Google Warns Bill C-18 Could Benefit Biased News Outlets

Google has warned the federal government that its Online News Act, known as Bill C-18 in Parliament, could inadvertently benefit non-authoritative news outlets and websites peddling biased narratives, such as Russian state-sponsored news agency Sputnik — reports Global News.

The tech giant argues that the bill’s definition of an eligible news source is so broad and unspecific that it could force the company to compensate non-professional news outlets with two or more journalists in Canada, including ones funded by foreign states, for their content.

Bill C-18, announced by the Liberal government last month, will force internet giants like social media apps and search engines to pay Canadian news media and journalists for sharing links to news stories. The proposed law is modelled after a similar legislature introduced in Australia last year.

The current language of the bill classifies a qualifying news outlet as any group that is designated as a Canadian journalism organization under the Income Tax Act or produces news content primarily on matters of general interest, operates in Canada, and also employs two or more journalists in the country.

According to Google, the bill in its current form stands to compromise the company’s moderation policies and the way it ranks news on its search engine.

Lauren Skelly, a spokeswoman for Google, said the search engine could face “the imposition of massive fines for presenting the most useful and reliable content to Canadians and enforcing our own policies.”

Skelly said that Google supports the spirit of the bill, but the tech giant is concerned that the legislation, as drafted, could unintentionally put money in the pockets of news businesses that don’t meet journalistic standards.

This could potentially even include news groups sponsored by foreign states or biased news outlets with a far-left or far-right viewpoint.

“We have to believe this isn’t an outcome policymakers intended and hope to work with them to address these concerns,” Skelly said.

“The legislation as written uses an extremely broad definition for eligible news businesses and ‘undue preference’ provisions that, when put into practice, could result in mandatory payment for content that doesn’t meet basic journalistic standards.”

However, the president of News Media Canada, an organization that represents the local news media industry, said that isn’t the case and asserted that the law is worded carefully.

“This is very good legislation that specifically excludes news outlets that promote the interests of an organization as opposed to producing original news content of general interest,” said Paul Deegan.

“The bill will allow many smaller publishers to come together and negotiate content licensing agreements with big tech firms. We urge parliamentarians of all parties to work together and pass this urgently needed legislation before the summer recess.”

Canadian Heritage said in a statement that “it is not the role of the government to decide what is and isn’t online news.” Instead, the job of determining what qualifies as a news outlet falls to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

Last month, an executive at Facebook parent company Meta told a House of Commons public safety committee that the company had not ruled out banning news content on its platform in Canada over “some pretty serious concerns” it has with Bill C-18.

The bill has also been heavily criticized by other stakeholders, including Twitter, TikTok, Microsoft, Pinterest, the Business Software Alliance, and even Canada’s largest telecom companies (Bell, Rogers, Telus, Cogeco, Quebecor, and Shaw).