While speaking at a security forum in the United States, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland expressed concerns about media being overly funded by the government and said that tech companies should foot the bill instead.
“I think there’s a real challenge with news organizations deriving a great deal of their revenue from the public sector, from the government,” said Ms. Freeland while addressing the Aspen Security Forum on July 21, as part of a session with Politico’s editor-in-chief Matthew Kaminski.
“At the end of the day, the resources do have to come from the tech companies.”
Mr. Kaminski was asking about the Liberals’ passage of Bill C-18, the Online News Act, and whether the government planned to modify it given pushback from social media giants.
The new law forces tech companies to pay publishers for the display of news links on their platforms. The government’s intent is to “level the playing field between global platforms and Canadian outlets,” hence supporting media organizations that have seen steadily declining ad revenues.
Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, reacted to the legislation by announcing it would block content from news outlets for Canadian users. Google also said it would remove links to Canadian news on its platforms, but the government says it’s been more open to negotiating than Meta.
Ms. Freeland said that, as a former journalist, it’s an issue she feels “very strongly about” and echoed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s commentsabout this being a “dispute over democracy.”
The deputy prime minister and minister of finance said that she doesn’t like every question asked by journalists, but they need to be “well paid and well resourced” for Canada to have a “healthy democracy” and to hold decision-makers to account.
“The reality is, because of the economics of the web advertising business, Canadian newsrooms are being hollowed out,” said Ms. Freeland.
Bell Media, which controls outlets such as CTV and CP24, said it was cutting 1,300 positions and shutting down six radio stations in June. This followed Corus Entertainment laying off online journalists at Global News in March.
Critics of Bill C-18, such as Ottawa University law professor Michael Geist, say the bill came about through intense lobbying by legacy media.
Ms. Freeland said that Canadians are “very, very supportive of what the government is doing” with the legislation.
A poll by Angus Reid released on July 10 says that 61 percent of Canadians believe that Big Tech should compensate publishers when their content is shared, but a majority also says the government should take a step back in its dispute.
The poll found that 48 percent of Canadians say the government should back down and rescind Bill C-18, with 26 percent disagreeing and 25 percent not having an opinion on the matter.
Meta wrote in a June 1 statement that the “Online News Act is fundamentally flawed legislation that ignores the realities of how our platforms work, the preferences of the people who use them, and the value we provide news publishers.”