Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has scheduled a press conference for later today to answer questions on the legislative mess that is Bill C-18. With Meta and Google announcing that they will block news sharing and links on their platforms before the law takes effect, the Canadian media sector stands to lose millions of dollars with lost links, the cancellation of dozens of existing deals, and a bill that might not generate any new revenues. Rodriguez has been flailing for a response in recent days with mounting doubts about the government’s strategy and its seeming failure to anticipate this reaction. He will be joined by MPs from the NDP and Bloc, who were supportive of the legislation during the committee process and joined forces to cut off debate and defeat potential amendments that would have address the concerns regarding mandated payments for linking. There are no shortage of questions that require answering and I’ve identified my ten on Bill C-18 below.
1. Meta and Google both expressed concern with the Bill C-18 approach of mandated payments for links from day one, but floated their willingness to support the media sector with different policy approaches such as contributions to a journalism fund. Why did you insist on the Bill C-18 approach when there were obvious risks that the companies would simply stop news sharing or block links? Why were the other models that would have directly supported journalism rejected?
2. You have described the decision faced by Google and Meta with regard to continuing to link to Canadian news as a “business choice.” If it is just a business choice, why do you also call it a threat or bullying tactic? What Plan B did you develop if they made the business choice to stop news linking in Canada once it became uneconomic.
3. What analysis have you or your department done on the potential losses from Bill C-18 if Google and Meta exit the news market in Canada? What valuation for the lost links? What is the estimated value of the deals that will be cancelled? Will the bill generate any new revenues in such a circumstance?
4. You have noted that the “world is watching” what happens with Bill C-18, suggesting that the Internet companies would likely respond as they did in Australia. Are you concerned that the focus on Canada might make it less likely the companies will reverse course given the reputational cost of doing so will be felt in many more countries and raise the prospect of billions in potential liability?
5. During the Senate hearings, smaller Canadian media outlets such as Village Media warned that they would be forced to shut down due to Bill C-18 if Meta and Google exit the news market. Other such as Le Devoir cited data indicating that 70% of their website traffic comes from search and social media. How did you account for these risks? What do you say to Canadian media outlets who may be forced to shut down due to your legislation?
6. Your recent comments regarding information on wildfires and the impact of Google and Facebook removing news links, led Twitter to add a context note given concerns that your statement was misleading. Are you concerned that you may fuelling misinformation on the bill? Further, is it your view that information such as wildfire data can only be accessed through these two companies?
7. You’ve regularly made the case that news has value and therefore even links to it should be compensated. But if that is the case, why are links from Google and Facebook compensable, but the same links from Twitter, Apple or Microsoft are not under Bill C-18. Is the news less valuable when the links come from those other sites? Further, lots of content has value: health information, educational information, and financial information all have value as well. If Canada begins to demand compensation for news links, why not other links?
8. According to Senator Peter Harder, the government expect Google and Meta to pay for as much as 30-35% of the news expenditures of Canadian news outlets as a result of Bill C-18. When the 25% labour journalism tax credit is added to the mix, that is as much as 60% of the costs of Canadian news covered by either the government or two foreign companies. Do you believe that is a healthy, sustainable approach?
9. You have said that you are open to talking to the companies, but the House committee studying the bill initially even tried to block Facebook from appearing on the bill and both the House and Senate repeatedly cut short debate on Bill C-18. Having foreclosed conversations on the bill prior to royal assent, what options do you have given that the bill is now law? What changes to regulations could be made to address the concerns raised by Meta and Google?
10. The emergence of generative AI services such as ChatGPT have attracted enormous attention with the expectation it will play an important role in the news sector. It does not appear that Bill C-18 contemplates AI as OpenAI and other AI services are excluded. Are you concerned that the bill is already outdated?