Imagine you are making a big purchase and have hired a lawyer to negotiate the terms for you. You make your expectations known and your lawyer promises he can get everything you have requested. As part of the process, your lawyer goes into a backroom with the seller’s lawyer and agrees to all his terms, while achieving none of yours. The two suited men eventually emerge in a jovial manner and announce their meeting was successful. Your lawyer has the audacity to claim you got the best deal possible.
This is the scenario that just played out in the Canadian news sector.
When the federal government announced bill C-18, the Online News Act, the minister claimed it would rescue news in Canada by fixing “a commercial and power imbalance between tech giants and our news media sector.”
To equalise the playing field, META and Google would be forced to pay for sharing news links. The minister claimed more than $150 million would be generated for the Canadian news sector.
The Liberals touted it as the law that would “save” the news sector and provide greater access and choice to Canadians. The government claimed it would especially help local newspapers, independent outlets, and cultural media.
The response from tech giants ranged from bad to worse. META flat-out rejected the premise of the bill and pulled news links from Instagram and Facebook months ago.
Google threatened to do the same unless the government bent to the web giant’s terms: a maximum $100 million spend and one contract with a collective of news businesses of Google’s choosing.
In public, the government puffed its chest and refused to budge, but when Google dug in its feet, the government conceded and the two parties entered into a backroom deal.
On November 29th they emerged to announce their agreement. Notably, all of Google’s demands were granted.
So much for correcting the power imbalance caused by big tech.
First, it is important to point out that Google is not signing onto bill C-18. The government is granting the platform an exemption, which means bill C-18 is an absolute failure. The bill was meant to collect money from two platforms—META and Google. META walked away and Google is now exempted.
Second, Google demanded a maximum spend of $100 million and they got it.
Thirdly, Google demanded they would enter into only one contract with a collective of their choosing and the government caved. In other words, big tech will dictate which news outlets get support and which ones do not. Does that sound like holding big tech accountable or “leveling the playing field” to you?
The deal announced on Thursday is one that affirms big tech’s power, rather than “balancing it.”
And what about news outlets? How do they fair?
The government promised that bill C-18 would result in $150 million. They have come up $50 million short.
The government promised bill C-18 would protect local news. Instead, one-third of the money will go to the CBC, which already receives $1.4 billion from taxpayers, the next largest wad of cash will be split between Bell, Rogers, and Corus, and the small pittance left over will be divvyed up between newspapers and local or cultural media.
Does this sound like a win for local news to you?
The government promised protection for small news outlets and more choice in news for Canadians.
The government failed on all accounts.
Having emerged from the backroom, the government would like small, local, and cultural news outlets to sing its praises, as if victory has been achieved.
In fact, big government and big tech have colluded to save big broadcasters.