Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says there are no plans to require news outlets to obtain government licences to operate.
Mr. Trudeau made the comments in Question Period on Monday in response to concerns raised by the Opposition Conservatives that a federally appointed panel was recommending that the government regulate the news industry.
“I want to be unequivocal: We will not impose licensing requirements on news organizations nor will we regulate news content,” Mr. Trudeau said in the House of Commons.
The Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review, released last week, urged a sweeping overhaul of the rules that govern broadcast and internet regulation. One section of the report included a number of recommendations on how the government could help news outlets that have been under financial pressure because of declining ad revenue and new digital competitors.
Janet Yale, the chair of the panel that wrote the report, said the new proposed regulations are targeted at platforms such as Facebook that allow for the sharing of news content produced by others. Those platforms earn large revenues from advertising, without directing that money back to the creators of the content.
The panel recommended that those kinds of sites should register with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and pay into a fund that would support news organizations.
Ms. Yale said it was similar to another recommendation from the panel that services such as Netflix that are available in Canada be required to direct a certain amount of their spending on Canadian productions.
She said news outlets that show “journalistic independence” and produce their own stories should be exempted from any registration or licensing requirements.
“We wanted to recommend measures that would address that financial crisis in the industry," Ms. Yale said in an interview. "That was the focus of our recommendations. It has nothing to do with regulating news or determining what sources of news people can have access to.”
She said an organization’s content and editorial views should not factor into whether they are considered a “news” organization, and that the CRTC, which already licenses broadcasters, would be best placed to decide whether an outlet is practising journalism.
Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said the government is studying the panel’s recommendations and is still considering which to adopt. The government is expected to table legislation on the topic by the end of the year.
The Liberal government announced in 2018 it would introduce $595-million of measures to help news organizations, such as a tax credit to offset labour costs.
The Opposition Conservatives said the prospect of licensing media companies was “Orwellian.”
“There should be no restrictions on freedom of speech or freedom of the press,” Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner said in the House.