Madam Speaker, 50 years ago there were metal boxes on city street corners where, for 25¢, one could buy a newspaper. Each box had a window showing the top half of the front page if it was a broadsheet and the whole page if it was a tabloid. If one wanted to read anything more, one had to put a quarter in the box and remove a copy of the paper. In our cities, it was common to find three or four such boxes for competing newspapers on the same corners of the downtown of any city. Those newspaper boxes are, for the most part, long gone as the nature of the news business has changed.
Home delivery, one of the mainstays of the newspaper industry, has declined drastically. These days, most people get their news online. The news industry has changed in how news is gathered and changed in how it is delivered to consumers. Gone are the days where most people subscribe to home delivery for the morning and the afternoon.
For those in the news media, the challenge has always been to provide a public service while ensuring sufficient revenue to continue their function. Canadian journalists and publishers have always risen to that challenge.
This is not the first time technology has upended the news industry. As television became popular in the 1950s, many feared the end of print publication or journalism. Newspapers survived the challenge posed by this new medium by concentrating on in-depth reporting, which television, with its constraints, could not do. Quality journalism was still possible back then.
One could say that Google and other search engines function today as the newspapers did in the 1970s. They show the headlines but not the whole story. They provide a link for people to click on. Facebook, the other online giant the Liberals seem to be most concerned about, does the same thing. Providing a link that allows people to access and use websites could be considered by some to be a public service or an aid to the news industry. If people want to read the full article, they have to follow the rules set by the news organizations that publish it.
In the early days of the Internet, many news organizations placed their material online free for anyone who wanted to read it. Most of those now allow limited access to non-subscribers. In some ways, one could argue that the news industry should be paying the tech companies for attracting readers to their articles or their content.
Facebook and Google sell advertising on their websites and have lots of advertisements. Perhaps some of that might have gone to other media in the past. Given the way the Liberals think, it is possible and only natural that the government wants to intervene in what would be a private commercial industry.
Canada's Conservatives believe that the Canadian news media should be fairly compensated for the use of its content by platforms like Google and Facebook. The issue here is how that should happen and what should be the role of government, if any, in the process.
Media companies could inform Google and Facebook that linking to their news sites is no longer allowed and that breaking that rule without permission would be a copyright violation. Media companies deserve compensation for their work, and some have negotiated agreements with the tech companies for the online use of their content, which has me wondering why government feels the need to intervene.
The government, which has in the past shown its willingness to give taxpayer dollars to the news industry, does not seem to understand the difference between public and private. One would think that a billion dollars a year to the CBC would be enough to exempt it from receiving more money under the bill, but it is not.
This is flawed legislation. It seems as if this government has taken a worthy idea, which ensures that Canada has a healthy, free and vibrant press, and brought in a bill for which the ramifications have not been considered.
Why is the CRTC being given oversight? Despite what some Liberals may think, the Internet is not broadcasting. Print media are definitely not broadcasters. Where is the logic in asking the CRTC to oversee something when it neither has the expertise or the resources to do so? Is this all about building a new bureaucracy? Indeed it is.
The online news act is supposed to protect the struggling Canadian news industry. How could anyone disagree with such a noble purpose? Would this bill solve any problems, or would it create new ones? How would fair compensation be determined? Who would be compensated under this act and who would be excluded? Why should a government agency be making such determinations?
The tech giants have widened the reach of Canada's news organizations by bringing their materials to the attention of the people who might not otherwise know of them. I am sure this increased audience has been beneficial to all sides. Mechanisms already exist through which media can be compensated by those using their materials. We have a Copyright Act. Some companies have come to an agreement with the tech giants, so why is more government needed?
There is no need for this bill, except that the Liberals love to meddle in things that do not concern them at all. What other areas does the government wish to shove itself into rather than letting companies work out their own agreements?
If these technology companies feel there is value in linking to Canadian news organizations, why can they not negotiate contracts without government interference? If Canadians are turning to these tech companies for news, then the companies need to find a way to provide content. Short of starting their own news organizations, which strikes me as an unlikely possibility, they have to turn to existing news organizations. If they find value there, they will pay for it. It is very simple.
This bill defines a news outlet as “an undertaking or any distinct part of an undertaking, such as a section of a newspaper, the primary purpose of which is to produce news content”. It is a very nice definition. Those words, however, do not reflect reality. This is a dispute about money, pure and simple.
Producing news content may be the goal of those in the newsroom, those seeking to produce quality journalism for the public good. It may even be why a given publication was first founded, but is not the reason for its existence. The reality is that news outlets, like the big tech companies, exist to make money. This bill is about who gets the biggest slice of the advertising pie, pure and simple.
If news organizations perform a service by keeping the public informed about important issues, that is, in many ways, only a by-product of the business. Those running news organizations are rarely, if ever, journalists themselves. If news organizations thought they could make as much or more money by publishing only chocolate cake recipes, they would do so. Let us not delude ourselves into thinking otherwise.
Bill C-18 is flawed and probably unnecessary legislation, which puts it in line with the rest of the current government's legislative agenda.