Facebook parent company Meta resumed talks with the federal government over the Online News Act this week, as Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge implied the tech giant could still be subject to regulation despite barring Canadians from accessing news on its platforms.
Three sources, whom The Globe and Mail is not naming because they were not authorized to speak publicly, confirmed that Meta had met with the government on Monday. The meeting between federal Heritage Department officials and Rachel Curran, Meta’s head of public policy, ended an impasse during which the tech giant had refused government calls to come back to the table over the act.
Only Meta and Google are currently large enough to be subject to the Online News Act, which requires big tech companies to fund Canadian news publishers. Both companies have objected to Ottawa’s requirements. But late last month, Google, which had threatened to follow Meta’s lead and restrict Canadians’ ability to search for news on its platform, reached a deal with the government that would cap its annual obligation at $100-million, indexed to inflation.
Meta had thought blocking Canadians’ access to news on Facebook and Instagram would put it outside the scope of the act. But on Tuesday, Ms. St-Onge suggested the company could still be regulated under the legislation, which comes into force on Dec. 19.
Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill, Ms. St-Onge said news is still seeping through on Meta’s platforms, and that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which will oversee the act’s implementation, might take an interest.
“News is still widely available on Instagram, especially on browsers. People are finding loopholes,” Ms. St-Onge said.
“I can’t wait to see what the CRTC will do when the law is fully enforced,” she said, adding that she “absolutely” wants the regulator to look into whether Meta would be subject to the act.
Meta said in a statement on Tuesday that its position – which has been that the act is flawed and cannot be fixed through regulations – has not changed. It said it had met with Heritage Department officials at their request, and had reiterated its position at the meeting.
The government will publish regulations within the next two weeks that will detail how the Online News Act will work. They will spell out how a collective – a type of fund run by news organizations – will distribute the Google money to news outlets based on the number of journalists they employ. The money will support national and local newspapers, broadcasters, Indigenous radio stations and French-language news, as well as digital media and CBC/Radio-Canada.
The CBC employs about one-third of Canada’s journalists, but the regulations are expected to impose a cap on the amount of money the public broadcaster receives.
CBC/Radio-Canada announced Monday it would shed about 10 per cent of its work force and reduce production, in an effort to address a budget shortfall of $125-million in the next fiscal year.
In an interview Monday with CBC reporter Adrienne Arsenault, CBC president and chief executive Catherine Tait said the broadcaster had not yet determined whether bonuses would be cut. Ms. Tait said that would be looked at in the coming months.
In the 2021-22 fiscal year, the CBC received $1.2-billion in government funding. In 2020-21, it received $1.39-billion.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said last week that CBC/Radio-Canada should receive none of the Google money – “a huge zero” – so the funds can go to private media, including in Quebec.
Peter Menzies, who from 2013 to 2017 was vice-chair of the CRTC, told the Commons heritage committee on Tuesday that, for Canada’s news business to thrive, CBC/Radio-Canada should be stripped of its right to carry commercial advertising.
Ms. St-Onge told the heritage committee last week that one of her priorities is to review and update the CBC’s mandate.