Skip to main content

Liberal MPs introduced a change to the wording of the online news bill to insulate the CBC, a move that the NDP said would protect the broadcaster if there were cuts to its public funding by a future Tory government.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Kremlin-backed news outlets such as RT and Sputnik will be barred from being compensated by tech giants under Ottawa’s online news bill, after an amendment by the Liberals, who also acted Tuesday to underpin the future eligibility of the CBC for payments from Google and Facebook.

Liberal MPs introduced a change to the wording of the online news bill to insulate the CBC, a move that the NDP said would protect the broadcaster if there were cuts to its public funding by a future Tory government.

The Conservatives tried to strike the CBC from the list of news groups eligible for compensation from tech giants saying that it has already received more than $1-billion in taxpayer subsidies and would get the lion’s share of compensation from tech giants when the bill goes through.

Bill C-18 is designed to help Canadian news organizations, which have seen advertising revenue migrate to tech platforms, by making Google and Facebook compensate them for reusing articles or broadcast content or posting links to them.

On Tuesday, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather successfully pushed through an amendment to stop state-sponsored broadcasters from Russia getting compensation from tech giants.

Mr. Housefather said he had no objection to legitimate foreign news organizations such as the Wall Street Journal getting compensated for work in Canada, but he wanted to make sure that news outlets under sanctions, including from Russia, Iran and China, could not qualify.

Canada has imposed sanctions on RT and Sputnik as well as other Russian news agencies, TV stations and oligarchs investing in media outlets.

In March, RT – formerly known as Russia Today – as well as RT France, were banned from Canada’s airwaves by the federal broadcasting regulator.

MPs on the committee, including the Conservatives, say they want Bill C-18 to pass through the House of Commons committee stage in time for the holiday break. They added a longer session on Friday to try to work through each clause of the bill, including amendments before the House rises.

The Tory attempt to remove the CBC from the scope of the bill was blocked by the Liberals and NDP. Instead, the Liberals proposed an amendment to remove wording that could lead to the CBC being subject to regulations by a future government.

NDP MP Peter Julian said he supported the Liberal move to ensure that a future Tory government could not subject the CBC to conditions that might affect its eligibility for funding from tech giants.

Mr. Julian said under the Conservative government of prime minister Stephen Harper, the CBC had been “gutted,” which the Liberal amendment would help ensure could not happen again. He said it was important to remove the possibility of a future cabinet saying: “Hey we’re going to impose a whole range of conditions” and those conditions may be, in a bad-faith way, designed to strangle the CBC.”

A report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) estimated that broadcasters, including the publicly funded CBC, would get most of the $329-million a year that the federal online news bill would inject into the news industry if it becomes law.

The analysis in October by the PBO, an independent body that provides economic and financial analysis to MPs and senators, concluded that newspapers and online media would get $81,550,000 a year, while broadcasters such as the CBC, Bell, Shaw and Rogers stand to get $247,677,000.

Conservative Kevin Waugh, a former TV journalist, predicted that if the CBC received huge sums from tech giants, it would drive out smaller local broadcasters and online media outlets because they could not compete.

He said the CBC produced quality journalism but had received $21-million in the recent fall economic update, with another $21-million for next year of taxpayer’s money.

“It’s going to be very hard for private companies to compete against the public broadcaster,” he said.

Tory heritage critic Rachael Thomas said “the little guys are getting killed by this bill. It’s shameful.”

“The CBC that is already taxpayer funded is going to be able to elbow out the little guys and get more money because of this bill,” she said.