BILL C-18: Mainstream media could see colossal payday

Keean Bexte

April 7, 2022

Bill C-18, the Online News Act, could see mainstream news organizations, including the CBC, receiving tens of millions of dollars from social media giants simply for having links shared on their platforms.

If passed, Bill C-18 will enable the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to force social media companies, such as Meta (Facebook), Google, and possibly Twitter, to pay Canadian news outlets for ad revenues generated by their content being shared and viewed.

And to say Bill C-18 is broad in what qualifies as being deserving of compensation is an understatement. Social media companies could be forced to pay up when an individual merely clicks a news link on their site.

“Because there’s a value to that. If you click on the link and go to the news, there’s a value to that,” says Liberal Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, who proposed the legislation.

Of course, this in itself brings up many concerns about Internet regulation and censorship. When Australia proposed similar legislation last year, Facebook decided to cut their losses and blocked Australians from sharing or viewing news content.

After all, if a private individual posts a news link and another private individual clicks it, how is Facebook, not the private individual, responsible for paying a portion of what revenue was generated? Facebook — which is not run by heroes by any means — merely provided the platform; they didn’t post the link.

Additionally, as University of Ottawa Law Professor Michael Geist explains, if passed, the Bill will grant “exceptional new powers to the CRTC,” including which news organizations qualify as “eligible news businesses” deemed worthy of receiving funding from content shared on social media that generates revenue for the companies.

“On top of that, the CRTC will also create a code of conduct, implement the code, and wield penalty powers for failure to comply. Far from a hands-off approach, the CRTC will instantly become the most powerful market regulator of the news sector in Canada,” Geist writes.

The Bill’s stated purpose is supposedly to “regulate digital news intermediaries with a view to enhancing fairness in the Canadian digital news marketplace and contributing to its sustainability, including the sustainability of independent local news businesses.”

However, the Bill has anti-competition written all over it.

As noted by Blacklock’s Reporter, the CBC — which the Bill mentions by name — will “be the largest beneficiary” of the Bill, as the federally-funded news outlet receives the most traffic on social media out of all news organizations, thanks in large part to their receiving over $1 billion in federal funding. That’s a big budget for running ads and paying to boost your content. As it stands, they could receive over $54 million per year based on their in-house digital advertising revenue estimates.

The CBC is, of course, openly giddy about the prospect of receiving more money and that independent media will have to work that much harder.

“This legislation is an important step in ensuring fair compensation for news content produced by CBC/Radio-Canada and supported by Canadians,” said CBC spokesperson Leon Mar.

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