Canada’s Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said in a senate committee meeting Wednesday that he is “uncomfortable” discussing what would happen to Bill C-18 if Google and Meta decide to no longer carry news content in Canada, as he believes it’s only threats right now.
Meta has made it clear that it would end news content in Canada if the legislation passes while Google proposed amendments to the bill and is assessing a future course of action.
Rodriguez maintained that he is not going to look at the legislation the way Facebook wants him to, and that it’s up to the platforms and not up to him to make their decisions.
Growing visibly frustrated, Rodriguez said, “Facebook has my number, I told them to reach out to me, but they never called me back.”
When pressed to answer the question, Rodriguez said that the government has options like “different programs for advertising”, which, he says, “will only be explained if we get there, but we’re not there.”
“We’re playing Facebook’s game at this moment. We’re discussing the threat, and I’m not making decisions based on threats.”
He also said that the current system is the “wild west” and that is not how society works – “there are rules to follow. We all follow the rules around the table here. So as a corporation, you should follow them as well.”
But he acknowledged that the bill is not a silver bullet or expected to solve all ills in the news sector. However, he said the bill will allow media outlets to go to the bargaining table with Google and Meta and help fix the current power imbalance in the news marketplace. For that purpose, Rodriguez is proposing that small news publishers bargain collectively for deals so that they can stand a better chance against Google and Meta.
The collective bargaining solution also seeks to assuage the concerns of critics who argue that larger, legacy publishers will mostly benefit from the bill.
Parliamentary budget officer Yves Giroux, in fact, revealed during the meeting that news publishers are expected to receive an estimated C$330 million per year from digital news platforms, most of which is expected to go larger publishers as they have larger expenditures.
However, Rodriguez said he is not “necessarily comfortable with these calculations” and that the Australian example showed that “smaller media got more money than the big ones.”
Regardless, he said, the status quo is not acceptable and is not working, be it for small media, Indigenous media, or traditional news outlets, adding that “there’s been hundreds of newsrooms that have closed and many more will close in the next few weeks.”
He stated that time is an important factor and that he hopes the bill is adopted as soon as possible.