Schaar's Bluff, Spring Lake Park Reserve - Danger Cliff Ahead by Tony Webster (CC BY 2.0)

Schaar's Bluff, Spring Lake Park Reserve - Danger Cliff Ahead by Tony Webster (CC BY 2.0)


Tough Talk, Empty Answers: How Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez is Propelling Canada’s News Sector Toward the Bill C-18 Cliff

Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez appeared last night before the Senate committee studying Bill C-18, facing repeated questions about how his government will respond if Internet platforms such as Facebook block news sharing in response to bill’s system of mandated payments for links. Much like Prime Minister Trudeau earlier in the day, Rodriguez had few answers, relying instead on tough talk about not backing down against the tech companies or warnings that even talking about the risks was playing into their hands. Yet the reality is that the government has boxed itself into a corner with fatally flawed legislation that could leave Canadian news organizations  with lost revenues and Canadians with reduced exposure to reliable news.



Rodriguez tried to portray Bill C-18 as a market-based approach with limited government interference which only requires media outlets and Internet platforms to negotiate agreements. This just isn’t true. The bill involves unprecedented government intervention in the media sector as it sets the rules that deem hundreds of news organizations as “eligible news businesses”, establishes standards that target Google and Facebook (Rodriguez admitted that no other Internet companies would currently qualify), determine the criteria for the increasingly government captured CRTC to judge the agreements, and legislate that the subject of negotiation is payment for linking. Moreover, when asked about the inconsistency of likening linking to “stealing” and refusal to link as “bullying”, Rodriguez could only offer a word salad.



The political calculation behind Bill C-18 was pretty simple. The government thought it could use a legislated shakedown of Google and Facebook to force them to pay for links, envisioning that upwards of 30% of the news costs of every news outlet in country would be covered by the two tech companies. Yet the value proposition for news links flow the opposite way as publishers post the majority of the links themselves in hope of increasing traffic on their sites, leading to greater advertising revenues. The notion of requiring Facebook to pay for links posted by their users never made any sense. It made even less sense when Facebook revealed that news comprised only 3% of its users’ feeds and was highly substitutable by other content.

Given that reality, the “business decision” that Rodriguez noted last night isn’t particularly difficult. Facebook will exit the news sharing business in Canada, leaving many Canadian news publishers with less traffic and reduced revenues. Rodriguez suggested that the government has many options in response, but was unable to cite much beyond hints of pulling government advertising from the platform (whether the Liberal party would pull election advertising and cede social media advertising to opposition parties would make for an interesting choice) or plowing more public money into programs that could presumably include a journalism support fund. Ironically, had it opted for a journalism fund model in the bill, the platforms likely would have cooperated. That model may yet prove to be the answer, but funded by taxpayers due to the government’s epic Bill C-18 miscalculation. 


  1. I got a giggle out of the PMs comments on this yesterday. He was on about Google and Instagram, etc, paying their fair share since they are supposedly making money from the links. I have two issues.

    First of all, the concept of “fair share” is inherently subjective. It comes down to value, and the fact that you value something at one level doesn’t mean that I value it at the same level.

    Secondly, the news media also benefits from the links; why don’t they pay a “fair share” of the revenue they generate from the links to the search engines and social media companies?

    That the government would threaten to hold back the advertising that they do through those platforms, well, according to the National Post that constituted $11M last year. Frankly I don’t think the platforms would care, in particular if the cost of the agreements with the news media would cost more than $11M.

    • I think the meaning of the term “fair share” in the comments of our Liberal Party leadership is different than what you or I would think.

      I suspect it translates more closely to “where’s my cut!”

  2. What are the chances that these regulation folks will accept the fact that the digital complex adaptive system we live in/with is not controllable by governments or tech CEO’s? I would have to say zilch. Moloch rules.

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