Since its introduction last spring, online news outlets have expressed fears that Bill C-18, the Online News Act, will primarily benefit large incumbent news organizations. Those concerns grew once the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that more than 75% of the revenues would go to broadcasters such as Bell, Rogers, and the CBC. After Postmedia and Torstar collect their share, there may be little left for innovative online startups. The government has seemingly tried to ignore those startups with Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez talking about 400+ news outlet closures since 2008, but neglecting to refer to the hundreds of new outlets that have sprung up during the same period.
During the clause-by-clause review of Bill C-18, Liberal MP Lisa Hepfner, herself a former journalist, provide a stunning illustration of how the government only views incumbent news outlets as worthy of support. Responding to a proposed Conservative amendment to the bill, Hepfner stated:
When we see that hundreds of news outlets have closed in this country since 2008, and we’ll see the argument that well, a couple hundred other online news organizations have popped up in that time, what we don’t see is that they’re not news.They’re not gathering news. They’re publishing opinion only. We have a proliferation of opinion organizations out there, publishing their opinions without people going out actually reporting the news.
I will not be supporting this amendment. I don’t think it’s necessary. Journalism organizations have codes of conduct that they follow. They have laws that they have to follow. They have to understand what they can do in a courtroom. They have to go before the CRTC if they don’t follow all of the proper journalism standards. These are things that are taught in journalism schools and in news rooms across the country.
Leaving aside the rather bizarre and inaccurate comments about going to the CRTC if they don’t follow proper journalism standards (the CRTC does not regulate newspapers), the key comment is the government’s view that online news organizations are “not news.They’re not gathering news. They’re publishing opinion only.” Hepfner’s reference to news outlet opening and closures comes from the Local News Research Project. In the past, she’s referred to the closure data, but seemingly thinks the openings don’t count. Yet within a short drive of her constituency office, she could find multiple online news outlets that clearly qualify as gathering news. Indeed, you don’t have to be an experienced reporter to find these sites, since the Local News Research Project has them all handily listed in an excel spreadsheet.
- In her own riding, there is the Public Record, which seems to cover nothing but Hamilton City Hall. In fact, it even covered her election campaign just last year and is the source of the photo accompanying this post.
- Covering Hamilton and the entire region is Insauga.com, which generates millions of page views each month and serves 18 cities across Southern Ontario, including Hamilton. Hepfner has been featured in multiple stories in the past.
- In nearby Ohsweken, there is Two Row Times, an online indigenous news outlet. Hepfner voted earlier for specific support for indigenous news outlets, but thereafter effectively described the one closest to her home as not news. Hepfner is surely familiar with the news outlet since it ran a story and a picture of her this past summer.
- Oakville News, which provides extensive local Oakville news coverage, is another online news outlet located a short drive away from her office.
- Even closer is Burlington Today, one of several nearby online news outlets run by Village Media.
- A little further away is The Lake Report, which provides local news to Niagara-on-the Lake.
These are all examples of just some of the digital news outlets that have opened since 2008. Even cursory review reveals that they are not focused opinion, but rather local news, ironically many featuring stories on Hepfner. They deserve better than an unwarranted smear from a government MP, much less a bill that caters to the media lobby which will ultimately make it more difficult for smaller, digital news outlets to compete in the news market and serve their local communities.