Web Giants: Bill C-18 Won't Harm Small Media, Many Say

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Web giants: Bill C-18 will not harm small media, many say

For many small media, it is wrong to say that Bill C-18 will be harmful to them.

Stakeholders from small media organizations say it's wrong to believe they risk being left behind by Bill C-18 to force Google and Facebook to enter into indemnification agreements with the media companies.

Several witnesses heard Friday by the Canadian Heritage Committee of the House of Commons argued that the piece of legislation will give them the means to do well.

Collective bargaining is for us the only way to mitigate this power imbalance, said Sylvain Poisson, CEO of Hebdos Québec.

Appearing virtually, Mr. Poisson and Benoît Chartier, chairman of the board of directors of the association of around 200 journalists covering regional information, urged the parliamentarians to allow the adoption of the bill. Bill C-18, tabled by Justin Trudeau's government last spring.

The web giants have cannibalized our income without assuming any of the social and fiscal responsibilities that go with it relate by controlling the algorithms, Mr. Poisson insisted. They have disrupted the business model and diminished the real value of information.

Platforms subject to the future Bill C-18 will have six months after its adoption to enter into agreements on a voluntary basis with the media and demonstrate to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) that these agreements are satisfactory under six criteria.

These include that the agreements provide fair compensation to new businesses and that they contribute to the viability of independent businesses in local news.

If the CRTC finds the criteria met, the platforms will be exempt from the potential law. Otherwise, binding negotiations may be initiated by newsrooms, which may also resort to arbitration.

Another witness heard by the Heritage Committee on Friday, the founder of the media specializing in innovation The Logic, David Skok, pointed out that many press companies have already concluded agreements with Facebook and Google, but that these remain confidential.

Secret deals […] have created a market imbalance that gives competitors an unfair advantage in the war for talent, for viewership and distribution, he said.

In his view, Bill C-18 promotes competition that is desirable.

Earlier on Friday, a professor from the Australian National University, Rod Sims, also denied the belief that the Australian model, from which the Canadian piece of legislation is inspired, has been disadvantageous for the smaller media.

That's just plain wrong. The facts are very clear, he said.

Other witnesses heard by MPs, however, strongly criticized Bill C-18. A freelance journalist and co-founder of The Line website, Jen Gerson, notably expressed concerns that the piece of legislation would have the opposite effect to that desired.

For example, if organizations like Facebook or [its parent company] Meta respond […] by simply restricting access to news content from traditional media like they threatened to do it, who do you think will suffer the most? Facebook? No. Canadian publishers will lose access to a major distribution hub, she told elected officials.

In this regard, Mr. Rods pointed out that the social network had done the same threat to Australian legislation, but ultimately did not take action.

University of Ottawa Professor Michael Geist argued that the definition of what constitutes informational content sharing deserving compensation is too broad. According to him, the bill establishes that simply sharing the front page of a publication without relaying an article as such would lead to compensation, which he considers inappropriate.

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