Canada vs. Big Tech – Elizabeth May and Sandy Crawley

The following article was originally published in The Hill Times on October 25, 2023.

Meta (formerly Facebook) is playing hardball on Bill C-18 (the Online News Act). It is clear that the digital giants require regulation in more ways than one. They are pushing against it, slow-walking while they continue to reap obscene profits and scrape our personal data for re-sale to advertisers. The same goes for Google, although they seem open to a reasonable compromise as opposed to Meta who are willing to starve Canadian news media into submission. It has come down to brass tacks: the CRTC draft regulations. We think there is a way forward that can mitigate our apparent dependency on these social media giants who are doing so much to damage our information ecology (Bell, Postmedia and Torstar have recently eliminated many positions in their news divisions and we have lost 482 local newspapers). Meta made a deal with Australia but it seems that Canada is too close to home what with the FCC in the United States is breathing down their neck they have drawn a red line. We Greens think it is incumbent on Canada to show some grit and cross it. The world is definitely watching.

The proposed regulations will see approximately $230 (CDN) million of the big tech ad revenues redistributed annually to Canadian news media through a formula based on the number of journalists they employ. This is pocket change for these tech giants. Ad spending in the digital advertising market is projected to reach $14.91 Billion (USD) in 2023. The largest market is search advertising with a market volume of $7.34 Billion (USD) in 2023. We think most Canadians will agree that requiring these companies to support Canadian journalism in this context is reasonable.

That said, the GPC does see the need for a major adjustment to the proposed regulations. We suggest that the CBC/Radio Canada be removed as recipients. This would free up a good percentage of the funds to be allocated to private sector news media including local non-profit newspapers and community broadcasters and web sites that are so vital to the informed decisions of Canadians on all kinds of issues including their safety when wildfires and floods occur which, alas, have become more frequent with the advent of climate change.

This removal of CBC/Radio Canada must be accompanied by an additional allocation of federal funding to the public broadcaster that will allow our public broadcaster to forgo ad revenue. This would be a boon to our private sector media. We suggest that the CRTC develop a formula that is weighted in favour of the truly independent press as opposed to the large corporate media players, several of whom already have deals with Meta and Google.

Fully public, advertising-free ,news services from Radio Canada and CBC, radio and television, should expand their local and regional coverage to increase Canadians’ access to information.

A properly funded CBC/Radio Canada will also provide public bulletin board functions as in the past to strengthen communities outside the major urban centres. The goal should be to provide Canadians with an alternative to what FaceBook, now Meta has offered, one that does not operate to steal private information, capitalize on that invasion of privacy nor undermine local journalism.

C-18 is not a panacea to the social ills that the tech giants have exacerbated. We are eager to see the government’s long promised bill to confront on-line hate. Likewise the promised copyright reform.

In the mean time, let’s keep working in the public interest to protect Canadian journalism.

Elizabeth May is an MP and GPC co- leader.

Sandy Crawley is the GPC shadow cabinet co-critic for Heritage, Arts & Culture