Commentary, Opinion

Big tech has to pay, but Bill C-18 is not the way

An already-undermined Canadian media landscape is facing further silencing from Big Tech. In retaliation to the passing of The Online News Act, otherwise known as Bill C-18, Google and Meta announced that they will be blocking posts from Canadian news outlets on their platforms. By passing Bill C-18, the Canadian government is giving tech companies an excuse to trample Canadian news.

The era of print media is fading. Gone are the days of sitting around the breakfast table with the daily paper in one hand and a coffee in the other. Rather than paying for a subscription to newspapers that will be dropped on your doorstep or turning on cable, people tend to access news by easily clicking on links through Meta or Google. In fact, a recent poll from the Maru Group found that the most common way for people aged 18-34 to get their news was through social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram. 

With fewer subscribers and less revenue from ads in print papers, news outlets have been losing money for years. In an attempt to make up for lost funding, Bill C-18 requires large tech companies to negotiate compensation with Canadian news outlets in order to share their content on the companies’ platforms. In theory, the bill has the potential to bring a second wind to Canadian journalism––outlets would have more resources to hire more journalists, invest in equipment, and improve their coverage. In doing so, the public would be better informed, fostering a critical and thoughtful society, and allowing journalism to do what it is meant to do—speak truth to power.

However, the Canadian government’s refusal to back down from its David-versus-Goliath stance has the potential to devastate Canadian media before any good can come of the bill’s prerogatives. For Meta and Google, Bill C-18 only means extra hassle and money to host news on their platforms. Driven by profit and unconvinced by the importance of a healthy democracy, the companies have no qualms about blocking Canadian media from their platforms. In reality, the profits that Canada provides Meta and Google are pennies to the dollar when considering their relation to ad revenue, making negotiation completely unnecessary. Meta has already begun blocking Canadian media from its platforms, with Google planning to follow suit. In order to access trusted publications, Canadians will need to become more active as readers, directly navigating an outlet’s website—a significant change for a society so accustomed to the convenience that comes with social media use.

This power play from Google and Meta severely undermines the importance of Canadian news, particularly smaller local papers. Larger publications like The Globe and Mail and CBC will certainly see the effects, but thanks to their reputation as well-established and trusted news sources, they will survive. The fate of local news, however, is less certain. Local news outlets have already been struggling to stay afloat amid budget cuts from large parent corporations, and Bill C-18 may be the nail in the coffin. 

Moreover, by blocking Canadian news, the work of student journalists is much more likely to go unnoticed. The Tribune, for instance, has had some of the most comprehensive coverage of McGill’s lawsuit with the Mohawk Mothers, writing nearly twenty stories on the case. Small papers across Canada need to be accessible and promoted. Otherwise, crucial stories go unheard. 

The problem lies with the outsized power of Big Tech in our democracy. The fact that Google and Meta can single-handedly make local news inaccessible to over thirty-eight million people indicates that changes need to be made in digital media consumption. Meanwhile, news outlets cannot afford to suffer while the government tussles with Google and Meta. For the preservation of Canadian news, there has to be another route.

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