Senator Paula Simons Gives Bill C-18 Speech Worth Watching

Senator Paula Simons have given a speech at the Canadian Senate on Bill C-18. Her speech is worth watching.

Yesterday, I wrote about Senator Peter Harder writing misinformation in an effort to sell Bill C-18. Some of that misinformation was so easy to debunk that all it took was simply browsing to the platforms in question to debunk it. Others only took a review of our previous analysis to find out that how he described the bill did not really match with what the text actually does. While it is no surprise that a Senate sponsor of the bill is trying to support and sell the bill, what is embarrassing is just how bad he was at doing it.

Of course, not all Senators 100% agree with this viewpoint. In fact, this is far from the case. A great example of this is Senator Paula Simons. On Friday, she posted her speech on Bill C-18 in the Senate chambers on YouTube which can be watched below:

Senator Simons starts by talking about how news rooms are closing down. This includes the PostMedia layoffs. She then discusses the shift towards the digital world. While she spoke about large outlets, she also spoke about the small digital startups to fill niche tastes. Technically, Freezenet falls in that category even though Freezenet also has a wide area of coverage. Freezenet is, of course, one of many countless sites out there that fills specific tastes in coverage, be it on the environment, science, lifestyles, and more.

Indeed, the point is well taken that a site like Freezenet doesn’t necessarily have the kind of reach a physical newspaper has, nor does a site like Freezenet ever actually intend on covering specific small town local news. It is worth noting that in some of the discussions I’ve had with individuals in town that I did offer advice and guidance on starting a site like that up, however, it would be up to others to fill those pages with content as my time is largely soaked up with the day to day operations of Freezenet.

Seeing that work would be involved on their part, or someone elses, the idea was ultimately dropped and a local news site never came to be. Though a part of me suspected that those I spoke to thought that I would be the one to also research and publish news, I didn’t necessarily blame those individuals either for how things turned out as their expertise lie in behind the scenes roles such as video editing and shooting. It was a nice idea given the sorry state of news coverage in my own city, but there needed to be someone who would be charged with actually doing the journalism work. That person wasn’t going to be me and there was no one else in mind that would fill that role. Creating and maintaining an independent website is very hard and disillusioning, let alone a website that can pull in revenue. I know this from personal experience.

Senator Simons then goes on to talk about the premise of the bill itself. This is about how it asks platforms to pony up money because the platforms dominate the advertising space and they allow the sharing of links to news sites. At the same time, she points out that the idea of forcing two large American companies to underwrite the independent news that Canadian rely on is a logical and ethical fallacy. Further, she points out that the idea that Google and Facebook are somehow stealing from the news outlets fundamentally misunderstands how technology works. Indeed, this last point is something I’ve been driving home hard in the last several weeks.

Further, Senator Simons highlighted the shift away from news links to other ventures such as video content. This is something I have also highlighted. She also points out that platforms get little to no economic benefit from the sharing of news content. This is another point I’ve been driving home, especially when I say that news rooms need platforms far more than platforms need news content.

Amusingly, she points out that the only Canadian site that ranks in the top 20 websites in the world is Pornhub. A note that, understandably, got quite the reaction from the rest of the Senators. One Senator next to Senator Simons (Colin Deacon) was seen rubbing his hand on his forehead, seemingly embarrassed by that fact. Other Senators could be heard chuckling in the background.

She asked how wise it is to have the media beholden to the success of the platforms from an independent media perspective. This idea has, for good reason, been bubbling beneath the surface of this debate for some time now. Are you really going to hold companies and government to account when such a huge portion of your paycheck is written by those same entities? Some people in the media might boldly say that they would, but past experience I’ve had in traditional media says otherwise. Indeed, when a company has taken out advertising for a news source, it’s been my experience that the company can then do no wrong as the internal response is to do everything in their power not to scare off the advertisers.

Senator Simons notes that we should do more to have a vibrant and independent press, not to create additional dependencies. By creating such a huge amount of dependence on the likes of Google and Facebook even more power than they already have over what consumers of news reads. This is what Bill C-18 does – create even more dependence and ceding control to these corporations. She also asks if it’s a good idea to continue to hand over huge sums of money to failing news organizations, especially when it makes it harder for smaller, more innovative startups, to compete. Additionally, what guarantees are there that the revenues these larger firms receive will actually increase journalism in the first place as opposed to paying down debt or awarding their executives?

Additionally, Senator Simons also asks what it means for copyright and how Bill C-18 interacts with the Berne Convention. This is one example of how Bill C-18 violates Canada’s international trade obligations. This is an issue already highlighted by the CCIA, so it isn’t as though this point hasn’t been noticed.

Senator Simons concludes by saying that it is easy to say that something must be done for the state of journalism today. The problem is that while Bill C-18 is something, it won’t actually do what it sets out to do.

In listening to the speech, it almost felt spooky at times because it felt like almost every concept I had been talking about in regards to Bill C-18 had been mentioned at some point or another. Indeed, Senator Simons found data and statistics I hadn’t managed to cover, but there were other statistics that I did cover.

Worth commenting on, though, is that much of Senators Simons speech relied on the assumption that the platforms in question would simply just go along with such a law in the first place. Because of that assumption, the speech itself is actually a reflection of the best possible outcome for those pushing Bill C-18. Indeed, Facebook has issued not one, but at least two warnings that Bill C-18 has the platform considering blocking news links in Canada altogether.

These warnings came amidst the parent company, Meta, laying off 13% of its workforce in a bid to save costs. This as advertisers began pulling back and revenues dropped in recent months over fears of a recession sometime this year. Shrinking revenue and increasing costs is by no means a recipe for businesses to spend more to retain features that they are actively moving away from. Is it possible that these platforms will, once again, surprise and go along with this? Sure. It is a sure thing? Not even remotely.

If Facebook and Google do, indeed, block news links altogether, those platforms will hardly be any worse for wear. Some might complain, sure, but news from Canada about a drug bust in a small down in a northern region of Canada is hardly the kind of content that will make or break these platforms. Such a notion is downright comical, in fact.

At the same time, if publishers are finding it hard to continue doing business before, imagine being completely cut off from two of the largest platforms on the entire internet. It will have a devastating impact, repeating the history of what happened in Spain where revenues plunged, whole news rooms closed, and traffic plummeted. For some news rooms, it was like being on the brink of falling off of a cliff and getting pushed over the edge by a bulldozer. There was no chance whatsoever.

Otherwise, though, it was a really good speech. Sure, some people out there might look at Senator Simons voting record on Bill C-11 and have their suspicions. Still, at the very least, this is a speech where Simons is, at least, saying all the right things.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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