Canadian media are calling on the government to bail out the industry with new measures to curb big tech
Canadian news media organizations, who say they are being bled to death by tech companies like Google and Facebook, have urged the government to follow Australia’s lead and take strong new measures to save the industry.
On Thursday, News Media Canada, a lobby group that represents major print and digital publishers like Torstar, released a report calling on the federal government to join forces to negotiate with tech giants and impose a code of conduct for “web monopolies.” And enforce this code with high financial sanctions.
This model would help the warring industries adopt the “monopoly practices” of American tech giants and level the playing field for taxpayers without the need for new user fees or subsidies, the organization said.
Read more from the Star’s Defanging Big Tech series Here.
Media companies would form a collective bargaining agreement, with government approval, to negotiate compensation for the use of their content and intellectual property by Google and Facebook, which, according to the organization, currently generate around 80 percent of digital advertising revenue in Canada.
“Right now, media companies are forced to obey their rules and they can pay us what they want. We want to end a monopoly abuse of power, ”said Jamie Irving, vice president of Brunswick News Publishing and chairman of the News Media Canada working group.
The Canadian non-compete clause currently prohibits the media from forming a negotiating bloc. Therefore, legislative changes would be necessary so that they can negotiate together with the technology giants.
Irving oversaw the report, Leveling the Digital Playing Field, released Thursday, which examined how different countries have tried to cope with the challenges posed by the dominance of web giants in digital advertising.
“The Australian model was clearly the best model for Canada,” said Irving. “Our two countries are similar in many ways.”
In addition to allowing the country’s news media to form a unit of collective bargaining, Australia is working on a legally binding code of conduct to ensure tech companies do not seek to build market dominance and anti-competitive pricing. Those who break the rules would be fined hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Enforcement would have teeth,” said Irving.
Proponents have long argued that Canadian publishing laws – written primarily for the pre-digital era – are out of date.
In a brief statement, a spokesman for Facebook Canada said the report misrepresents how some of the company’s products work and is ready to work towards a solution.
“News organizations in Canada post their content on Facebook to reach potential subscribers, monetize their content, and sell more advertising. There are many ways to address these complex issues and we want to work with news publishers and the government to find a solution, ”said Meg Sinclair, director of communications for Facebook Canada.
News Media Canada represents publications that reach more than 90 percent of the Canadian news media readership through daily, regional, community, and ethno-cultural news releases.
Its members include Torstar, which publishes the Toronto Star, Glacier Media, Black Press, Postmedia, Globe and Mail, La Presse, Quebecor, and Brunswick News.
Irving hopes the proposal will gain broad support from both parties in Ottawa.
Last month, the federal speech from the throne announced that Canada would pass a new law requiring companies like Facebook and Google to pay for the stories, music and videos they get from other sources and post online.
“Web giants are taking Canadians’ money and setting their own priorities. Things have to change and will change, ”said Governor General Julie Payette’s speech.
“The government will ensure that their revenues are more fairly shared with our creators and media, and they will also be encouraged to help create, produce and distribute our stories on screen, in text, in music and in writing.”
Clarification – October 22, 2020: This article was edited from a previous version to clarify that Google and Facebook control 80 percent of digital ad revenue in Canada, according to the report.
With files by Moira Welsh and Alex Boutillier
Joanna Chiu is a Vancouver-based reporter who covers both Canada-China relations and current affairs on the west coast for the star. Follow her on Twitter: @joannachiu