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Making Sense of the Indifference to Bill C-18’s Cutting Out Small Media Outlets While Giving Hundreds of Millions to Bell, Rogers and the CBC

Bill C-18, the Online News Act, appeared to be headed to clause-by-clause review this week. But the mounting attention on the bill – notably Facebook’s revelation that it would consider stopping news sharing in Canada if the bill passes in its current form – may have persuaded MPs to add several additional hearings, including one on Friday that will feature both Facebook and OpenMedia. The Facebook issue adds to the growing concerns with the bill, particularly the exclusion of many small media outlets due to restrictive eligibility criteria and a Parliamentary Budget Officer estimate that over 75% of the benefits – hundreds of millions of dollars – will go to broadcast giants such as Bell, Rogers, Shaw, Corus, and the CBC. Newspapers will be left fighting over the remaining scraps, if they’re eligible for anything. Indeed, as many small media outlets have noted, eligibility requirements to have QCJO status or regularly employ at least two journalists means that many small weeklies or digital startups will fall outside the system. 

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October 27, 2022 5 comments News
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Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez’s Credibility Problem, Part Two: Misleading and Missing Data on Bill C-18

As noted in yesterday’s post, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez appeared before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage last Friday for one hour and walked away with a serious credibility problem. Friday’s hearing focused on two issues – the Laith Marouf/CMAC issue of government funding for an anti-semite and Bill C-18 – and Rodriguez faced credibility questions on both. While yesterday’s post focused on his responses to questions about Canadian Heritage funding for CMAC/Marouf, today’s addresses his misleading statements on the bill.

I’ve written extensively about some of the problems with Bill C-18. These include process concerns involving blocking dozens of witnesses from appearing before committee, benefit concerns based on Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that the big winners are Bell, Rogers and the CBC, as well as substantive concerns that include the risks to the free flow of information online, risks of increased misinformation, and government intervention in an area that could undermine an independent press. But Rodriguez’s appearance last week raised new concerns about the government using misleading data and apparently having given little thought or study to the full implications of the bill.

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October 26, 2022 3 comments News
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Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez’s Credibility Problem, Part One: The Laith Marouf/CMAC Issue

Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez appeared before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on Friday for one hour and walked away with a serious credibility problem. Rodriguez has already been repeatedly contradicted on Bill C-11, claiming that the bill doesn’t cover user content or algorithms. On both issues, the CRTC Chair (and virtually every expert) say otherwise. Friday’s hearing focused on two issues – the Laith Marouf/CMAC issue of government funding for an anti-semite and Bill C-18, the Online News Act. Given his responses to MP questions, Rodriguez now faces credibility questions on both. This post will focus on his responses to questions about Canadian Heritage funding for CMAC/Marouf and a second post tomorrow will examine his misleading statements on the bill.

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October 25, 2022 6 comments News
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The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 143: Canada’s Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard on Why Government Needs a Culture of Providing Information Instead of Hiding It

Canadians using the Access to Information Act system frequently find that it is simply does not work as the legislation prescribes, with most facing long delays and widespread redactions. Canada’s Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard is trying to do something to fix that. She has been calling for legislative reforms, more resources, and leadership within government departments to prioritize providing information instead of hiding it. Commissioner Maynard joins the Law Bytes podcast to discuss the current system, how exceptions are often used too aggressively to limit public access, and what can be done to fix these problems. 

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October 24, 2022 3 comments Podcasts
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Why the Real Bill C-18 Threat is Bill C-18

Facebook is a hard company to support. Earlier this week, I attended an excellent talk with Frances Haugen, the well-known Facebook whistleblower, who delivered a compelling case that the social media giant, driven by profit maximization, consistently errs on the side of technical choices that keeps users engaged, angry, and on the platform, often at an enormous societal cost. Haugen identified numerous harms associated with the company’s practices – privacy, the impact on children, misinformation, and algorithmic settings that often inflame rather than educate – and emphasized that there was a need to address these concerns through better regulation (notably transparency and privacy rules).

Haugen’s talk came to mind yesterday as Facebook released a blog post confirming that it had not been invited to appear before the Canadian Heritage committee studying Bill C-18, outlining its concerns, and making it clear that it was starting to think about the prospect of blocking news sharing in Canada:

faced with adverse legislation that is based on false assumptions that defy the logic of how Facebook works, we feel it is important to be transparent about the possibility that we may be forced to consider whether we continue to allow the sharing of news content in Canada. 

There will be much effort by the government and media lobby groups to paint Facebook as engaging in threatening tactics. These should be rejected because while there is a desperate need for legislative reforms to address some of Facebook’s harms, the harms from Bill C-18 also deserve attention. In the context of the bill, the real threat is not Facebook but a legislative process that has undermined democratic norms by blocking dozens of witnesses, threatening the free flow of information by payment for links, and rewarding some of Canada’s wealthiest companies such as Bell and leaving small media companies ineligible.

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October 22, 2022 4 comments News