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Jeangagnon, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CBC_Ottawa_Broadcast_Centre_-_02.jpg

Bill C-18 and the CBC’s Self-Destructive Approach to Government Digital Policy

I need to start this post by making it clear that I am a supporter of publicly funded broadcasting and the CBC. With the increased use of paywalls and dramatic shifts in the media landscape, there is value in a public broadcaster that fills the gaps in the privately owned media world by ensuring that all Canadians have open, freely available access to reliable news. That requires embracing all forms of distribution, maintaining steadfast independence, and limiting direct competitive overlap with the private side that is currently facing significant digital transition challenges. This should be an easy value proposition for the CBC and one that would provide a compelling case for public funding. Yet the CBC’s approach to Bill C-18 and other government digital policies seems determined to do the opposite and, in doing so, threatens its future support.

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August 24, 2023 12 comments News
office-team-regulation-consultation-unity-agreement by PXFuel, https://www.pxfuel.com/en/free-photo-xabnf

The Bill C-18 Regulation Fake-Out: Setting the Record Straight on When Bill C-18 Takes Effect and the Regulation Making Process

The rhetoric around Bill C-18 has escalated in recent days in light of the awful wildfires in NWT and British Columbia. In my view, the issues associated with these tragic events have little to do with Meta blocking news links and the attempt to bring it into the conversation is a transparent attempt to score political points (the connectivity issues with some NWT communities completely taken offline for days is somehow never mentioned). The reality is that Meta was asked about just this scenario at committee and it made it clear that it would not block any non-news outlet links. That is precisely what has been happening and the government’s legislative choices should be the starting point for understanding why compliance with the law involves blocking a very broad range of news links that extend beyond even those sources that are defined as “eligible news outlets”. 

The government and supporters of Bill C-18 talking points now emphasize two things in relation to Meta blocking news links: the law has yet to take effect and there is room to address their concerns in the regulation-making process. Both of these claims are incredibly deceptive, relying on the assumption that most won’t bother to read the actual legislation. If they did, they would see that (1) the law has received royal assent and can take effect anytime and (2) the regulation making process addresses only a small subset of Bill C-18 issues with most of the core issues finalized. In other words, the time to shape the law and address many of the key concerns was before the government repeatedly cut off debate in order to ensure it that received royal assent before the summer break.

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August 21, 2023 25 comments News
Instagram notification re: Bill C18

Why Is Meta Blocking All News Links? Because Bill C-18 Covers All News Outlets

Blocking of news links on Facebook and Instagram in Canada has becomes increasingly widespread in recent days, leading to a growing number of public comments from media outlets and reporters expressing surprise or shock about the scope of the link blocking. Indeed, outlets with blocked links include university student newspapers, radio stations, and foreign news outlets. While there may have been some errors (Facebook has a page to seek review of any blocked link decision), the inclusion of a very wide range of Canadian and foreign news outlets is no accident. Rather, it reflects the government’s Bill C-18 approach, which effectively covers all news outlets worldwide whose links are accessed in Canada. The Canadian government could have adopted a more targeted approach – for example, limiting the scope to news links from those news outlets eligible to negotiate agreements with Internet platforms under the law – but it instead went for the broadest possible approach that includes foreign news outlets with little or no connection to Canada.

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August 11, 2023 42 comments News
Protesting Against Apple's Tax Policy - Dublin Street Art by William Murphy (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/nhLhoz

It’s Complicated: Unpacking the Risks Behind Canada’s Digital Services Tax Plan

The Canadian government released a detailed document last week outlining the specifics behind its draft Digital Services Tax Act. No actual legislation has yet been passed, but the government is providing guidance on how the potential law would be interpreted assuming it takes effect next year. The document has sparked criticism from business groups and the U.S. government given that it envisions a retroactive three percent tax that will hit a wide range of businesses. Further, the Canadian plan is facing significant opposition from many OECD countries since it may jeopardize a global agreement that is designed to address the digital services tax issue. While the digital services tax (DST) is typically framed as a tax on big tech, the reality is that the Canadian version extends far beyond just companies such as Google and Facebook, potentially including major Canadian retailers such as Canadian Tire, Loblaws, and others.

My view is that unlike Bills C-11 and C-18, which create cross-industry subsidy models funded by tech companies to support government policy, appropriate taxation models is the far better approach to ensure that companies “pay their fair share”. While a DST may be a good approach (particularly if part of a global system), the Canadian plan to implement the tax retroactively next year creates some significant risks. In fact, our current approach raises the prospect of U.S. tariff retaliation, opposition from many allies at the OECD, and expanded news link blocking in response to Bill C-18.

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August 9, 2023 16 comments News
Facebook app by Eduardo Woo https://flic.kr/p/pfd7yn (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Media Publishers File Flawed Competition Act Application Over Meta Blocking News Links Due to Bill C-18

As the fallout from Bill C-18 continues, a coalition of Canadian media outlets – News Media Canada, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, and the CBC – have filed an application with the Competition Bureau seeking an inquiry into Meta’s decision to block news links in response to the bill’s mandated payments for links approach. There is unquestionably a need for greater competition work with respect to Internet platforms, but a case grounded in refusal to link is not the place to start. Indeed, this complaint is exceptionally weak as it misstates Bill C-18, implausibly claims that Meta has substantial control over the news industry in Canada, contradicts the government on the choices presented by its legislation, and risks creating a mandated requirement to link that could result in other sectors forcing platforms to display more contentious content.

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August 8, 2023 14 comments News