The debate on Senate amendments to Bill C-11 continued in the House of Commons yesterday, with hours devoted to MPs from all parties claiming misinformation by their counterparts. There were no shortage of head-shaking moments: MPs that still don’t know that CraveTV is not a foreign streaming service, references to Beachcombers as illustrations of Cancon, comparisons to China that go beyond the reality of the bill, calls for mandated cultural contributions from TikTok even as the government bans the app, and far too much self-congratulation from MPs claiming to have done great work on the bill when the Senate review demonstrated its inadequacy. But buried amongst those comments were several notable moments that illustrated the reality and risks of Bill C-11.
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The Bill C-18 Fallout: Liberal MP Lisa Hepfner Equates Linking to News Articles on Facebook to Theft
Last month, Liberal MP Lisa Hepfner shocked Canadian online news outlets by stating that “they’re not news.They’re not gathering news. They’re publishing opinion only.” The comments sparked instant criticism from news outlets across the country, leading Hepfner to issue a quick apology. In the aftermath of the comments, Hepfner said nothing for weeks at Heritage committee studying Bill C-18. That bill passed third reading yesterday – I posted on the embarrassing legislative review – and Hepfner was back at it. Rather than criticizing online news outlets, this time she targeted the Internet platforms, saying the bill would make it “harder for big digital platforms like Facebook and Google to steal local journalists’ articles and repost them without credit.”
How the Government Is Using Bill C-18 to Pick Media Winners and Losers
Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez’s claim that Bill C-18, the Online News Act, was a hands-off approach was never really credible, but the clause-by-clause review of the bill has taken the government picking media winners and losers to another level. It was always readily apparent that the bill represents an unprecedented government intervention into the Canadian media sector with the extensive power wielded by the CRTC as it sets regulations and the ground rules for the mandatory arbitration process. Further, the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s estimate on the benefits that might arise from the bill – hundreds of millions of dollars of which more than 75% would go to broadcasters such as Bell, Rogers and the CBC – provided a reminder that there was big money involved of which relatively little would go to the newspaper sector.
In recent weeks, however, the government’s role in picking winners and losers has become even more pronounced. Liberal MP Lisa Hepfner’s ill-advised comment that online news outlets weren’t real news was rightly criticized (leading to an apology and near total silence from Hepfner ever since) but skeptics feared she was merely saying the quiet part out loud since the reality of Bill C-18 is that it is the lobbying product of large media outlets, who are set up as the prime beneficiaries.
Dismissing Digital News Outlets: Liberal MP Claims Online News Services Don’t Report News
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: