By Janessa Bishop
Canada’s Online News Act (the Act), also known as Bill C-18, has been making headlines over the past few months since it was first tabled back in June 2022. The Act would require companies like Google and Meta to compensate news outlets when making their content available across their platforms. When the Act passed in the House of Commons in December 2022, it sparked a heated debate between tech giants, the media, and government. Here’s what you need to know about the Act and its potential impacts.
What is the Online News Act?
The Online News Act seeks to level the playing field and compensate Canadian media outlets for their content when it is used across websites and platforms owned by large companies like Google and Meta. According to the Liberal government, the Act would help strengthen the industry, which has experienced significant declines in advertising revenue, and provide greater access to fact-based news. Overseen by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), companies that do not comply with the Act would be hit with severe monetary penalties (up to $15 million).
Unsurprisingly, the Act has come under scrutiny from both Google and Meta, who argue that the broad definition of journalism will make it more difficult for Canadians to access and share credible news, and potentially favour certain news outlets over others. Google has started testing ways of blocking Canadian news content in response to the Act and Meta has threatened to block Canadian news content from Facebook entirely. This is something the company pulled in reaction to similar legislation that was passed in Australia in 2021.
Much of the Act is inspired by Australia’s legislation, and the government is looking to learn from the country’s missteps. While Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code allowed major publications to negotiate with Google and Meta, many small and medium-sized outlets did not secure agreements. As a result, Canada’s Act has already been amended to increase support for Indigenous news and independent and non-profit journalism, to ensure that diverse voices and communities are appropriately represented.
How will this impact how I consume news?
While much of this remains to be seen, the Act will likely impact how news is shared across digital platforms. For example, if Canada’s larger news outlets secure a deal with Meta, it’s possible you may begin to see more news from these outlets on your feed, and less news from smaller, independent news organizations.
. Critics have also shared that the Act will harm digital innovation and growth, and restrict freedom of expression by policing how information is shared and accessed online.
The intents of Bill C-18 are commendable, and given the precarious state of journalism, this is a much-needed change to help support the people who provide credible, unbiased news that shapes our decision-making. However, it’s going to be a delicate balancing act between ensuring that news outlets are fairly compensated, without restricting the freedoms of the Internet.