Senate Hearings on Bill C-18 – A Look At Hearing 9 (Segment 1)

The Bill C-18 senate hearing special is continuing. This one covers the 1st segment of hearing 9.

(Note: This hearing took place before it passed the House of Commons and Meta’s announcement that it will block news links. Comments and analysis will rewind things and pretend that the bill hasn’t yet passed along with the events that unfolded afterwards.)

We continue the Transport and Communications (TRCM) Bill C-18 senate hearing special coverage. Much like the Bill C-11 senate hearings, this really does feel like a marathon of coverage even though this is significantly shorter. With this hearing, though, we have finally entered into the final week. So, the coverage will soon be over. We really are in the home stretch of these hearings now.

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
Hearing 6 – Lobbyists (5) / Lobbyists (6) / Dwayne Winseck
Hearing 7 – Lobbyists (7) / Digital News Organizations
Hearing 8 – Australian lobbyists / Lobbyist (7) / OpenMedia / Internet Society Canada Chapter

With that, we continue the special coverage with this hearing. As usual, the video we are following can be found here. We’ll be writing an in-depth summary of what was said along with some of our own thoughts in brackets and some concluding thoughts at the end. With that, enjoy the continued coverage!

Opening Statements

Jean LaRose of the Dadan Sivunivut along with Monika Ille of the APTN opened with their statement. LaRose said that they are there to speak to Bill C-18. They are there to fully support this legislation and the stated goal of ensuring news content is properly funded by the platforms that use it (linking is not “use”)- especially in indigenous communities as well as rural and remote communities. They have worked closely with MPs to highlight the importance of indigenous storytelling. This work was rewarded with amendments to the bill which recognize indigenous storytelling as a unique form of news reporting that highlights the reality of being indigenous.

Ille continued by saying that while they feel the bills intent to support indigenous media is clear, they have expressed their concerns regarding the precise definitions in the bill for an indigenous news outlet and news content. The wording in these definitions may unintentionally limit indigenous participation in the news ecosystem. This is because the current definitions imply that indigenous news outlets may be restricted in scope to focus only on indigenous communities – and similarly, that indigenous story telling is meant only for reporting among indigenous peple and that is not how they think of indigenous news and their role in Canada.

AT APTN and many other indigenous news outlets, Ille continued, they have engaged widely with Canadians for decades now. They are a service available in households throughout the country and as part of their important role, connect with all Canadians. They are now keenly interested in that part of Canadian history that was unknown or hidden from them. She spoke about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bolster her arguments in this area, quoting them in the process. She argues that the broader role mentioned in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is missing from the definitions in this bill. It would be better to fix the definitions now than to regret it later.

LaRose spoke about the reassurances from the government about the definitions, saying that the government said that the definitions was not meant to be limiting. He said that they do take comfort in these definitions, but is seeking to clarify the definitions in the bill.

Questioning the Witnesses

Senator Paula Simons said that LaRose and herself had a long conversation about Senator Simons unease about the phrase of indigenous story telling. She said that she wanted to recreate that conversation in the Senate. Specifically, she was uneasy about the idea that indigenous storytelling could encompass things that aren’t necessarily journalism. It may be important broadcasting, but it is not journalism. She asked about a definition that encompasses journalism, but not necessarily comedy or other forms of content because it’s not about supporting the arts, it’s about supporting news reporting.

LaRose responded by saying that it is very clear to them that this bill is meant to support news, not to support production of a wide variety. When they speak of indigenous story telling in the context of news reporting, they speak of it as how do they view the news and how do they view the news in the context around of a new event from the perspective of their communities.

Ille expanded on that point, talking specifically about the discovery of Kamloops as an example. Specifically, CTV cutting the story down because it was too long, but their version gave voice to survivors and their communities.

Senator Simons responded by saying that to her, that’s journalism. That’s clearly journalism. When the bill says indigenous story telling, to her, the clear understanding of that language would encompass many things that are not journalism. She knows that LaRose said that it is clear to him what they mean by that, but for a law, it can’t just be clear to LaRose. There has to be clarity for the platforms like Google and Facebook, there has to be clarity for the CRTC, there has to be clarity for the courts, so how do we understand that this only includes things that are current events, current affairs for, you know, historical context programming, as opposed to all the other kinds of indigenous story telling that happen in indigenous broadcasting?

LaRose responded by saying that, again, to Senator Simons point, it is clear to them what indigenous story telling is when it comes to news. It is, in part, what they have been trying to do with their news reporting at APTN for the last 21 years? 22 years.

Ille said 23 years.

LaRose apologized and said that time flies when you are having fun (I know the feeling all too well. My brain still can’t comprehend that I’ve been building Freezenet for over a decade now.) For example, there is a small indigenous news outlet in BC called IndigiNews (close captioning said it was IndiNews, but my GoogleFu suggests that the closed captioning might be what’s wrong here). As part of the output of that online small newspaper, they put news stories, news items, that speak the language that speak to a variety of issues that some may not consider news. To them, it’s news because of you are someone who is pulled out of the 60’s scoop, for example, and you have never had the chance to learn Cree, here is someone who is providing you with that information, but also telling the Canadian general population more about the history of the language, the history or story behind the words or what have you, that is indigenous story telling, but it is still indigenous story telling in the broader news context.

LaRose continued by saying that it is not meant to- the goal here is certainly for them to start creating a comedy series or APTN to get funding for its entire series of programming, the goal is to focus on how they can tell news so when they go to a funding organization, they’re not told that they don’t consider that reporting or news in the way that mainstream does, and they will not fund them. It’s what happened with them with the Local Journalism Initiative on a couple of occasions. they said that what they are doing isn’t news. They are speaking about having an elder speaking about the community or they have a few columns on languages. That’s not news, it’s just general information and they don’t consider it news and that doesn’t qualify. That’s what they are trying to avoid this time around. To them, it’s key that they are not, again, setting themselves up for a missed opportunity to be able to talk to Canadians, talk to their communities and to talk broadly about what the reality is. He used another example about difference in coverage.

Senator Julie Miville-Dechene said that she wants to talk about their financial health and their business model. this is because the witnesses are concerned about the negotiations probably for financial reasons. She asked for an explanation of how this will all work.

LaRose responded spoke about funding programs going back to 2008. He spoke about a radio station that uses advertising as well. He said that the pandemic was not very helpful to them (everyone suffered from the pandemic. Internet sites, traditional news websites, businesses, everyone. COVID-19 was a whole world of suck.) His concerns focused on this bill is the fact that they don’t have any journalists.

Senator Miville-Dechene verified the comment and asked that so Dadan Sivunivut doesn’t have any journalists?

LaRose responded by saying that they don’t have any journalists. No. They became a music station because that allowed them to survive until their revenues increased again to be able to rehire staff.

Sneator Miville-Dechene said that but if Dadan Sivunivut doesn’t have any journalists, how can they negotiate under Bill C-18?

LaRose responded by saying that, well, if they had financial support, then we could hire journalists (I’m not sure this is how this works. You don’t negotiate over value on the idea that, at some point, you could produce news that would have value. You’re putting the cart before the horse on that one.) The goal is to create an environment so they could hire journalists. If they partner with IndigiNews, which is also looking to hire journalists, then they can extend this online (Uh, I think a better approach is to take out a loan, hire journalists using the funds from that loan, create content, then negotiate for agreements – assuming that is even an option of course. If you aren’t even producing news yet, I really don’t see how your organization should qualify at this stage. If anything, IndigiNews should be the ones that are there at the hearing, not Dadan Sivunivut.)

LaRose said that they want to expand their activities across the country. They are looking for sustainability for small organizations that are trying to establish themselves and trying to succeed especially in the local environment. So, what they want to do is to represent their communities and they need the resources necessary to succeed and in TV but also in the radio environment. They need support to be able to improve equality and have journalists in various places that will provide content (this is really confusing. It sounded like they are trying to be an organization that heads these negotiations for others, but later on, he says that he wants to set up those news rooms themselves. This over top of saying that they want to negotiate deals over value that doesn’t yet exist. I’m getting a headache trying to follow this logic let alone see a viable legal line to take in all of this.)

Senator Miville-Dechene asked Ille about advertising.

Ille responded by saying that they have advertising. about 85% of their revenue- they have a certain amount of subscriptions (I suspect she is speaking too fast for the interpreter). She spoke about having strategic partners as well. She said that APTN is a very professional news organization. They shouldn’t just be seen as an advocacy group. She spoke about the different ways of story telling and how they are very unique in that way.

Senator Miville-Dechene asked how many journalists APTN has.

Ille responded by saying that APTN has about 20 journalists.

Senator Rene Cormier turned to Ille and asked her to talk about how this bill will help their relationship with Google. He doesn’t know if they have deals in place already. Do they have content on those platforms and will the bill help them. If the bill is passed, will they be negotiating on behalf of their members? His second question is that they have mentioned that their audience isn’t just indigenous. What percentage is non-indigenous just so he better understands who their audience is? How do they see the negotiation process with Meta and Google? How do they think that will be?

Senator Cormier said that he just wanted to be clear. They talked about members as an organization. There was some back and forth and then Senator Cormier asked for Ille to go over her organizations relationship with Meta and Google.

Ille responded by saying that social media is very important to them. They put their news on Facebook like everybody else does as well as TikTok which is very effective in reaching younger people. On YouTube, they don’t get very much money from that. But, it’s important to have visibility and to reach as many people. They do a lot of Boosting on Facebook (essentially, paid advertising) because that is a big challenge for them. So, they are looking in that. Often, their request to boost content has been refused because sometimes it’s considered adult content or political so they are working with them to try and understand that better.

Ille continued by saying that the idea of creating news is to get it out to as many people as possible to provide that information and indigenous people certainly have an appetite for stories and history, but they want that to be available to everyone (based on what she is saying, they have the right idea to expand their business online. The problem here is that she also supports Bill C-18. The inherent risk is that the platforms pull out of the country together which would undermine that reach. I’m beginning to wonder if APTN researched this bill beyond the notion that they’ll be getting free money here somehow because, so far, the answers she is offering suggests she is oblivious to much of the debate around this bill.)

Senator Cormier clarified that they are on those platforms.

Ille responded by saying that, yes, but they want to have compensation for the news that they provide (your compensation is the free traffic you are getting from these platforms.)

Senator Cormier then asked how she sees the process of the negotiations.

Ille responded by saying that, well, they aren’t clear about that because they are a small organization – charitable organization. Google and the others are huge.

Senator Cormier asked if they would work with others in a sort of consortium.

Ille responded by saying that yes, she thinks that they are going to have to work with others in order to be in a good position, but they need to understand the important that they play as indigenous news providers. It’s important that this legislation reflect the role that they play, the value that they have, properly so that they can do that negotiating (at this point, I’m thinking that all of her knowledge was probably second hand from another lobbyist. I mean, just sitting there and saying that their content has value, therefor the platforms should pay them demonstrates a very surface level knowledge of what is even going on with this bill. I mean, I get it that it’s hard to expect an organization like APTN to be technology experts, but you are in a hearing offering expert testimony. Having an understanding of how this bill works is kind of critical in this environment.)

Senator Cormier asked a question, but it sounded like it was missed by the interpreter (probably a product of some slightly faster talking?)

Ille responded by saying that APTN subscribes to Numeris which gives them their ratings and perhaps a very small percentage is indigenous. She spoke about some data being not very representative.

Senator Andrew Cardozo said that he has had the rather good fortune to be on the CRTC when the APTN obtained their license. He noted that some expressed doubts about their ambitious plans back then, but they have not only met, but exceeded those expectations way back then. He spoke about a tour he took of their facility and was encouraged by what he saw. He asked about how many TV feeds they have, how many radio stations they have, how they are funded. He asked if they relaly need any more money or if they are flush with cash.

Ille responded by saying that APTN has four broadcast feeds right now. As she mentioned, the vast majority of their money comes from cable TV subscribers.

LaRose said that Dadan Sivunivut, when they separated from APTN, APTN provided seed money for them to launch. He spoke about royalties for artists, concert tours, record launches, and CD launches. He mentioned the difficulties of the pandemic and recovery.

Senator Cardozo asked about how many radio stations they have.

Larose said that they have two radio stations. He spoke about IndigiNews operating on a donation basis and subscriptions. He spoke extensively about musicians and music.

(This seemed like a considerable missed opportunity for Ille here. The legislation is about online operations. It’s all well and good to talk about over the air radio and TV stations, but there is little to know connection with a digital property here. The bill is about news links to those websites. So, in order to really make the connection of why their presence is even justified in this hearing, I would’ve thought that it would have been smart to talk about their online presence a lot more here. That really didn’t happen.)

Senator Cardozo asked if the change they are looking for be accomplished through regulation. He says that because of the issue of making amendments. The other thing is that there are certain benefits being in regulation that can be changed and amended over time. It’s a lot easier than the Broadcasting Act.

LaRose said that he would agree and that’s what he alluded to in his presentation. They’ve had conversations with senior officials with Canadian Heritage and the Ministers office and they have given them the assurance that regulations will be broader than what they interpret and see in there which is why they have come forward to say that they recognize that they have a concern and they can accept that the regulations will work to provide them a broader perspective and ensure that they are not excluded in the definitions that could lead them to be (You don’t even employ journalists at this time, though).

Senator Cardozo congratulated them on their longevity as leaders in their respective organizations.

Senator Donna Dasko said that this is a very important topic for the bill, so she just wants to understand a couple of things. She wanted to start with their concern with the definitions as it is now in terms of indigenous news outlets producing news content primarily for indigenous peoples. So, she asked if their audience is primarily not indigenous people and that may be why they feel they would be adversely affected.

LaRose responded by saying that their primary audience is indigenous peoples, but their goal is to reach all Canadians.

Senator Dasko said that, but they won’t be disadvantaged by this the way the bill is now because the bill says that they produce news primarily for indigenous people. Does that describe their mandate?

LaRose responded by saying that the mandate is to create news content that speaks to the indigenous reality. That’s their mandate. They have to present that reality. By that same token, what has been happening is – especially with the discovery in Kamloops – a lot of Canadians have started to turn to them to learn more.

Senator Dasko said that this is what she is saying that, right now, they would fit in perfectly (I’m reading the situation exactly the same as Senator Dasko. Both of their organizations are covered as eligible as far as I can tell from what I’ve heard. If they are there to say to keep the language as it is, then, fine, no problem.)

Ille said that she just wanted to ensure that indigenous media is not only for indigenous peoples. There is an understanding that what they do is for all Canadians (I think the word “primarily” means you are covered with little reason to worry about such an angle. If the text oddly said “exclusively”, then that would be a different story, but I don’t think there is a worry on that specific front.) She just wanted to ensure that there is that distinction because that would give them some bargaining power. Don’t forget, if they are going to go in there and fight and get compensation for their news that they say that they are just focused on indigenous populations, so just because this is the indigenous population in Canada, this is the ratio that they have in mind, this is what you should get (No, that won’t happen. If it did play out like that, then it can be escalated to final offer arbitration anyway, rendering that argument moot.) Just to make sure that this doesn’t play against them – that this is about content for all.

Senator Dasko said that this takes her to her next question about negotiations, she’s just a little confused with LaRose when he says that he wanted to negotiate to receive funding for future investments. But, her understanding of the bill is that you have to go there with arguments saying that this is what they are doing now, not what they would like to do (glad the senator is thinking what I’m thinking on that one). Of course, a lot of organizations would like to do many things, but in fact, this is what her understanding is that you go there and say that this is what they do and they do this and do this, this is their news content and this is their news content available online. LaRose can’t say that if they had more money, they would do all these great things. She’s a little confused.

(I don’t blame Senator Dasko on that one. What LaRose described was not how this bill works. What’s more, it’s a bit bizarre to me that we’ve made it this far into the hearing and only now are we talking more specifically about web news content which is kind of what the bill revolves around.)

LaRose responded by saying that if it came out that way, he apologizes. That’s not what he meant. What he was trying to say is that, for example with Element FM, because of the current financial situation – the impact of the pandemic – they had to lay off their reporters. The goal here would be- he means they had four reporters before then and they want to rebuild back to that, so it’s not as though they are looking to build the organization to have 40 reporters, the goal is to create, to give themselves the capacity to do news again and that’s what the bill is for, the bill realistically is to give the capacity to sustain a news operation within what- your media organization whether it is the television, radio, newspaper, whatever.

(Um, that’s not actually helping your case here. Tacking on the idea that you used to have reporters and hope to have it again doesn’t alleviate the problem of not having news content now. Again, it’s the exchange of value that is a core basis for this bill. If you don’t have content posted to the platforms, there’s nothing to negotiate. You are still making the same argument that you are wanting funding from providing nothing with the hopes of eventually getting back your journalism capacity. That’s not how the bill works.)

So, LaRose said, it would be the same rule as it applies to everybody else (actually, organizations like yours got a specific carve out in Section 27 so you could operate with more favourable rules.) He really would have no clue what the negotiation process would look like (the fact that you aren’t talking about your web presence by now would lead me to agree that you don’t have any idea about the negotiation process) He doesn’t think any of us really do (I don’t think anyone ever will if the platforms pull out of news links altogether.) Will they go there looking for a salary range per reporter or how will it work? He has no clue.

So, LaRose continued, it’s just a way of ensuring that the way the wording is in the bill and the sustainability of indigenous news outlets-

Senator Dasko said that it’s for the news ecosystem.

LaRose responded by saying, correct, because with IndigiNews, they know what it costs them to have a reporter in a remote community covering very local and regional stories. Same with APTN, they expanded over the years to 12 bureaus across the country and the cost of doing news in Nunavut or in a remote area in the country, it’s very different than having a reporter in Toronto who covers city hall two blocks away and comes back. Your costs are totally a different scale. So, that’s the goal of a… (he trailed off)

Senator Daskso asked if they envision negotiating with other indigenous producers or with non-indigenous producers. It is not easy to envision the process, but there was mention of them possibly being part of a consortium, but they said that they might be concerned with that because other members of the consortium might not appreciate their unique situation. Do they think that they might be negotiating with indigenous organizations?

Ille responded by saying that she really doesn’t know. That’s a very good question. They could be with other indigenous media organizations, but also, there are smaller independent media that also needs support. So, it’s hard to say right now to envision how that’s going to pan out (which is fair enough. I don’t take issue with that given the likely complexity of it all). What they do know is that they are all independent small media and they’ll have to work together to create the strength of negotiating power.

LaRose spoke about their talks with other small radio stations. (there was some talking off mic during the answer and Senator Housakos called for order.) He said that they have had preliminary discussions about how they might band together and see who else they could bring in, but it’s very preliminary. They don’t want to go off into one direction and only find out that that’s not the way the process is going to work, but there is an openness, certainly from their end, to work together and maybe, for example, a partnership with Discourse and Indigraph. It would be to see with all these small online publications independent of the organizations, what have you, if they, as a group, can have those conversations.

But, again, LaRose continued, it will depend on what happens. Reading Meta’s presentation to the committee, if this bill goes through, there won’t be any news anywhere, so nobody gets paid (Given what was said early on, I’m impressed he managed to point to the elephant in the room in all of this.) So, they have noidea what’s going to happen in the future. Certainly, it’ll be, you know, it’s- they will react according to where they land in the end.

Senator Dasko asked if either of them have any deals with Google or Meta. (she ran out of time)

Senator Leo Housakos welcomed a new member to the committee and turned the floor to her.

Senator Raymonde Saint-Germain said that she is a former new member because because she used to be on this committee. She has one main question and a supplementary question dealing with the recognition of their status under this bill. She spoke about a documentary about incarceration. So, her question is about the fact that in 2022, she thinks it was December, they said before the House of Commons that they were concerned about the hierarchy regarding the status of different news organizations especially with indigenous media and where they fit in there. She called for recognition and adapted recognition. She spoke of documentaries and their importance.

Ille responded by noting that it was her appearance in first reading of the bill. She talked about Section 11.1(6). She said that their role is recognized and that they no longer have that hierarchy. because they were heard and their concerns were taken into account.

LaRose spoke about the parallel of the old version of the bill and the current version.

Senator Saint-Germain asked about the business plan once this bill becomes law (interpreter said “legislation”, though I think she means “law”). They already have a business context where they can work with Canadian and international for media with rebroadcasting of their content. do they have the expectation that once the bill is adopted, that it will resolve some difficulties with profitability that aren’t really the focus of this bill? So, could they talk about who they are, the audience they are trying to reach, and how this legislation can provide a springboard to help them? What other initiatives are, perhaps, needed?

LaRose responded by saying that that’s the point he was trying to clarify earlier. The bill will be useful for two groups that thy work with. The radio stations that, right now, don’t have any journalists – and it’s very important that they do – and also IndigiNews which is an online news service which was launched with Discourse in BC and they want it extended across the country. They want to have one or two journalists at least in each province. So, their business plan is really around having news, around having journalists for their radio stations and IndigiNews so that they can cover indigenous news in their communities, but also other news and the interaction with their communities so that’s what they find – some content within APTN.

(I think a chunk of this repeats the same problem mentioned earlier. They sound like they are trying to obtain deals over content that doesn’t exist – specifically because they don’t have the journalism infrastructure. Again, the bill is about material that is appearing here and now on social media. If you are seeking financial compensation, then the logical response from the platforms perspective is that they don’t have content that requires compensation in the first place. Even under this insane bill, the platforms would technically be in the right about zero content means zero compensation dollars, come back when you have content to share.)

So, LaRose continued, they are not really looking for support in this bill for other initiatives. What the bill is trying to do is to provide for resources that will support news and nothing else. That is very important for them. When he looks at the news service of APTN when he was there, well that was a major part of their budget given the area that they were trying to cover and everything involved. So, if there are two journalists in Ottawa covering news in Kitigan Zibi (trusting the closed captioning on the spelling on that one) and other places, it’s important that they cover the news in their local communities and bring that to others.

It’s not, LaRose continued, like he said, to try to hire disc jockeys or others. It’s really for news coverage.

Senator Pamela Wallin said that she wanted to follow up other senators and said that they seem to say that this is about fuelling expansion. They want this to fund expansion, not fund existing operations.

LaRose responded by saying that this is not very different from what some of the other major newspapers are saying which is that they want to rehire and have people in regional- create regional reporting positions or what have you because they had to close those bureaus and they had to let go those reporters (unless I’m somehow misremembering what those other witnesses said, my understanding was that their argument was to slow down lost positions and slow down shrinking resources. I don’t remember any previous witnesses in these hearings say that they intend to take the funding they receive and expand bureaus and add positions directly because of the new funding. Either I missed something critical or LaRose is a bit off with what he is saying here.)

(The only time I remember hearing about expansions and hiring was claims made by Australian lobbyists which, honestly, I think are unverified claims that are questionable given the mass layoffs and News Corp Australia. Otherwise, if there was any sort of claim about expansion, it would be the result of expenses being shifted to the platforms and the funding would be freed up to pay for something new like new hires. All of that, however, again, hinges on infrastructure and content that already exists, not an organization just getting a stack of money and then they can start building infrastructure that doesn’t already exist. Expansion is a theoretical indirect result of this, not, ‘I want to start a news room in Manitoba, give me money to make it happen.’ To my knowledge, the bill doesn’t work that way.)

What they are trying to do is create something that doesn’t exist and if they are looking to expand IndigiNews into Alberta and into Saskatchewan and Manitoba, what they are doing is taking news in those areas that are not only under served, but unserved and create an opportunity for news reporting in those areas to connect with the rest of their communities in Canada.

Senator Wallin said that she thinks that what senators heard from existing operations is that they want to be compensated for the use of existing material by the platforms. Not to expand into areas they might want to expand into (Nice! I was thinking along the same lines as the senator here). As everybody says, everybody would love to grow their markets, but that’s not reality. Markets are shrinking.

LaRose responded by saying that he doesn’t disagree with that comment, but he has heard some of them that, for example, news guys last year saying that they were hoping this legislation would provide them with the opportunity to re-establish remote bureaus, or what have you, that they had to close because of lack of resources (lobbyists have gotten a LOT wrong about this legislation. I’ve heard them say that the platforms are directly stealing their articles, that Google News is profiting from their work, and that the platforms run entirely on news content. Wrong on all three counts, but it didn’t stop them from saying these things to try and sell the legislation.)

Senator Wallin asked who funded those operations or those reporters in their operation prior to the pandemic?

LaRose responded by saying that they were funding them through revenues, but when revenues collapsed by 95%, there was no money left. They were funding them through operations, they were funding them through their revenues just like the Globe and Mail was funding an expansive news organization before they also started-

Senator Wallin asked was that material being captured by the streaming services?

LaRose responded by saying that some of it was. Some, like Element FM, were quite often clips of their radio stories they would be airing and they would post them-

Senator Wallin confirmed that they would post them.

LaRose said that they would post them. (time expired)

Senator Simons said that Facebook/Meta has made it abundantly clear, whether it is a threat or a promise, that they will block all content that is encompassed by Bill C-18. Google has been a bit more oblique, but she thinks that that is their intention as well. Are they concerned at all that by making the definition of indigenous story telling, they could effectively create a situation where Facebook blocks everything that could be shared by APTN? If they interpret indigenous story telling to encompass their entire modus operandi. She’s very sympathetic to the argument LaRose makes that they weren’t able to make money out of the Local Journalism Initiative which sounds ridiculous to her. If, clearly, people are doing local journalism, they should qualify. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should course correct by scoping in everything. She’s really concerned that if Google and Facebook make good on their threats, that they could be shuttered completely from being surfaced on the internet.

(That’s a really good point by the senator. If you have a much wider net for kinds of content you want in on the bill, and the bill backfires – which is likely in my mind – then you have basically increased your exposure to the shock of the drop in news links entirely. Moreover, there is that soft squishy language that could be interpreted in a number of different ways beyond the standard idea of news content like video or news links. So, the potential damage for such a decision would be more severe as a result.)

LaRose responded by saying that he thinks that if they are talking about news here, certainly every news organization would be impacted by Facebooks actions. If they did decide to block and Google did tests apparently, if they both have the infrastructure to block any news from any news organization, it impacts everybody (it’ll impact them more because of the added language of what is captured, though. It’ll impact everyone, yes, but they’ll be especially exposed to those shockwaves.) Not only are they not getting the exposure which helps them generate interest, but they are not getting anything for what they are doing anyway, so it’s a lose-lose from their end all around. If that is the case, and he’s not familiar with what the negotiations may be in Australia, but certainly, there was some conversations between the government and those institutions and they kept up with an arrangement that worked and now there’s something in place that seems to be working.

So, LaRose continued, of course they can be blocked.

Senator Simons said but her question is if he is worried that everything, by putting in the definition of indigenous story telling, which she knows LaRose says is clear to him, but if she was Facebooks lawyers, she would be telling them to block everything LaRose does because everything could be considered indigenous story telling.

Ille responded by saying that she went through all of the amendments that Facebook put forward and they definitely take out story telling, but they don’t explain why. They explain other rationales for why they want it removed, but they don’t know why-

Senator Simons said that Facebook wanted broadcasting removed.

Ille responded by saying that she knows, but what she is saying is that she doesn’t see the rationale why their explaining other deletions, but not for this one. So that’s confusing to them and they also lump indigenous with other- also requiring two journalists and adhere to a journalistic code of ethics and, you know, their excluding broadcasting altogether which guts everything. So, she doesn’t think that just this wording will have that big of an impact. She thinks that the picture is way bigger than that and she’s just trying to have a better understanding of where they are coming from and hwy they are bringing this forward. Why they scratched that out. What’s the threat of having indigenous story telling put in there? That’s her question she has for them.

(Ille is clearly completely missing the point of Senator Simons question. If the platforms are forced to block news links, they’ll block anything that is scoped into the bill. They are using the bill to define what they intend on blocking. If that blocking includes indigenous story telling, then that content is going to get blocked as well. That represents a threat to any indigenous person or organization because now they won’t be able to tell their stories at all on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Google. I think Ille seems to think that the question revolves around inclusion and getting money for inclusion which was not the nature of the question.)

Senator Simons said that she guesses the existential threat to the witnesses may be that if-

Ille responded by saying not only them.

Senator Simons said that no, but they are- (time ran out)

Senator Dasko said that she just wanted to clarify with the witnesses that they don’t have any agreements with the platforms.

Ille responded that no they don’t (microphone was off, but could be heard anyway)

Senator Dasko asked if they have approached them to negotiate at all.

Ille responded by saying that the don’t have much relationship with them.

LaRose said that they have been- they have worked with them – Facebook – they were promoting a contest they had on the Element radio stations and they provided them ad credits to do that (not the same thing). But, he means that the arrangement they have currently with a lot of indigenous organizations, non-indigenous organizations, small media, it’s just on a sort of per offering if you wish. Nothing major. They have talked to them about – they do have a program that is not for profits which they thought that the radio stations might fit in, but they never got beyond the conversations because with the bill in process, or what have you, he thinks they are stepping back and waiting to see what happens before anything comes up. So, they haven’t gotten anything in place and there’s no talks also happening that would put something in place.

Senator Dasko said that so the negotiation, the value proposition for the platforms is the news content that they would make available online. So, can the witnesses tell her about how much news content they make available online now. (This should really have been a major theme in the entire hearing here. Not music radio stations or setting up shop for news outlets in the future, but what they produced and posted online today, then go from there. It’s partly why this hearing is so painful for me to watch.)

Ille responded by saying that, well, most of their stories are available online. They are very active putting their stories on there because it reaches a different audience and a bigger audience. So, they are very active on their news site. (Hooray! Something relevant to this hearing!)

Senator Dasko clarified that most of what they do goes online.

Ille responded by saying that most of what they do goes online, yes.

Senator Housakos then thanked the witnesses from coming and sharing their views. With that, he adjourned that part of the hearing.

Concluding Thoughts

OK, before anyone gets the wrong impression from me, I’ll preface my thoughts with this: When the Indigenous Screen Office appeared for the Bill C-11 senate hearings, they did a phenomenal job with their appearance. They way they brought in their experiences and perspective and added so much to the debate was really a special moment listening to their side of the story. Additionally, when ResilientInuk made her appearance, I was also enjoying and appreciating what she had to say in that debate. Both were real highlights in those hearings in my view.

So, when I got to this hearing, talking about Bill C-18, I thought that maybe there would be some interesting perspectives on things. Instead, I got a hearing with two people that only has some minor amounts of knowledge on the subject. Throughout the hearing, I really got the impression that a lot of the knowledge they had on the bill was second hand knowledge from lobbyists. It’s like they were told that if you produce news, you produce value, therefore, you get money from the platforms as a result. So, they took it as any news on any medium means that they will be getting free money.

This is incredibly far removed from what the bill actually envisions. The bill envisions content that is posted on social media as being an action that requires compensating the organization posting that link or content. I wholeheartedly disagree with this notions for obvious reasons as linking should be for free, but I digress. If anything, both of those organizations should have started with that because it shows that their operations are at least relevant to what the bill is trying to do.

So, when those witnesses started talking about radio stations and concerts their operations hosted or the album release events they held, well, that’s all well and good, but none of that is relevant to the bill. To make matters worse, when LaRose admitted that they don’t employ journalists at all, that really cemented in my mind that these witnesses don’t know what this bill is even about. If you don’t have journalists writing content, you don’t have news operations at all, then, in this scenario, you are running the risk of wasting the senates time because why are you even there? This is a a bill about news content, after all.

What’s more, when LaRose spoke about how they plan on using that money to start up news operations, I really questioned whether the witnesses had even bothered to read the bill in question. As the government itself said, this bill is about an exchange of value. Content is on the platforms, revenues goes towards publishers (I disagree with that notion, but again, I digress). If you don’t have content currently produced, then there is no value to be exchanged, rendering an exchange moot. Go ahead and say that you hope to someday have a news operation, but until you have a news operation in place, then you aren’t actually relevant to this bill at all.

At least Ille had a reason to be there. She did talk about having employed journalists. So, her presence was, at least, justified. The thing is, she didn’t really offer that much despite this.

I could tell by listening to the senators questions that the whole senate was trying to coax them towards talking about their web presence and how they share content online, but it just seemed to continually go right over their head. It wasn’t until Senator Dasko straight up asked about their web presence towards the end that we finally had a relevant discussion. It didn’t add anything to the discussion, but we finally had relevant discussion there at least.

Senator Simons asked a really good question about the inclusion of language surrounding indigenous story telling. Specifically, if you are inserting that kind of language into the bill, then that exposes even more kinds of content to potential blocking. This should have been a huge concern for the two witnesses, yet they dismissed it as simply a situation where everyone would suffer.

Yes, everyone suffers, but the concern is that indigenous voices will get hurt more as a result. The whole idea was to scope in more content specifically associated with indigenous voices and that scoping it in could backfire as that is targeted for content blocking. The scoping in was made with the idea that more organizations could receive funding, but that could effectively evaporate should the platforms not go along with it. It’s not intentionally hurting indigenous voices more, but the set of circumstances lead to this hurting those voices more than anyone else.

Senator Simons concerns were very legitimate here and I fully agree with her on this one. If an indigenous person, say, creates a song or writes a long essay about their experiences of, say residential schools and whether the horrible events are being echoed today, I would worry that the platforms would say, “That’s indigenous story telling! Blocked to stay in compliance with Bill C-18!” That is enormously harmful and recreates some of the trauma such individuals have already experienced. That is the risk I also see here. I don’t see how the witnesses present there did any favours for indigenous voices across the country by just saying, ‘well, everyone will suffer in that case’ and just seemingly shrugging those concerns off like it’s not that big of a deal. Personally, I think it’s a really big deal.

Overall, this was such a painful hearing to me. I guess it emphasizes the point of doing your research of the bill before you make an appearance. Frustrating to see such a missed opportunity here.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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