Online News Act Aims to Formalize Support for “Made in Canada” News

On Tuesday, April 5, 2022, Ottawa announced plans to pass a new bill that aims to enhance fairness in the Canadian digital news marketplace and contributes to the sustainability of independent local news businesses. IAB Canada has been concerned with “Made in Canada” news over the past few years as we’ve seen a significant increase in consumption of these channels without the expected increase in investment by advertisers to match the larger platforms that often leverage Canadian news content. While platforms have invested significant resources into negotiations with publishers directly, the bill looks to formalize the process and level the playing field with some oversight. Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriquez declared that “Right now the health and future of the news industry – especially local news – are at risk” and “with this bill we are seeking to address the market imbalance.”  

Bill C-18, also known as the “Online News Act”, if passed will set up a process for digital intermediaries to privately negotiate deals with newspapers, magazines, and digital news groups, as well as broadcasters that publish news online. Digital intermediaries are defined as online communications platforms, including search engines or social media services, that are subject to the legislative authority of Parliament and that makes news content produced by news outlets available to persons in Canada. 

Any deals that are already in place (there are a substantial number) will need to be presented and approved by the Feds so that they can be assessed for fairness and to add a layer of transparency to the bargaining process. If the parties cannot reach a deal within six months, the tech platforms will be forced into mediation with news outlets. If that doesn’t work, then binding arbitration. Digital platforms that fail to comply with the new law could face penalties of up to $15 million per day for repeated non-compliance. This Bill was drafted after substantial stakeholder consultation where Heritage received over 46 written responses and it will be up to the CRTC to determine which outlets will actually qualify to get a piece of the pie. 

Agreements will be evaluated to ensure the following criteria are met: 

  • they provide for fair compensation to the news businesses for the news content that is made available by the intermediary 
  • they ensure that an appropriate portion of the compensation will be used by the news businesses to support the production of local, regional and national news content, 
  • they do not allow corporate influence to undermine the freedom of expression and journalistic independence enjoyed by news outlets 
  • they contribute to the sustainability of the Canadian news marketplace 
  • they ensure a significant portion of independent local news businesses benefit from them, they contribute to the sustainability of those businesses and they encourage innovative business models in the Canadian news marketplace 
  • they involve a range of news outlets that reflect the diversity of the Canadian news marketplace, including diversity with respect to language, racialized groups, Indigenous communities, local news and business models; and 
  • any condition set out in regulations made by the Governor in Council. 

In a time of mistrust and disinformation, IAB Canada supports any effort to ensure that credible journalism has a voice. While many strides have already been taken by platforms to compensate local pubs, this bill formalizes efforts and will hopefully work to strengthen the relationships between local publishers and global platforms while ensuring a strong, and truthful journalistic voice in Canada.  

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