Critics Blast Online News Bill; ‘Made in Canada’ Internet is Here

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OpenMedia sharply criticized the newly passed Bill C-18, or The Online News Act, which gained royal ascent on Thursday.

Non-profit and consumer advocate OpenMedia expressed disappointment over the lack of significant changes that could channel more funds toward local and independent journalism and prevent platforms from abstaining from sharing Canadian news entirely.

“Unfortunately, Bill C-18 is as flawed today as it was a year ago,” said OpenMedia’s Campaigns Director, Matt Hatfield on Friday in a statement. “A sustainable base for quality journalism is critical for Canadians, which is what makes this poorly conceived legislation so incredibly disappointing. It may not mend our news industry, but instead, by giving online platforms an easy out — the option to simply stop allowing news sharing — it could potentially further depress news revenue.”

Hatfield further slammed the legislation for its impact on smaller news outlets. “Instead of providing support to independent news outlets, Bill C-18 will see boosted funding for legacy national media outlets, while small local outlets will be left to bleed out,” he lamented.

He warned of the potential adverse effects of this bill, arguing it rewards superficial, clickable content over thorough, investigative reporting. He stated, “By rewarding the spread of their content on social media, it incentivizes poor quality clickbait journalism, not the high-quality, well-researched, investigative reporting that Canadians actually need.”

Despite their disappointment with the legislation, OpenMedia vows to continue advocating for public interest during the implementation of Bill C-18. They also encourage the government to consider replacing the act with a more thoughtful news sustainability solution soon.

The Senate initially returned Bill C-18 to the House on Friday, June 16. The quick review by the House is due to Parliament’s impending summer recess, which starts today, pointed out OpenMedia.

OpenMedia says its members have sent over 13,000 messages to MPs, Senators, and the Department of Canadian Heritage since May 2022, calling for enhanced transparency and support for quality news in Canada. The CRTC is expected to start public consultations on the implementation of Bill C-18 in the upcoming months.

University of Ottawa law professor, Michael Geist, was similarly critical of Bill C-18 gaining royal ascent.

“The end result – at least for now – is a legislative mess that leaves no clear winners with Meta downgrading its platforms in Canada, Canadians cut off from their ability to share news on popular social media platforms, Canadian news outlets losing their second most important source of referral traffic, and the government looking to have made an epic miscalculation for having ignored the risks it created by establishing a mandating payments for links system with uncapped liability for the Internet companies,” said Geist on Friday.

He also said this is the beginning of a “Made in Canada” internet taking shape by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

“In less than two months, the government has reshaped the Internet in Canada with Bills C-11 and C-18 leading to streaming services that may block Canadian users and platforms that may block news sharing. The result is a cautionary tale for Internet regulation initiatives with Canada emerging as a model for how things can go badly wrong,” said Geist.

“The initial Bill C-11 consultations at the CRTC have resulted in some streaming services unsurprisingly responding to legislation that applies Canadian law to every service anywhere in the world by raising the prospect of exiting the Canadian market if not granted exemptions. Bill C-18 threatens to create a Canadian news void on Facebook and Instagram, a result that will increase the visibility of low quality sources and lead to millions in lost traffic and revenues for the supposed beneficiaries of the bill,” he noted.

Meta, owners of Facebook and Instagram, announced yesterday it would halt news sharing in Canada, following through on its promise to do so if the Online News Act was passed.

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