Our view: Bill C-18 erases Canadian news
Ottawa’s well-intentioned move to support media has backfired in the worst way.
Years ago, builders on the Las Vegas strip faced a problem: heavily congested work sites.
In an effort to speed up work, safety was thrown out the window and bodies began piling up.
It wasn’t a news aggregator, blogger or even the government that dug into the issue. It was boots on the ground reporting.
It took a year of writing and more than 50 stories by reporter Alexandra Berzon and her editors at the Las Vegas Sun to get the attention of the nation. The result was a series of congressional hearings and new state mandates for safety training and oversight for construction sites.
For their effort, the community newspaper beat out giants like the New York Times, Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and others for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize, media’s highest honour.
In Canada, not only is this kind of journalism dying out, the work that is being done will soon be much harder to find.
The government recently passed Bill C-18 which essentially requires tech giants like Google and Meta to pay for Canadian news content if they want to include it in their various services. The tech world has dubbed this the “link tax”.
The result so far has been a tit for tat between these tech giants and Canadians. Google and Meta announced that rather than negotiate deals with news providers, they will just wipe all Canadian content off their services. Firing back, the federal government and Quebec stated they would pull all advertising from Meta.
The impact on our country’s ability to know things could be devastating. We have come a long way from the days of ink-stained fingers and printing presses. Nearly half of Canadians get their news from social media. With local, original journalism already struggling, this could create a gaping blindspot for the public. How can people know what is happening in their own country if it never shows up in their feed?
Just zooming in on the construction sector, a firehose blast of project announcements, research reports, policy changes and more is happening everyday and it’s a struggle enough as it is to keep up. That chore just got harder because now one of the tools to help people discover relevant content will be gone.
For most in the media industry, this is just the latest battle in a journalism war that has been raging for decades. Newsrooms all over the world have been shrinking as the industry struggles to figure out how to adjust its business model for a world with the internet. The result has been reporter layoffs, newspapers closing and a consolidation of what is left. Others have shifted to become entertainers rather than informers.
We would argue that despite the media’s challenges, it remains a critical part of democracy. The alternative is that governments, public officials, law enforcement, companies, advocacy groups and other newsmakers get to disseminate their own narrative that few have the time to question.
Although the federal government has shown good intentions in trying to support the news industry, the resulting backlash has ironically caused more harm. Attempting to force modern tech giants into a century old media model may simply be a lost cause.
The solution isn’t clear, but what Canadians can do before the bill goes into effect is to make sure they are following and subscribing to all Canadian media that they find useful and informative. In our case, if you want to keep getting Canadian construction news, sign up for newsletter.
If there is a local news organization that you want to keep up with, accessing their content directly may soon be the only way you ever see them.