Opinions

Publishers Rightly Fear Bill C-18



Commentary

Ignoring pleas from publishers for the preservation of their independence, Canada’s ruling party has turned up the heat on innovators who believe in freedom of the press and want the state to keep its eyes, ears, and nose out of the nation’s newsrooms.

The most egregious example took place in the Senate Transport and Communications Committee hearings into The Online News Act (Bill C-18). The legislation is designed to force payments from web giants like Facebook and Google and put cash into the hands of news organizations operating in Canada. Overseeing all this will be the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and only news organizations approved by government appointees will be eligible.

Those appearing before the committee on May 30 included representatives from The Globe and Mail, La Presse, Le Devoir, News Media Canada, The Line, Canadaland, and Village Media.

Some of them, like The Line co-founder Jen Gerson, believe the bill should be scrapped entirely.

Calling it a “corrosive, poisoning thing” destined to undermine already plummeting levels of public trust in media, Gerson said C-18 punishes media that wish to remain fully independent.

“When your competitors are all picking up the subsidy, you have to in order to compete,” Gerson said. “ Even companies that would be philosophically dead opposed to any kind of help in this regard feel as if they have to start taking the money that’s coming out of these programs and systems just to compete with their competitors.”

Others still favoured the bill in theory, but even those such as News Media Canada that have campaigned relentlessly for the legislation are now asking that it be amended.

“We want to limit the role of the CRTC,” said News Media’s president and CEO Paul Deegan, who to the befuddlement of many claimed to represent “all” newspapers. “We don’t want them snooping around our newsrooms.”

Globe and Mail Publisher Phillip Crawley said that, as worded, the bill poses a threat to media freedom by giving the CRTC open-ended powers to pry into the affairs of newsrooms.

“Allowing the CRTC to go fishing for confidential information from news organizations, particularly information related to editorial departments, would be an overreach that is best avoided,” he told the committee.

One of those opposed to Bill C-18 and who indeed sees it as completely unnecessary is Jeff Elgie, CEO of Village Media. He has successfully built a network of online news platforms serving non-metro markets, many of which have seen their legacy print newspapers fail to adapt to the digital world.

Because he has learned how to use them to his benefit, he sees Facebook and Google as useful tools in building his business, which has partnerships with companies such as Glacier Media and Black Press. Facebook has vowed to block the posting of links to news stories if Bill C-18 passes as is and Google, facing an unlimited domestic liability, is still considering its options.

Elgie, whose success story challenged Deegan’s claim that government must act to address a “market failure” in Canada’s news industry, told the Senate committee that if Bill C-18 is passed as is and Facebook and Google respond by withdrawing or diminishing services, his business will be destroyed. So fearful is he of the consequences of Bill C-18, he said, that he has stopped hiring.

Apparently, the only thing Senator Peter Harder could hear was that people were saying that the government doesn’t have it right with its Online News Act and that the Liberals aren’t as perfect as the image they see in the mirror each morning. A former Liberal Senate leader and, prior to that, a career public servant and president of the Canada China Business Council, Harder didn’t just take Elgie to task for his innovation and entrepreneurship, he slagged him for it and tried to paint him as a commercial scavenger.

“Your business model often goes into communities where local media has collapsed or gone bankrupt or out of business,” Harder said to Elgie. “That clearly has given you the opportunity, in Guelph, for a recent example, to expand your business.

“Given your lack of enthusiasm for this bill, is it safe to say that your business model depends on further small-town media collapsing, which would be guaranteed by delaying this legislation?”

This is pure malice. Yes, 473 newspapers—most of them weeklies—have died since the internet destroyed the old “print” business model. But Harder has heard from enough people in these hearings to know that 220 new products have launched along with hundreds more radio station-owned news websites. And he knows that the way Bill C-18 is structured, even if Facebook and Google cough up the cash, the largest recipients will be the CBC and Bell Media.

The entire “newspaper” industry will have no more than $80 million to share across the country and, once the Toronto Star and Postmedia (which owns 130 titles) have been fed there will be precious little cash for the “mom and pop” operations the bill’s backers allege will be rescued by this ill-fated legislation.

And Harder should know that it is innovators like Elgie and others that are the way of the future.

Harder, like so many others within and aligned with this government, has proven there is no depth beyond which Liberal partisans are willing to descend in order to denigrate anyone who doubts the majesty and wisdom of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

These are not people who can be trusted snooping around in newsrooms.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.



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