Senate Hearings on Bill C-18 – Conclusions and Links

We have finished our Bill C-18 senate hearings. So, we thought we’d offer a wrap-up post talking about it all.

It is official. We have crossed the finish line on the Bill C-18 senate hearings at the Transport and Communication (TRCM) committee. Despite it being about half as long, analyzing these hearings proved to be much more time consuming than expected. There were a lot of factors involved in that. One factor was unexpected delays on my end of things. Another factor was that there was very little fluff. As some might know, whenever the hearings went off topic to anything we cover, we tend to just gloss over those comments before picking up the coverage afterwards. There was very little of that. At most, there might have been a brief exchange on something before the hearings were relevant again.

Regardless of how long it took, we never stopped until the job was done. Today, as of this post, I can confidently say that the monumental task of gavel to gavel coverage has been completed. I suffered from burnout on multiple occasions, several other website projects were put on hold, my coverage, at times, became limited, but I was determined to get this critical point in this bills history as on the record in my coverage as humanly possible. What’s more, Freezenet is the only website to have offered this level of detailed coverage as well, so that is something I can be absolutely proud of.

Now, before I go any further in my commentary, here is the complete list of coverage I was able to provide in these hearings.

Past Hearings Covered

Hearing 1 – Heritage Ministry officials (1) / 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 (8) / OpenMedia / Internet Society Canada Chapter
Hearing 9 – Indigenous organizations / Lobbyists (9) / Lobbyists (10) / Offline Newspaper
Hearing 10 – The Parliamentary Budget Officer / Heritage Ministry Officials (2)

So, I wanted to get this out of the way right off the bat. There was something I actively chose not to do towards the end of these hearings. It was becoming increasingly clear that it was going to take longer than expected to produce these analysis. So, I had a choice. That choice was whether I could incorporate knowledge I obtained after these hearings or simply base the analysis on what was widely known at the time of these hearings. I chose the latter.

First of all, it is on me that I couldn’t get these produced fast enough. That is the sole reason why it took so long to produce. I just couldn’t produce these things fast enough. Second of all, it wouldn’t have been fair to either the senators or the witnesses that I would take what I learned up to a month afterwards and apply it to the hearings. That would be a cheap shot. It isn’t fair to wait a month, produce the analysis, and sprinkle throughout it, “Hah! Wrong!” So, I tried to very carefully center my analysis to what was more or less known at around the time of those hearings. At most, a week afterwards, though that really didn’t play a role in things.

So, that is why in a number of my comments, I mentioned how it was likely that the platforms would drop news links as opposed to saying how, well, they dropped news links altogether. Additionally, it is why I went into details of what I thought about different deals and how they could or wouldn’t work. With the platforms dropping news links, all of that is a moot point. The question was, how would I have analyzed things without knowing that the platforms would ultimately carry through with that threat? So, that is how you got me talking about things like transparency and whether certain deals would be fair or not.

Again, the point in all of this is to offer the best analysis possible. It’s not about hurling insults or twisting the facts. Bill C-18 supporters might be all about distorting the truth, cherry picking data, and pushing messaging, but my coverage is all based on fact and how things work in the real internet world (as much of an oxymoron that is). It is all based on the best of my knowledge and what I would think happen in certain scenarios, etc. So, in my view, this is the best coverage you can possibly hope for in these hearings.

Now, with that said, looking back at these hearings was quite the experience. There was certainly a number of interesting takeaways to be had. One aspect that gets lost in the hyper-partisanship and the division sewn by supporters of the legislation is that there are actually areas that critics and supporters agree on. One area is that the legislation needed stronger transparency provisions. To my surprise, even FRIENDS, a hardcore supporter of the legislation, agreed with that. This with the reasoning that if you allow for greater transparency, then it is easier for the legislation to have trust in the public. The lobby group may not have been forceful enough in their appearance when making this call, but ensuring that the money isn’t just going to line the pockets of CEO’s and hedge fund managers and instead, go towards the actual creation of journalism activities would’ve gone a long way to add some trust in this process. The government slammed the door in the faces of those who pushed for this, however.

Another area that critics and supporters alike agreed with is that smaller players shouldn’t be left with crumbs. After all, even the government was pushing the narrative that this whole bill was supposed to be about helping the smaller players. Well, if the smaller players get left with next to nothing and the large portion of the money gets shovelled towards the already profitable largest players in the sector, that’s not really helping the news sector in the ways the government is saying that it will help. If there was a formula or a set of rules that allowed smaller players to get a proportionate share of revenue and the deals had to follow along with these formulas, then this would have alleviated the fears on that. The government gave the middle finger to that idea, however.

A third way supporters and critics agree is that there needs to be regulation of big tech platforms. Whether it is more stringent laws surrounding people’s personal privacy, how the advertising dollars flow through the ad tech sector, better anti-trust laws and enforcement, and a whole lot of other angles, new laws are badly needed to actually regulate big tech. As much as supporters deny it, critics are also calling for these changes as well. Unfortunately, the bill simply does not address any of it, nor would it have had any hope in tackling these issues. Sadly, these calls were never really part of the discussion outside of a handful of supporters straight up lying when they say this bill addresses all of it.

A really unfortunate aspect in these hearings is just how heavily slanted the hearings were for lobbyists supporting the bill. While documenting who was heard, there were 10 rounds of lobbyists to be had. So, on average, every other round of hearings heard from the cheering section of Bill C-18. This wound up making the debate very lopsided in and of itself. That’s not even getting into the fact that the Department of Canadian Heritage also had two hearings in which they can beat the drum on how badly this bill is needed (it needs a stake through the heart). From a purely mathematical perspective, this is wholly unfair to those who have a wider diverse point of view on things.

While the math looked absolutely horrendous for people trying to speak to basic levels of common sense, when you actually listened to the hearings, supporters generally struggled to even come up with convincing arguments for why this bill is the right approach. Their hearings were plagued with contradictory statements, question dodging, disinformation about the bill and even outright lies for what is going on (i.e. how the platforms are “stealing” content from news organizations). Despite having countless kicks at the can and every opportunity in the book, supporters could not even come close to figuring out how to make a strong case for the legislation. For some, maybe that’s because there is no strong case for this bill to be made in the first place.

As for critics, despite having so few opportunities to speak throughout the hearing process, each hearing saw critics knock their appearances out of the park. They were able to make a clear case for why this bill is a threat to their businesses or why it is a terrible approach from a policy direction. The facts were clearly laid out, explaining how the platforms and news outlets actually interact with each other, the impact platforms really have in the world of news, and what risks are posed thanks to this legislation.

Even the platforms appearances were quite well done. They were being straight forward with what they plan on doing should this legislation moved forward, why news content actually means so little to their respective business models, and why that has motivated them to take the position that they have taken up in the first place. All I could do in that situation is nod and agree with them which is saying something considering how big of a critic I can be of both at times. When supporters get critics of big tech to side with big tech, that speaks volumes about how badly the government and lobbyists are approaching things.

While the attitude in the end was to pass this legislation no matter what, you could really get a sense that a number of senators were more likely to be plugging their noses over this rather than express outright enthusiasm. Indeed, we did end up seeing a few choose not to support the legislation in the end, but the numbers were never on the side with logic and reasoning in the end. It wasn’t going to go down any other way no matter how many warnings of disaster senators got.

With the legislation now law, this is now every Canadian’s problem to deal with. With the government more or less revealing that the law is coming into force just before Christmas, the effects are seemingly destined to finally fully hit just before then. So, we have a drop dead timeline for when things hit the fan in the entire sector. All of this is barring some kind of miracle that turns things around. Short of rescinding the law (which is highly unlikely), it seems like eventual disaster is a sure thing at this stage.

Still, the hearing, however long it all ended up being, it proved to be quite interesting. A lot of people can learn a lot from what was heard – although they would need to spare about 20 hours minimum to do so. This along with loads of patience because there are certainly moments that would make you want to swear at the screen. All the video links are in the respective hearings at the top.

Also, for those who are interested, I originally estimated this project to be about 200,000 words long (which is basically the length of the longer dissertations out there). The total word count for all of these hearings ended up working out to 170,736 words. It’s a little less than expected, but one of the hearings was technically missing, so that may have contributed to that. Still, even if my guess for word count was a little high, this whole project was by no means something to sneeze at, either. What’s more, I learned a lot and it seems that others learned quite a bit as well. So, I consider that a win. All these days with burnout ended up being worth it. Plus, we have a complete record of the hearings over here on Freezenet. So, even better as well.

(Note: word count includes this wrap up article.)

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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