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View Carolyn Bennett Profile
Lib. (ON)
moved that Bill C-18, An Act respecting online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
View Chris Bittle Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to ask for unanimous consent to split my time with the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer.
View Chris d'Entremont Profile
Do we have unanimous consent?
Some hon. members: No.
The Deputy Speaker: The hon. parliamentary secretary.
View Chris Bittle Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my Conservative friends. I guess they miss me. I am at home, participating online, and they do not want to hear me for 15 minutes. They want to hear me for the full 30.
I know they enjoy my speeches. I get a lot of feedback in real time. Unfortunately, I cannot hear that real-time feedback at the moment. I am sure they are listening attentively to what I have to say.
I appreciate the opportunity to add and—
View Chris d'Entremont Profile
Order. The hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou on a point of order.
View Sylvie Bérubé Profile
Mr. Speaker, there is no interpretation right now.
View Chris d'Entremont Profile
I will keep speaking in English and hope that the translation will come through.
View Chris Bittle Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, that is wonderful. It is unfortunate we lost that minute or so, but I guess that gives me even more time to speak to my Conservative friends who do not want to hear the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer, who is an hon. parliamentarian. It is disappointing. I am sure he will get an opportunity to speak going forward, but I thank my Conservative friends for allowing me to carry on and answer even more questions.
I would like to start my speech with a statement, and I hope all members agree with it: There is no real democracy without a free and independent press. A bankrupt press is not a free press. To play its fundamental role, the press needs revenue. This principle is at the core of Bill C-18, and it is at the core of our approach to supporting strong and independent journalism. What we are seeing now, more than ever, is just how important that is.
The way Canadians get their news has changed a lot. Many of us get our news through Google or Facebook, which is okay. There is nothing wrong with that, but the problem is that digital media platforms do not compensate media when they use their content. Advertising dollars have left Canadian media. In 2020, online advertising revenues in Canada were close to $10 billion, with Meta and Google taking 80% of those revenues.
The consequences for many Canadian businesses are dire. This is especially hurting Canadian media that rely on advertising to pay their journalists. Between 2008 and 2021, 450 news outlets closed across Canada. Let me repeat that: Canada now has 450 fewer news outlets, and it shows no signs of improving. Since the start of the pandemic, 64 news outlets have closed. This is a crisis.
In many regions, that means there are no more local media and no more journalists holding local governments and officials to account. Many Canadians have no way of knowing what is happening in their communities and no way of knowing what is happening at City Hall. The very foundations of our government are eroding. All this is at a time when disinformation is on the rise. Canadians need credible, independent and reliable information.
We have implemented concrete solutions to address these issues, and I would like to go through a couple of them. We created the Canadian journalism labour tax credit. This has kept many outlets afloat: many more would have gone bankrupt during the pandemic, leaving many communities without any local journalistic coverage. We created a tax credit for subscriptions and donations to media.
We increased funding to the Canada periodical fund, which many local media outlets had to rely on. We are even adding an additional $40 million to the budget in 2022. We created the local journalism initiative. Thanks to this program, many communities can count on journalistic equality and consistent access to local news. Without it, many communities would have absolutely zero coverage on the ground. These are all important steps, but we know there is more work to do.
We have heard loud and clear from the Canadian journalism industry that news businesses are struggling. They are in dire need of long-term, reliable and structural supports to continue producing the news that Canadians rely so heavily on. That is why we need tech giants to do their part, and that is why we need Bill C-18.
The compensation that tech giants would provide to Canadian media through Bill C-18 would represent a giant step in ensuring the viability of strong and independent journalism in Canada, which is essential to our democracy. That is what Bill C-18 would do. It is simple. Tech giants would fairly compensate Canadian journalists when they use their content. That is it: no more, no less.
It is a market-based solution that involves minimal government intervention, and I think everyone in this place can agree on that. I am sure my Conservative colleagues will be very happy. They believe in the free market and independent journalism. I really cannot think of anything in this bill that they would not like.
As I said, Bill C-18 is a market-based approach designed to revolve around bargaining and balance between large, dominant digital platforms and news businesses. It would ensure that eligible news businesses are fairly compensated for their content by digital platforms through negotiated deals. The bill incentivizes parties to reach commercial agreements on their own.
It is based on the Australian model, but we made it more transparent. Public and transparent criteria would determine which platform is included and has to negotiate with Canadian media. It is not a minister and not a government. Every step of the way, we would make sure that the government stays as far away as possible from this process.
Digital platforms would be designated under the act. If they had a significant bargaining power imbalance compared with news businesses, they would be required to negotiate with eligible news businesses a fair compensation for the news content that appears on their services.
Again, this is not the government that determines which outlet is eligible. There are criteria. They are written in black and white in the bill. It is as transparent as it gets.
I hope my colleagues are listening carefully. I am sure they are, because they wanted me to go on for an additional 10 minutes. The next part of this speech is important, because the bill is important to smaller local media as well.
Eligible media may collectively bargain if they wish. This would allow smaller media outlets that did not have the resources to single-handedly negotiate with tech giants to still receive fair compensation for the use of their content. In other words, we are ensuring that local journalism can continue to thrive in communities across Canada.
We went even further on transparency, because we believe this is essential to preserve public confidence in Canadian journalism and in our democracy. Every single deal would be disclosed. Canadians would know which news organizations have deals with each and every platform. Through this bill, we are making sure that commercial agreements between digital platforms and news businesses are in the public interest.
For the deals to be acceptable, they need to satisfy six criteria.
First, they provide fair compensation for news content.
Second, they ensure that an appropriate portion of the compensation will be used for the production of local, regional and national news content.
Third, they do not undermine freedom of expression and journalistic integrity.
Fourth, they contribute to the sustainability of the news market.
Fifth, they ensure that a significant portion of independent local news businesses benefit from the deals.
Sixth, they involve a range of news outlets that reflect the diversity of the Canadian news marketplace.
Again, we see the criteria are public and transparent. There is minimal government intervention.
The bill even contains an exemption to this. It contains a set of criteria that, if fulfilled, may exempt digital platforms from further negotiations. This is essential to encourage voluntary commercial agreements to further minimize government involvement. To be exempt, digital platforms would have to show that they sufficiently contribute to the Canadian digital news marketplace by reaching fair commercial agreements, that they have an appropriate portion of compensation used to support local and independent news, that the agreements are inclusive and made with a diversity of news businesses representing a diversity of Canadian interests and identities, and that the agreements support innovative business models. As we can see, this is another way to make sure that local media also receive fair compensation. It is at the core of the bill.
Without this legislation, Canadian journalism and democracy will continue to erode. It is already happening as we speak. Bill C-18 would ensure that digital platforms are negotiating fair commercial deals with news businesses. This is not just about large news businesses, as I clearly demonstrated through the availability of collective bargaining. As a criteria for the exemption, this bill would ensure that small businesses also receive fair compensation.
This bill would limit government involvement and protect the independence of media from both government and commercial interference, because now, more than ever, Canadians need strong and independent journalism.
The Conservatives have told us they want market-based solutions to the media crisis. I agree, and we agree, but right now there are two companies, Google and Meta, that get 80% of the ad revenue on the Internet. It does not feel like it is a free market. There is not much competition. It is almost a monopoly, but with our bill Canadian media would have the tools they need to negotiate fair deals. It is a solution that protects media and protects their independence.
We are basing this on the Australian model. I know when a similar bill came out in Australia, Facebook, or Meta, attempted to have a fight with the Australian government and threatened to pull all of the country's news sources from Facebook. It thought it would turn the Australian people against their government, but what it did was turn them against Facebook, which backed down.
We have seen other countries and other allies of Canada move in this direction. We have an understanding and we have full knowledge. Again, I hope all members support our need to have strong independent journalism to help our democracy. Australia created a model that works. The tech giants have negotiated fair deals with Australian media outlets, including Australian Crown corporations. Journalism there is now stronger. Australian democracy is now stronger. It worked in Australia, and it will work in Canada.
I think that is what we want. I truly hope that this will be a speedy debate and that all parties will come together on this, because that is what we want to see. I am sure there are members in this House who do not like that there are local news outlets that hold them to account, but that is what strengthens our democracy.
I know the Conservatives have been very vocal on our committee, and I respect that, talking about the Shaw-Rogers merger and its impact on local news. We have had some very good discussion on that. Because there is a potential impact on a number of local television stations and local news across the country, I hope that concern goes broader. The merger is an excellent discussion, a discussion worth having, but this is the elephant in the room, in terms of ad revenues that have left, ad revenues that are going away from local news organizations and going to massive American companies, the dominant digital players. Again, 80% of that revenue goes to those two companies. It does not seem like we could have a healthy space, and this concerns me.
We see the consequences of misinformation and disinformation online. The types of things that local media and national media outlets do are to get the truth out, but on Facebook and other social media, we do not see that impact. To see the safety of the hon. leader of the NDP threatened because of individuals who have now become subsumed in the disinformation that social media has to offer is horrific. It was frightening to watch, and it was disappointing to see. No member of this place should have to go through that. He handled it with poise, and I tip my hat to him, but none of us should be placed in that position.
I will wrap up by saying that this is a significant bill for Canadians, for democracy. We need to find ways to strengthen that. I look forward to getting this to committee as quickly as possible. We have excellent debates in the heritage committee and we have a very good working relationship with all parties. There is an appreciation across all the parties that we need to do more for local media and we need to do more for national media to ensure that that presence continues to exist.
I hope that we see broad support on Bill C-18, and I look forward to its passing speedily at second reading so that we can get it to committee as quickly as we can.
View Chris d'Entremont Profile
I do not know if we always go to the first one standing, but the hon. member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan beat everyone to it.
Questions and comments, the hon. member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan.
View Garnett Genuis Profile
Mr. Speaker, I have just a simple question for the parliamentary secretary about the discussion around spreading misinformation and disinformation.
Is “spreading misinformation” simply a fancy way of saying “telling a lie”? Does it mean the same thing as telling a lie, or does it mean something different?
View Chris Bittle Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, I am not sure what the hon. member is getting at. Misinformation and disinformation are endemic on social media platforms. It is much broader than telling a lie. I do not know that I can encompass that in a very brief answer to the hon. member. I think he knows that. I think he knows that we are having difficulty as a society acknowledging what is truthful.
We could take a look at what has happened on COVID-19 and the anti-vax movement. We could take a look at climate change and see the misinformation and disinformation out there, when there is scientific consensus on those types of issues. There is no check against it, seemingly, on Meta, Twitter, Google and other companies, so we are going to rely more heavily on local journalism and national journalism, the media in general, to ensure that Canadians have access to accurate information.
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
Mr. Speaker, we have been waiting for this bill, along with the broadcasting bill, for several years. In this case, it is about levelling the playing field so that the print media can thrive in a media landscape dominated by the omnipresence of new technology.
Does the parliamentary secretary think this bill will actually enable the print media to thrive in today's context?
View Chris Bittle Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question from the hon. member. We need to start levelling the playing field somewhere. This is an excellent start.
This deal is already in place between major media companies in Canada and Facebook and Google. It is time to ensure that there is more transparency. It is time to ensure that smaller entities will be able to get a fair deal as well. This will help level the playing field. The argument that we are making on Bill C-11 is an important argument that we are making on Bill C-18 as well.
We need to get this bill to committee and through the House as quickly as possibly, because, as we said, more media outlets are closing. We are in a crisis. We need to do what we can, and this is a model that works.
View Mark Gerretsen Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, the highlight of my morning was when I found out that the parliamentary secretary was going to be speaking longer than he wanted to.
I think of a news outlet in my riding. It is called the Kingstonist. It actually just came online, probably within the last 10-12 years, and over the years it has gradually built a larger and larger base of followers. The only way it generates income right now is if people subscribe to the service or if people end up on its website, where it can generate money from ad revenue. However, we know that the majority of people who look at its news content are seeing it on Facebook or perhaps on Google, and it is at a huge disadvantage when it comes to the distribution of its material.
I wonder if the parliamentary secretary could comment on how he thinks this bill would help an organization such as the Kingstonist in my riding.
View Chris Bittle Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member, as always, for his informative questions and his hard work on the file. It is important. News outlets like the one the hon. member mentioned are fundamental to our democratic institutions. Here in St. Catharines, on the few occasions I have had to attend local city council meetings, there may or may not have been one or two members of the local media there, but we need as many people as possible there holding elected officials to account.
In Kingston, it is fundamentally important to do the same thing. Organizations like the one the hon. member mentioned will benefit across the country, to ensure that they have the ad revenue and that dominant digital players are not syphoning off the vast majority of ad revenue, which they have been doing and which is the centre of the crisis we find ourselves in.
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