The federal government says it is looking at ways to make web giants pay for news content, even as Canadian media outlets continue to strike voluntary payment deals with Facebook.
On Tuesday, the Department of Canadian Heritage released a report on the best ways for online platforms such as Facebook to compensate media outlets for content. The report was based on recent consultations with broadcasters, community groups and publishers, including The Globe and Mail.
One of the report’s key findings is that there is a need for action to address the declining revenues of news organizations. But the report says there was no consensus among the consulted organizations on the legislative method by which to achieve that. Some preferred an approach that would lay out rules for negotiations between web giants and news outlets, while others preferred one that would make digital platforms pay a percentage of their Canadian revenue back into the news sector.
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The report comes a week after three news outlets, including The Globe, announced that they had joined the Facebook News Innovation Test, in which the social-media company pays publishers for the right to link to select news articles. A total of 17 Canadian news organizations are now participating in the program. The amounts of the payments have not been publicly disclosed.
There has been much controversy in recent years over the fact that Facebook and other web companies disseminate news without financially compensating publishers and broadcasters. Other countries, such as Australia, have also begun legislative changes that address the issue.
The Canadian Heritage report expresses skepticism that voluntary initiatives such as the Facebook News Innovation Test will be enough to permanently safeguard Canada’s news industry. “In the absence of regulatory oversight, it is difficult to determine whether agreements made on a voluntary basis meet the goals of a sustainable, fair and diverse news and information ecosystem for Canadians and the full protection of an independent, free press,” the report says.
Canadian Heritage on Tuesday started a new phase of consultations on this topic, in which it will seek input from the public and others affected by the country’s news media.
Paul Deegan, president and chief executive officer of News Media Canada, which advocates for media companies and journalists and was one of the organizations consulted by Canadian Heritage for the report, said he expects this consultation process to be followed up with clear government action. “We expect that there will be legislation introduced this fall,” he said. “It’s really a high priority. It’s urgent that this be dealt with.” (The Globe is a member of News Media Canada.)
Mr. Deegan said that Tuesday’s report shows the need for tools that let publishers negotiate fair deals with digital platforms, and that he’d like to see something similar to the Australian model be implemented in Canada. Australia passed legislation earlier this year that makes Google and Facebook pay for news content they use.
Regarding the deals Canadian media outlets have already struck with Facebook, Mr. Deegan said that many publishers and broadcasters still want collective negotiation, which should be possible with legislation. “It’s more advantageous to the publishers if we’re together,” he said.
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Conservative MP and Canadian Heritage critic Alain Rayes said in a statement that the government’s consultation process is not enough. “The Liberals have been saying since last fall that they were close to introducing legislation to level the playing field between Canadian media and tech giants like Google and Facebook who share and benefit from their content,” he said.
Alexandre Boulerice, an NDP MP and Canadian Heritage critic, also said he wants to see government action. “Instead of putting regulations in place to protect Canada’s media sector from being stamped out by web giants ... the Liberals have dragged their feet, making the crisis worse,” he said in a statement.
Earlier this year, Facebook faced backlash when it blocked news feeds in Australia in response to the country’s planned online-news regulations. Facebook was criticized by publishers and politicians for removing the feeds, and it later restored them after reaching a deal with the government.
“We’re continuing to invest in free products, programs and partnerships that offer value to publishers while bringing additional trusted journalism to Canadians on Facebook,” Alex Kucharski, a spokesperson for the company, said in a statement.
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