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Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) speaks at the U.S. Capitol on June 21, in Washington, DC. Ms. Klobuchar is urging Canada's political leaders to stand their ground against pressure tactics from Google and Meta over the recently passed Bill C-18.Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The U.S. senator leading the push in Washington for a new American law that would force Google and Meta to pay news publishers says political leaders must stand firm in response to pressure tactics such as threats to block links to Canadian news stories.

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar introduced and co-sponsors the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which was approved in June by the Senate judiciary committee. It still requires support of the full Senate, the House of Representatives and ultimately President Joe Biden.

The U.S. legislation is similar to Canada’s Online News Act, which Parliament approved last month and is scheduled to take effect within six months after the drafting of regulatory details.

In a statement to The Globe and Mail, Ms. Klobuchar said Google and Meta’s tactics must be challenged.

“We’ve seen this show before. It is part and parcel of the tech playbook,” she said in response to a request for comment on the companies’ plans to block Canadian news.

“Of course monopolies will fight us every step of the way,” she said, “but we won’t back down – we must stand up for small businesses and competition while ensuring people have access to their local news.”

Ms. Klobuchar’s bill has 15 additional co-sponsors, including seven Republicans and one Independent. Senior South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is among the Republicans who have signed on to co-sponsor the bill.

There is also bipartisan support at the state level. A bill called The California Journalism Preservation Act was approved in the California state assembly last month by a vote of 55-6. The legislation, which also shares similarities with the Canadian law, will now be debated in the state Senate.

Both Google and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, are headquartered in California. Like in Canada, the two U.S. bills have generated heated debate in public-policy circles as to whether they will ultimately help or hurt the news industry.

Ariel Pollock, a spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Ottawa, said Washington is monitoring the Canadian debate to assess its potential impact south of the border.

“We are continuing to watch developments around the implementation of Bill C-18 and encourage Canada to consider U.S. stakeholder input as it implements this bill,” she said in an e-mail Monday.

United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai expressed concern last year that the bill could discriminate against U.S. businesses.

Support for both bills in the U.S. from across the political spectrum is at odds with the Canadian political reaction to the Online News Act. The Liberal government’s bill was supported by the NDP and the Bloc Québécois, but strongly opposed by the Official Opposition Conservative Party.

Google announced on June 29 that it intends to block Canadian news on its platform. It also said it will participate in discussions with the Canadian government about regulations, which leaves open the possibility of a last-minute arrangement. Meta had previously said it will block access to Canadian news as it believes the legislation is not workable.

Both companies have also said they will wind down existing voluntary deals with Canadian news organizations, including The Globe, related to compensation for use of news content. Meta is also ending a journalism fellowship program with The Canadian Press newswire that has funded about 30 positions for early-career journalists since 2020.

The companies’ tactics are generating international headlines. Large numbers of news organizations worldwide are trimming staff or shutting down entirely, which is putting pressure on policy makers to respond.

The Canadian and American bills are widely supported by major news publishers, but have been criticized by groups representing smaller news organizations.

LION Publishers, representing about 450 smaller publishers that are mostly in the U.S. but also in Canada, has said that the California bill would incentivize publishers to produce “cheap clickbait” and fail to support quality local journalism. Similar concerns have been expressed about the Canadian bill by the Independent Online News Publishers of Canada, which has some overlapping membership with LION.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has strongly criticized the government’s handling of the issue, stating that Liberal efforts to support journalism have essentially backfired and will do more harm than good.

“Big Tech will now pay less for Canadian news after your law,” he said in a recent tweet directed at Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez. “They have now stopped funding journalism. And you have made news disappear. The opposite of what you promised.”

Mr. Rodriguez recently told The Globe that he was surprised to see Google and Meta announce plans to block Canadian news. He speculated that it could be a negotiating strategy. He also said the companies are trying to send a message to other countries that are considering similar policies.

The Canadian law and the U.S. bills all take inspiration from Australia’s News Media and Digital Platforms Bargaining Code, which took effect in March, 2021.

The premise of the Australian code is that there is a power imbalance between large platforms and news publishers seeking compensation for news that appears on those sites. The law gives a regulator – the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) – the power to mediate disagreements. However it strongly encourages platforms and publishers to reach deals outside of the code, which so far has occurred in each case.

Australian politicians faced intense lobbying from Google and Meta not to adopt the law. Both companies threatened to block news in Australia and Facebook briefly did so before reversing course.

Researchers in Australia have since found that the rules appear to be generating a significant hiring boost in the journalism sector.

An April, 2023 report by The Australia Institute found that job ads for journalists increased by 46 per cent after the new rules were implemented. The report said it is hard to provide specific numbers as most media outlets have not disclosed the terms of their agreements with Google and Meta.

By November, 2022, Google had reached 22 commercial agreements representing 183 media mastheads in Australia and Meta had reached agreements with 13 news businesses, the report said.

Two large media outlets did disclose hiring details. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation said the deals led to an additional 50 journalist roles and the Guardian Australia increased the size of its newsroom from 100 to 150 journalists.

Rod Sims, who chaired the Australian regulator from 2011 until 2022, told The Globe in an e-mail exchange that he’s hopeful Google and Meta will ultimately back down from their threats, as they did in Australia.

“Google and Meta have much at stake here so I am not surprised that they are adopting aggressive tactics,” said Prof. Sims, who teaches at the Crawford School of Public Policy at The Australian National University.

“In Australia, they backed down on their threats and agreed to pay media companies for their content after some very minor concessions from the Australian government that did not alter the excellent outcomes achieved,” he said. “I hope something similar happens in Canada.”

Prof. Sims said Canada may need to adjust its rules to ensure that if Google and Meta do block news, they would have to block all news, not just news from Canada.

“It is very hard for Google or Meta to provide their services without drawing on any news at all,” he said.

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