “OK, well we’re just going to remove news links from Facebook or whatever”, well, maybe that doesn’t actually affect their bottom line very much. In fact, they say that, well, they’ve come to them and said ‘well, people don’t like the news’ on Facebook or whatever and she thinks they are probably getting this from survey data they’ve done and she could actually say how they see how they might, in fact, find something like that. So, this is part of the package of arguments that they bring here to say, what might be in fact true if they stop the news and it may not make one whit of difference to their bottom line.

(I do agree, especially in relation to platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Personal connections on those platforms are powerful anchor to keep people on those platforms. A lot of people absolutely despise those platforms for one reason or another (often very legitimate reasons, no less), yet feel that they have no choice but to stick around because everyone they communicate is on those platforms. Musk has, for instance, been doing just about everything to destroy Twitter and there are still hundreds of millions of users using the platform anyway. To say that taking away news is going to cause the platform to collapse almost overnight is downright laughable because it’s going to take a heck of a lot more than that to dissuade users from using said platforms. I know that the platforms know this which is why they have seemingly gotten away with a lot of nasty behaviour seemingly without consequence. A cement truck going full steam ahead wasn’t enough to break down that concrete wall, and yet, some people think that the news tennis ball is somehow going to be what does the trick? Give me a break.)

Senator Dasko noted that Winseck said that it will make a difference to their bottom line, but maybe it won’t. Maybe they’re actually right.

Winseck responded by saying that what he’s saying is that he’s not giving the wheel for Meta to drive the regulatory and legislative agenda in Canada. What he’s saying is that what this bill tries to do, and what we are seeing in countries all over the world do, is to establish public obligations (you can do that without link taxes)

Senator Dasko said that, yes, she understands that.

Winseck said that whether they like it or not, given their size, given their reach, given their centrality in Canadian’s lives as significant pathways to the news and meeting places, it is entirely within the right of a democratic government to set out and clarify in bright letters, what their public obligations are. (It is, but the response completely side steps the question entirely. The platforms can still block news links and say that the price of admission is too high for something with so little value. That is well within their right to do so because it is their virtual private property. You can make laws all you want demanding they pay for news links, but once the news links go poof, then it really doesn’t matter what price you set for those news links. No news links, no payments.)

Senator Dasko said that it would seem to her that they would be able to leave the news business and Winseck is saying that they should not be allowed to leave the news business. Does she understand that correctly? That they shouldn’t be allowed to leave the news business?

Winseck responded by saying that he would say that they have a public obligation- (it doesn’t matter what you think they should do. What matters is what they will do or likely will do. Pretty big difference, there.)

Senator Dasko said that what Winseck seems to be saying is that they might get caught in the undue preference, but in fact, we know that it is extremely hard to prove undue preference. Now she knows that she may be arguing against herself because if you take yourself out of the news, she doesn’t see how that actually qualifies as undue preference – just like she runs a bakery, but she doesn’t want to make chocolate cakes, who is going to force her to make chocolate cake? Know what she means? What Winseck is saying is that the government is going to say that you have to be a purveyor of news.

Winseck responded by saying that, yes, public obligations and, he would like to make what is a better analogy. When railways first started in this country in 1903, the railways said, ‘well you know what? To hell with regulation, we’re just not going to service grain and pig farmers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.’ Well, that didn’t fly. They were basically required under the Railway Act to cover pigs, people, and grain, each one, under non-discriminatory terms – but they did not have to carry pigs and people under the same terms. They discriminate between pigs and people, that was just.

(I think Senator Dasko’s analogy is better. The platforms are not saying, ‘we don’t want to carry links to the Globe and Mail or the Toronto Star’. The platforms are saying ‘we don’t want to carry link to news organizations period.’ If they were discriminating against specific sources of news by name, this would be an entirely different debate. To use rework Winseck’s analogy to actually fit the debate, it would be like the railway companies saying that they won’t carry grain period. What is the government going to do in that situation? Well, there isn’t a lot they can do because as Winseck said himself, they can discriminate against a specific product type. Everyone is getting equal treatment – a lack of access to an audience on a specific platform. It isn’t discrimination of any kind that I’m aware of.)

Senator Fabian Manning turned to Winseck and said that he’s heard Winseck argue that today’s crisis in journalism is the product of numerous factors of the decline in newspaper circulations since the early 70’s – debt problems and many others. Winseck has argued that many of these factors predate Google and Facebook and to government having fundamentally misdiagnosed the issues to solve the current problem with Bill C-18. He’s wondering what his view is that Bill C-18 is actually going to make things worse. For instance, if Google and Facebook were to not participate in the linking of news, would that make it worse for consumers? Is the US initiates trade measures against Canada over Bill C-18, would that make things worse? He’s just wondering how Winseck- it doesn’t seem like Bill C-18, in Winseck’s view, make anything better, so he’s just wondering how Winseck thinks Bill C-18 is going to make things worse.

Winseck responded by saying that, well, he’s glad that Senator Manning brought this question up. As he started out, he does not believe that Google and Facebook caused the crisis in journalism. They’ve hear the special dates all the time. They’ve heard it several times. A decade ago, revenue started to fall. They’ve heard it from their colleagues at CAB. They’ve heard it from elsewhere. This is not the case. The crisis of journalism is multi-factoral, it begins in, really, it depends on where you want to start. Basically, per capita circulation begins to decline in the 1980’s and the 1990’s. Revenue peaks around 2005 to 2006 and then starts to go down around afterwards. Why? Because of the global financial crisis. These companies were ill prepared because of the consolidation and they were debt addled exactly as advertising started to plunge and the internet giants began to emerge. So, we should not blame them, OK?

But, Winseck continued, to get to the second part of Senator Manning’s question, what harm will this bill bring to Canadians? His view is that this bill is not ambitious enough. It doesn’t do enough to undermine, to put sticks in the spokes of the surveillance capitalism machine that he thinks has allowed Meta and Google to build the fortresses and the moats that they have and the monopoly power that they have. We’ve unleashed a scramble to the bottom that entities like Bell, Telus, and Rogers now want to emulate. They don’t want to reign in the surveillance capitalism machine. They want to get on board and drive it themselves. So, he thinks that by the bill not addressing these questions will harm Canadians. (Once again, we are seeing someone advocating for privacy reform and is surprised that a bill about link taxes isn’t about privacy reform. This bill is ill-equipped to handle such concepts in the first place. We need privacy reform badly and have needed it for over half a decade now, but this bill has no hope in tackling this issue. This is an ask you’ll never get in Bill C-18.)

Winseck continued by saying that he thinks that by not paying attention to the equitable distribution of whatever fruits are borne out of this legislation to smaller upstart news entities that could enliven our news ecology is a problem. Those are some of the harms – but he’s not worried. The threats that they are doing, they are doing this all around the world and you can only threaten to withdraw from so many countries so many times. As he’s said, Canada is a top 10 market. They are doing this in Australia, they are doing this in Brazil, they’ve done it in Europe, and, in fact, they did it as the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act were coming down the pipe. Well, Europe didn’t blink and those acts are now in place and it is now unfolding and will unfold and become operational beginning next year. They have not abandoned those markets (The platforms never said that they would pull all services from Canada, only dropping support for news links.) So, he thinks that we have to steal our spines and carry through.

Senator Manning said that Winseck mentioned in his answer that the bill doesn’t go far enough. What would Winseck view as a priority to amend the bill, to add to the bill in some ways as reform that Winseck would see as an improvement of where we are today. The purpose of bill C-18, from what he gathers, is to improve things. Listening to Winsecks answers, it’s not necessarily where senators are going. What would Winseck see as how senators are going to improve the bill?

Winseck responded by saying that he thinks that a lot of attention should be put on the linking part in Section 2. Add something, he’s not a lawyer, but to add something to exempt what he has called “naked links” and URLs – to get rid of this idea that this is simply a link tax (that’s literally the entire point of the bill, so good luck with that.) He thinks that this has caused a lot of damage and it has sucked up a lot of oxygen. That would be one thing. Clarify that naked links are out and that the rest of the services are in.

Winseck continued by saying that they next thing that he would do is go to Section 6 and add, say, let’s model ourselves in what they’ve done in the US through the concept of covered platforms or in the EU through the concepts of VLOPS – Very Large Online Platform Services or VLOSE’s or Very Large Online Search Engines, and use reach, revenue, and market cap as clear thresholds so that we know exactly who is in and who is out (heh, someone has been listening to Konrad von Finckenstein) because, again, there’s been all sorts of fearmongering going on by the idea that, somehow, Canadaland might somehow get sucked in to this or some other entity can somehow get sucked in – covered by the bill because they provide links. All that is nonsense, but we could help clarify things there.

(I’ve followed this debate quite closely for a long time now. I’ve never heard anyone seriously suggest that a news site would also have to be paying for links. The actual fears is that smaller news sites would either get choked off from their audience or have an undue disadvantage because most of the money coming from these deals would just go to the largest players, putting further financial pressure on them. Not sure where he is sourcing this criticism from, but it certainly never came from circles that I’m aware of.)

Third, Winseck said, he would go with the idea of beefing up the must carry common carriage clauses of Section 51 and learn from that history of Section 36 and Section 26 of the Telecommunications Act which, he knows is very important and he knows that senators received a brief from ISOC that said, you know, look, common carriage only applies to general commodities. That is absolutely not true. 1891 was engaged around personal messaging services. In 1910, it was engaged in a case between Western Associated Press from Winnipeg and CNCP in great northwestern telegraphing companies, which was the arm in Western United States, by a border railway company commissioners. So, that would do that. The privacy stuff and the information disclosure.

Senator Miville-Dechene said that, if she may, since they have a media company here, Hebdo Quebec, she’s going to ask if they agree with the notion that we can’t blame Google and Facebook for the crisis in the media. They were quite tough on them in their opening presentation vise-a-vise their role in all of this. They are coming to grips with a crisis, is this solely due to Facebook and Google?

Chartier responded by saying that, yes, absolutely (Chartier is BS lying again, obviously). Winseck doesn’t seem to be out in the field, but they are out in the field and this is an advertising revenue war. They’ve lost the lions share of that revenue. This revenue is now in the hands of the big US platforms in the US, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and so on and so forth and as the years have gone by for the past 6, 7, 9 years, their sales figures have dropped and their advertisers of 67 years have been telling them that the prefer Facebook or Google because they can they better target their clients on the basis of gender, age, their location, their consumer habits and so on and so forth. So, the print media printed media on the internet but not on a platform like Facebook or Google as led to a major crisis. They can’t even pay their journalists to do news. One doesn’t have to look hard to understand the root causes of the media crisis (a journalist who lies his ass of might be a big source), Senator Mivile-Dechene which started in 2015, 2016.

Chartier droned on that if Winseck says that it started in the early 80’s, no. In the early 80’s, newspapers in Quebec, and the senator would understand this, she was a former journalist herself, they were highly profitable companies. They were raking in their profits and were generating a lot of content on a rigorous and research based manner (can he just admit that he wasn’t even paying attention to what Winseck even had to say and move on?). The fact of the matter is, it’s glaringly obvious for the past 6, 7 years, there’s a huge crisis not just in Quebec, but across Canada and the whole planet (the source of the problems was COVID-19 you ass wipe) and advertising revenue has been siphoned off to these big platforms. It’s theft. It’s highway robbery (I want my 45 minutes of my life that he stole away from me back). They are taking their original content without compensating it (that’s another lie). Well, thanks to Bill C-18 they will be able to stem this hemorrhaging to an extent, but not entirely so at least some of the electronic and print media outlets in Canada will be able to stem the tide of this and they’ll be able to breath finally and keep their heads above water and some companies benefiting from tax credits in Quebec he might add.

(If Chartier was oh so concerned about platforms stealing their original work, file a copyright infringement lawsuit. They won’t because everything about the accusations of “stealing” is a lie. Debate over as far as I’m concerned.)

Senator Peter Harder said that his question was very much in the theme that Chartier has initiated. He finds that much of Winsecks analysis is very provocative, often entertaining, but he can assure him that this bill isn’t designed to break up the surveillance capitalist regime (No, it encourages and promotes it, actually). It has a much more modest objective, and that is to provide a mechanism that is a fair and balanced opportunity for the newspaper business and the news business to negotiate fair compensation for advertising revenue which is short of the goal that he would wish (It’s a terrible link tax whether Winseck likes it or not and Senator Harder just shut down any notion that it is anything other than that). He’d like to explore with Hebdo Quebec in more detail their analysis of what will happen if this bill is not put in place as quickly as possible. In other words, we may talk about the philosophy of the surveillance capitalist regime while Chartier is, in fact, going bankrupt (Given Chartier’s behaviour, I wouldn’t shed a tear of they went bankrupt.) Could Chartier tell them the pressures that they are under in the immediate term?

Chartier responded by saying that, well, they are subject to a huge lot of pressure. When you don’t have the money to pay for the news room and the overheads and to pay all of their expenditures to do with that, well, that’s a huge amount of pressure, financially speaking. This has been the case for a number of years. There are a number of newspapers that have closed up shop in Quebec and the last thing they want is a journalistic free desert in the regions. He doesn’t think that Canada and Quebec, he speaks for Hebdo Quebec, they want journalistic deserts in cities and towns that had weekly newspapers for the past century that they cease to exist. He doesn’t think that’s the goal here (well, you certainly are taking steps to ensure that at least). That pressure is, in a sense, insidious, and puts a lot of pressure on newspaper owners. His family has been in media for many decades and there are a lot of other owners that are undergoing a lot of financial pressure as well and their profit margins have just shrunk. Their livelihoods are in question here (then don’t push stupid self destructing bills). Should they continue to publish newspapers, they are asking themselves. Bill C-18 will stem the tide and is light at the end of the tunnel.

Poisson chimed in and said that if he could tack on to that response, there is another phenomenon at play here that is perhaps often ignored. With that possibility of that journalistic desert, fewer local regional journalists to produce local content, you will see a rise in disinformation, fake news which is already circulating broadly and widely on Google and Facebook (don’t worry, they’ll block links to Hebdo Quebec soon enough). That is serious business for a country like Canada and it’s likely to be the case everywhere else in the world. This will be inevitable. The content on social media on the web giants is unverified. Often times, they are spouting false news, gossip, hearsay, and it’s hugely dramatic.

Poisson said that he’d like to add this while we are at it: if we, for arguments sake, are so useless, why wouldn’t they block the news earlier (you’re getting your wish) a long time ago? They did it in Australia and then they backtracked. They claim that they are completely useless to them, but obviously they are not. He thinks that it is quite the opposite and that much is clear and the proof is in the pudding (keep dreaming, dude).

Senator Bernadette Clement said that the witness from Hebdo Quebec has responded to her question, actually. She wanted to speak about disinformation and their misgivings in that regard. How is it that Bill C-18 will respond to, not to that fear, but to the reality of that?

Poisson responded by saying that he agrees with her and that it is real. The more competent journalistic resources there are, the better the journalism will be and the less space there will be for the fake news which is circulating willie nillie. Inevitably, he thinks that Bill C-18 will help to stem that tide (LOL). As the other witness said earlier, Bill C-18 isn’t a silver bullet, but there are aspects to the legislation that will be helpful and he thinks that they need to ensure smooth passage of the legislation. It’s incredible. Most young people get their news on social media. That’s serious stuff. Their feeding off of this news. he is a facilitator fighting against disinformation in schools, high schools, colleges, universities, and he offers that training. Not only are they inundated with fake news, but they read it. It’s unverified. It’s not tagged as such on social media. Thus, the importance of Bill C-18. They need to consolidate their journalistic resources. They need to enhance them. Otherwise, they are going to have to face the reality of a journalistic desert and there’ll be nothing left. It’ll be a wasteland. There’ll be no one to inform the communities and that’s true for all levels of government (and somehow, we are the scaremongerers? Riiiight.)

Senator Simons said that every time she hears about very large online platforms, she thinks about the Princess Bride and the rodents of unusual size. How do we figure out a threshold, professor Winseck, because what is the threshold based? When she met with members who have staffed Canadian heritage, they’ve talked about TikTok as the next company they would like to bring under the umbrella of Bill C-18 and she said that TikTok doesn’t share news links. So, how would senators set things up so that it was logical? Because Amazon, for example, is a platform of unusual size, but it doesn’t share the news. How do we decide who is in and who is out?

Winseck responded by saying that the three measures and criteria he’s used to are reach, revenue, and market cap. So, the criteria for reach is 45% of the EU population. He thinks, well, you know, he doesn’t have all of the answers, but what he would say is that those people who have come up with the answers and institutionalized them like the EU and those that have drafted the US bills and come up with the covered platforms, let’s go talk to them and see exactly what they did to pin down those three criteria. so here, he thinks that in Canada, we can say 45% on the reach, yeah, for sure. Google and Facebook meet that market cap? Absolutely. Revenue? With revenue about 4 and 7 billion each, he would say that, absolutely, they meet that. Yeah, we would have to sit down and have a serious discussion of what’s the right number so that we are not just plucking numbers from the air.

(I’m not sure that answers the question about Amazon because Amazon might actually reach those thresholds, but they aren’t in the business of communicating things that might also happen to include news links from time to time.)

Senator Simons then turned to Chartier and said that they met with representatives of the National Council of Muslims (reference to hearing 5, segment 1) who are very concerned about mainstream conventional newspapers in Quebec, which they allege, spreads hate, misinformation and disinformation. So, how do we know that just because something looks like a newspaper that it’s reliable vs a new online product that may, in fact, be more reliable?

Chartier responded by saying that, well listen, he thinks that that newspaper that spouts disinformation is not a member of their association. They only publish more generalist newspapers on more generalist news throughout Quebec and they are newspapers that have been around for a long time, they are very well known. For example, the (newspaper example I don’t think I’ll be able to spell correctly) that’s been in existence for decades and didn’t miss a single print run. They enjoy a lot of credibility and variety and those newspapers have been passed down from one generation to the next. It’s rare that their integrity is called into question. In any event, he doesn;t know if of that newspaper. Poisson, does he know of it?

Poisson responded by saying that, no, it’s not a member of their association, number one, number two, he’s not aware of it whatsoever, and number three, they have the federation of professional journalists in Quebec, the peers council and so on. (time ran out)

Senator Miville-Dechene then adjourned the hearing.

Concluding Thoughts

I can’t say I’m entirely surprised as Hebdo Quebec have made appearances elsewhere in the past. So, to see them unleash a firehose of of lies in every direction possible isn’t really anything new here. What is striking, however, is Senator Harder desperately try and latch on to anything and everything that has even the most remote chance of selling the bill. He was willing to fall for those lies hook line and sinker. He was willing to accept the obvious lie that every woe the industry has faced in the last several years was entirely the fault of the platforms even though there are obvious other factors. Factors that include COVID-19, newspaper flyers being delivered by people other than newspapers, coupons run in newspapers being replaced by supermarket loyalty programs, a full blown technological shift to online, resistance to that technological shift, the dipping in interest in news altogether, and so on and so forth. It all points to the complete and total desperation of Bill C-18 supporters to accept literally anything that makes the bill better. Facts are just not on their side, so they have devolved to just accepting anything, whether gossip or straight up false information, to push the bill.

As for Winseck, well, what can I say? If Canada was ever invaded by an army of straw men, I think we have our guy to take them on because he really beat down those straw men without actually dealing with the issues in question. For example, saying that the core thrust of the criticisms of the bill is that it’ll turn Canada into communist China is ignoring the mountains of legitimate criticisms levied against the bill. I think he was desperate to find a criticism from critics of the bill to make him look like a centrist and credible and it likely took him efforts to reach into the rabbit whole of right wing conspiracy theorist nutjobbery to find it, just to present himselve as a neutral source that has the most credibility.

Unfortunately for him, though, that strategy really fell through. Once again, supporters of the bill have proven, yet again, that they aren’t willing to compromise on anything. Anyone who dares to have even the slightest whiff of criticism towards their sacred bill that cannot be sacrilegiously touched or modified will be metaphorically sent to the dungeons for the heretics that they are. We really got that when Senator Harder and Chartier shot him down completely as an ignorant fool.

Winseck really didn’t do himself any favours by side-stepping a lot of questions. One example was when he was asked about what if the platforms drop news links altogether and he basically responded by saying how he thinks the situation should work. That doesn’t even come close to an answer. The most he ever provided as a counterpoint in that regard was to make it illegal to drop news links altogether. This is an insanely huge ask and raises Charter questions with regards to compelled speech. There was no elaboration, in his view, of how such provisions would even come close to surviving a Charter challenge from the platforms (and I doubt that it will survive in the first place). It was good on the senators to not really entertain that idea because it’s a huge can of worms they are opening over top of the can of worms they are opening just with Bill C-18 in general.

Winseck also inadvertently proved my point that supporters of the bill try to hold up the bill as a solution to a number of problems, yet manages to solve nothing at best or, more likely, make the situation worse. He tried to raise the very valid concern about surveillance capitalism, but it was obvious that this idea has no hope in flying in this bill because there’s no suitable way to really insert such a provision into the bill (look to privacy reform bills for that). Bill C-18 is destined to make the situation worse as the platforms try to recoup the costs of going along with this bill in the first place – an unlikely outcome I might add. Ultimately, I think Winseck got taken to the cleaners on this one.

Overall, some people might consider it harsh that this bill is built on lies. The track record so far shows that this is, indeed, the case. This hearing seems to offer further proof of that as supporters seem to welcome obvious lies with open harms to accomplish their goals. That is ultimately a recipe for disaster sooner or later.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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