Canada Seeks To Address Facebook, Google Concern Over Online News Law

The Canadian government on Friday unveiled its proposed regulations for the controversial Online News Act, which has triggered a significant clash with both Meta Platforms and Alphabet.

The draft laws announced last Friday show the Canadian government is seeking to address Facebook and Google’s concerns, after a minister said it looked “forward to engaging with platforms in a constructive way” about how the legislation will be implemented.

This is potentially the first sign that the Canadian government is seeking to resolve its differences with the major tech platforms, after months of insisting Meta and Alphabet will have to comply with the new law.

Image credit: Facebook

Proposed regulations

On Friday Pascale St. Onge, Minister of Canadian Heritage, announced proposed regulations to implement the Online News Act, which became law in June and will be implemented in December.

The Canadian government said the proposed regulations provide clarity on which platforms are subject to the Act and greater certainty on what they need to do to obtain an exemption from the mandatory bargaining process.

To obtain an exemption, platforms must enter into agreements supporting the diverse production of Canadian news in communities across Canada, it said.. The total value of agreements must meet a certain threshold in order to qualify for an exemption.

The government said it welcomes the participation of businesses, academics, civil society and all Canadians. Following the public consultation, the final regulations will be published and then finalised, and after that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will be bound by the regulations.

“Canadians rely on digital platforms to access their news and information, but these tech platforms have to act responsibly and support the news sharing they and Canadians both benefit from,” said Pascale St-Onge, Minister of Canadian Heritage.

“The Online News Act requires these dominant platforms to bargain fairly with news businesses – both big and small. The consultation on the proposed regulations today helps to provide clarity for platforms and news organisations while opening a dialogue toward real results,” said Pascale St-Onge.

“I look forward to engaging with platforms in a constructive way,” he added “I believe we share the goal of ensuring quality access to information and news for Canadians. Tech giants can and must contribute their fair share – nothing more. Canadians expect a vibrant news landscape where we can get the facts when we need them.”

Blocking news

Meta’s Facebook however has said it would continue to block news in the country, which it began doing last month.

In response to Meta’s blocking of news, the Canadian government said it would halt advertising on Facebook and Instagram.

Google meanwhile has previously stated that Canada’s Online News Act “remains unworkable” and was much broader than similar legislation passed in Australia back in 2021. It said it will remove news links to Canadian news sites from its search and other products before the December deadline.

It should be remembered that the Australian government eventually agreed to change parts of its ‘media bargaining law’, after Facebook pulled all local and international news on its platforms (including Instagram) in Australia.

Both Google and Facebook have said the law is unworkable for their businesses.

Government frustration

Canadian government frustration at Meta’s move boiled over a couple of weeks ago, when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blasted Facebook for “putting corporate profits ahead of people’s safety” during the wildfire crisis in Canada.

Trudeau also said that Facebook’s move to block news content is “bad for democracy” in the long run.

But now it seems that the Canadian government is preparing to engage with Facebook and Google, but Facebook is not convinced.

“The regulatory process is not equipped to address the fundamentally flawed premise of the Online News Act … today’s proposed regulations will not impact our business decision to end news availability in Canada,” Rachel Curran, Meta Canada’s head of public policy, told Reuters in a statement.

A spokesperson for Google told Reuters the company was reviewing the proposed regulations “to assess whether they resolve the serious structural issues” with the law.

Reuters reported that Meta’s decision to block news links in Canada has had almost no impact on Canadians’ usage of Facebook, according to data from independent tracking firms.

If companies do not meet a payments threshold through voluntary deals, they may have to go through mandatory bargaining overseen by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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