Wanderings – Google deal for news just the first step

After months of negotiations it was announced last week that the Canadian government and Google had reached an agreement to have the online search engine giant pay towards the creation of Canadian News. This deal is a result of the looming implementation of Bill C-18, The Online News Act.

The Act was passed to compel or force large online companies like Meta (parent of Facebook and Instagram) along with Alphabet (parent of Google) to pay news organizations for the news they distribute on their platforms.

The terms of the deal are not fully released but essentially Google will pay about $100 million per year, which will be distributed to newspapers and other news organizations. It’s a win of sorts, but in many ways only the first step of a larger solution.

Bill C-18 is an imperfect piece of legislation. There are gaps in what qualifies as a news organization. Many independent and small outlets don’t qualify for any support in deals made with online companies. The legislation is similar to that which was passed in Australia. Most of the money received in that country is split between three big chains – with few funds making their way to local journalism.

Meta executives decided in August to stop allowing Canadian news on their platforms for Canadian users, rather than negotiate a deal. For large and small companies alike that relied on a person posting or sharing an article, this has been detrimental. Online-only organizations that relied on Facebook to get their news shared have seen their traffic cut upwards of 75 per cent. Few companies had the resources available to pivot.

The deal with Google will see a large influx of money go into a sagging industry that has been decimated by brutal cuts. Many of these cuts have been prompted by corporate greed, hedge fund debt grabs, and an inability to transition to the internet while maintaining a positive revenue stream. Last week’s announcement is a first step, but there is much more needed to support news in Canada.

The closure of 70 Metroland papers in communities across Ontario has created information vacuums. Information free-for-alls in areas where no newspapers remain has led to the rumour mill being the only source of news. One example in the Ottawa news last week was Smiths Falls – where its newspaper was one of the 70 axed. The disappearance of three residents has set the rumour mill on fire. Again this was reported in Ottawa by an Ottawa paper, because the now closest newspapers are in Westport, Brockville, or Ottawa – all at least 50 kilometres away from Smiths Falls!

One of the next steps needed, and it can be included with this monetary contribution from Google, is to breath life back into media deserts. The need for credible and believable reporting in areas that are devoid of it is clear.

Another step, and this is not related directly to C-18, is to reform the CBC. The organization has a national TV network, two national radio networks, and several web and streaming options.

Owned by the government (us), the CBC receives significant taxpayer subsidies and also competes against private broadcasters for TV ads. It also competes against online companies for web advertising, and has a subscription “ad free” service for its stream ing platform. Advertising on the CBC should be eliminated except for public service announcements.

On CBC’s radio and TV networks, there should be no American commercial programs, or Canadian clones of American shows. We don’t need to see Gerry Dee host a Canadian Family Feud – and the CBC shouldn’t be paying licencing fees to do so. We don’t need to hear American radio shows in Canadian prime-time listening hours. Canada’s public broadcaster should be focused on telling Canadian stories.

Changes to the CBC should not necessarily include cutting jobs. Announced this week however are 600 job losses and another 200 vacancies not being filled at the public broadcaster.

Not having the CBC receive tax dollars and also compete for commercial ad dollars will put more money back into the system to help the big companies. And having Google sign on to support Canadian media will hopefully help all boats float a bit better in the Canadian media universe.

A great step anyone can take is to support their local newspaper and buy a subscription. And if they own a business, buy an ad. Newspapers are part of the community and are missed when they are gone.

This column was originally published in the December 6, 2023 print edition of The Morrisburg Leader.