Canada proposes rules to implement contentious Online News Act

Meta says the proposed regulations 'will not impact our business decision to end news availability in Canada' [File: Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

The law requires social media companies to pay Canadian media outlets for news content shared on their platforms.

The Canadian government has put forward regulations outlining how it plans to implement a contentious law that requires social media giants to pay news organisations for content shared on their platforms.

The proposal, which was announced on Friday but will be published in full on Saturday, came as Meta – the owner of Facebook and Instagram – continues to enforce a news ban in Canada in response to the legislation.

Ottawa said the rules would spell out ways for companies to satisfy the law, dubbed the Online News Act, without government intervention.

“The proposed regulations provide clarity on which platforms are subject to the Act and greater certainty on what they need to do to obtain an exemption from the mandatory bargaining process,” the Department of Canadian Heritage said in a statement.

“To obtain an exemption, platforms must enter into agreements supporting the diverse production of Canadian news in communities across Canada. The total value of agreements must meet a certain threshold in order to qualify for an exemption.”

But Meta said on Friday that the proposed regulations “will not impact our business decision to end news availability in Canada”.

“The regulatory process is not equipped to address the fundamentally flawed premise of the Online News Act,” Rachel Curran, Meta Canada’s head of public policy, said in a statement.

The draft rules would raise 172 million Canadian dollars ($126.6m) per year from Google and about 60 million Canadian dollars ($44m) per year from Facebook, a Canadian official told reporters during a Friday morning briefing.

If companies do not meet the threshold through voluntary agreements with news outlets, they may have to go through mandatory bargaining supervised by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which oversees media regulations, the Reuters news agency reported.

The deals must also cover independent local, Indigenous and official language minority community news outlets, Reuters said, citing the draft regulations.

The CRTC will now hold public consultations on the proposed rules before finalising them in the summer of next year. But mandatory bargaining would not start until late 2024 or early 2025, the CRTC has said.

Meta’s news blackout, which began on August 1, has sparked criticism of both the company and the government’s approach to the issue.

Meta refused to lift its news block in Canada during massive wildfire evacuations in the Northwest Territories and British Columbia last month, prompting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to call its conduct “inconceivable”.

“Facebook is putting corporate profits ahead of people’s safety,” Trudeau said on August 21.

Meta has argued that the Online News Act is based on a faulty argument that the company benefits unfairly from news content shared on its platforms “when the reverse is true”.

Google also has called the law a “link tax” and threatened to ban news from its platforms when the regulations go into effect.

But supporters of the law say it aims to correct a skewed relationship between news outlets and social media platforms, where journalists do the hard work but large companies get the lion’s share of digital advertising.

The Online News Act, which the Canadian parliament passed in June, calls for voluntary commercial agreements between large digital platforms and news outlets but allows Ottawa to step in if such deals are not reached.

On Friday, Canadian Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge said she looks forward to engaging with social media companies in a “constructive way” over the law.

“I believe we share the goal of ensuring quality access to information and news for Canadians. Tech giants can and must contribute their fair share – nothing more,” St-Onge said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Google said the company was reviewing the government’s proposed regulations “to assess whether they resolve the serious structural issues” with the law.



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