The Online News Act, which would compel tech titans to share advertising revenues with Canadian media outlets, has been welcomed by CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon, but with some major caveats.
Following a technical briefing on Bill C-18 after it was tabled in the House of Commons in early April, O’Hanlon said the Act would benefit media organizations, both private and public, including the CBC, which employs thousands of CWA Canada members.
However, “we are concerned about a lack of safeguards on several important issues that we raised in our submission to the government last year,” he said.
Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said Bill C-18 would require tech giants like Google and Facebook “to make fair commercial deals with outlets for the news and information that is shared on their platforms.”
Media outlets of any size would be able to bargain collectively to level the playing field and have recourse to final offer arbitration. Online advertising revenues in Canada were almost $10 billion in 2020, with two digital platforms taking in 80 per cent of that. It’s a market imbalance the legislation aims to correct.
Noting that almost 450 news outlets have closed since 2008 and a third of Canadian journalism jobs have disappeared, the news release said the bill “supports a free, independent press and contributes to the sustainability of the digital news marketplace and the production of local, regional and national news content.”
O’Hanlon said he was concerned about what’s missing in the legislation. There do not appear to be adequate (or any) provisions in the Act that would require companies to:
- Ensure quality journalism by maintaining decent staffing levels;
- Guarantee no layoffs if they make a profit;
- Guarantee no off-shoring of work;
- Meet employment standards, including the ILO’s Decent Work agenda;
- Ensure workforce diversity;
- Limit executive compensation and payments to owners / debt holders (Postmedia pays millions of dollars to its executives and tens of millions to its vulture-fund debt holders while collecting millions in taxpayer subsidies).
Bill C-18 is at second reading stage in the House and has yet to go to committee for hearings.