Janet Yale, the chair of the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel, appeared earlier this week before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to provide an update on the report. Her opening remarks directly addressed concerns regarding the regulation of news, claiming that there has been some confusion on the issue. Yet far from clearing up any “confusion”, Yale proceeded to inaccurately describe the state of news regulation in Canada and advocate for an expansive regulatory framework for Internet-based news aggregators:
We believe it’s not beyond the reach of policy-makers to bring the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon into some sort of rules-based construct. Already in Canada we licence news organizations like CBC, CTV, Postmedia and others, while wholly protecting editorial independence. Why should we not register the largest media companies in the world in the same way, and with the same editorial protections and exemption when it comes to news functions online. Why shouldn’t we insist they pay their fair share for leveraging the work of our journalists and news organizations. Let me be clear, nowhere does our report recommend or suggest that government should play a role in determining who is and is not a journalist. Nor do we advocate for regulation of news content, editorial practices or any interference whatsoever with the independence of news media.
This comment raises several issues. First, it is simply incorrect that Canada licenses news organizations such as Postmedia. The newspaper sector is not licensed in Canada nor should it be. The suggestion from the chair of the BTLR that we already do so is inaccurate.
Second, the ease with which Yale references licensing news organizations brings to mind the comments from Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault when he was initially asked about the issue and he responded by saying “what’s the big deal”? There are mounting fears that both the panel and Canadian Heritage envision a massive licensing and regulatory system for the Internet overseen by the CRTC that will capture the dissemination of news. The comments from both the Minister and the BTLR chair that downplay the significance of such an approach only heightens the concerns.
Third, the suggestion that the panel’s recommendations do not interfere with the independence of news media is inaccurate. News aggregators include services that curate the news (ie. make editorial choices about the content that appears on their sites) such as Google News, Yahoo News, National Newswatch or Drudge Report as well as sites and services that permit sharing of news stories such as Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook are all covered by the report with registration or licensing, mandated levies, and discoverability requirements.
The discoverability requirements would mean the CRTC would require these sites and services to include “links to the websites of Canadian sources of accurate, trusted, and reliable sources of news” and meet “prominence rules to ensure visibility and access to such sources of news.” The CRTC would determine which Canadian sources are trusted and how links would appear on these sites. In addition to discoverability, the CRTC would be empowered to require these organizations to disclose financial information, consumption data, and algorithmic information. It would also be empowered to regulate commercial negotiations between news providers and these sites and services.
The panel recommends the government and regulator determine trusted news sources, mandate links, and require registration and reader data. It is self-evident that this is not a hands-off, no-regulation approach. Rather, it is a heavy-handed, net neutrality violating, regulatory one. Contrary to the chair’s comments, Canada does not license news organizations like Postmedia and efforts to bring licensing and registration to other organizations engaged in the news industry should be rejected.