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News Media Canada, the organization representing some of the country’s largest news organizations, is urging the federal government to accommodate Google’s specific concerns regarding Bill C-18, the Online News Act.

The legislation is scheduled to take effect Dec. 19, creating an urgent deadline in the showdown between Google and Ottawa.

The bill was inspired by a similar law in Australia and is aimed at encouraging large platforms such as Google and Facebook to strike licensing deals with publishers. Smaller publishers would be encouraged to bargain collectively in an effort to address power imbalances.

Google and Facebook have strongly opposed the bill, describing it as unworkable. Facebook has already removed Canadian news from its platform to avoid falling under the terms of the legislation.

Google responded to the government’s draft regulations Friday, raising a host of concerns. The company said it would follow through on plans to pull Canadian news entirely unless the final version of the regulations address its concerns. The company has also expressed skepticism that such issues can even be addressed through regulation. It has called on the government to bring in legislative amendments.

News Media Canada, which represents publishers such as The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, Postmedia and La Presse, has been urging all sides to reach an agreement through regulations. It said in a statement to The Globe that the government should address Google’s concerns through the final version of its regulations.

“Google’s submission is a welcome, clear, constructive, good faith articulation of legitimate concerns. We are in agreement with many of the issues they have raised,” said Paul Deegan, News Media Canada’s president and chief executive officer.

“We are aligned that there should be a firm ceiling, rather than a floor on financial liability. We also agree that eligible publishers must have an online presence, non-monetary measures such as training and product can be part of the remuneration, and parties need incentives to enter into negotiation, rather than holding out. We are ready to sit down and work through the detail of these issues before the regulations are finalized. Google plays an essential role in helping Canadians find trusted news sources, and we are confident there is a path forward for the company and publishers to continue what has been a mutually beneficial relationship for many years to come.”

The statement represents a significant olive branch from large publishers, who have generally been supportive of the government’s original proposals.

In its submission on Friday, Google Canada repeated its position that Bill C-18 is based on “a fundamentally flawed premise” that platforms such as Google are unfairly profiting from the sharing of news.

The company said the eligibility criteria for news businesses are “vague, expansive and often inconsistent, allowing some businesses to benefit even if they do not produce news content or adhere to journalistic standards.”

The draft regulations include exemption provisions in which, as in Australia, platforms could operate outside of the new rules if they independently strike agreements with publishers. But Google said these provisions are also too vague and broad.

“This is a fundamental difference between the act and the Australian News Media Bargaining Code,” Google said.

Furthermore, Google’s submission takes issue with the draft regulations for not setting financial limits on a platform’s obligations.

“We continue to have significant concerns that the core issues ultimately may not be solvable through regulations and that legislative changes may be necessary,” the company said.

A spokesperson for Google declined to comment Thursday on News Media Canada’s latest statement.

Ariane Joazard-Bélizaire, a spokesperson for Canadian Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge, said in a statement Thursday that the government continues to consult ahead of releasing the final rules.

“Thousands of journalists have lost their jobs and almost 500 of their news organizations have closed. Canadians expect global tech giants to pay their fair share for news,” she said. “We have continued to work with news organizations, tech giants, and Canadians on a reasonable and responsible path to that goal. Canadians need reliable news that gets them the facts when they need them most. We have always said we are open to constructive and good ideas to improve the regulations. We will continue to be at the table as we move toward releasing final regulations.”

Publishers representing smaller news outlets have been more critical of C-18, saying Facebook and Google are major sources of traffic and their pullout from Canadian news is potentially devastating.

Jeff Elgie, chief executive officer of Village Media Inc. which operates nearly 100 local web-based news outlets throughout Canada, has long said his preference would be for the government to scrap the legislation and start over.

However, he said in an interview that efforts by News Media Canada, which he is a part of, to bring Google on board are positive.

“It’s welcome news,” he said. “I wish that everyone had listened to some of these concerns earlier.”

Mr. Elgie said about a third of Village Media’s traffic comes from Google, while Meta drove about 17 per cent. He said he’s concerned that Ottawa seems to have given up on keeping Meta on board.

“Facebook in particular was an excellent tactic to launch new communities with. We’ve halted progress of any expansions because Meta is out,” he said. “We didn’t want these deals. We would rather just have the traffic the way it used to be, and that would have been great for us. But here we are.”

Friends, a non-profit organization that advocates in support of public broadcasting and Canadian journalism, took issue with the latest position of major publishers, saying they should not accommodate the demands of “a ruthless and hyper-competitive global tech giant.”

“While the companies that News Media Canada represents may be prepared to stand down, our government should not,” said spokesperson Sarah Andrews. “The future of Canadian journalism cannot be built on a foundation of fear and intimidation.”

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