June 12, 2021
There is no reason why the federal government can’t swiftly introduce — and pass — legislation to level the playing field between conventional media and big tech, the president of Unifor said on Monday.
Jerry Dias, whose union represents journalists in newsrooms across Canada, including the National Post, said the Liberals must pass legislation to force tech giants like Google and Facebook to pay for news content in order to protect Canadian media companies — and democracy.
“The government has been talking about this for years, now all of a sudden we may have an early election, and this isn’t resolved? I mean, they’ve got to pass this,” Dias said.
Parliament has risen for the summer, and it’s unclear whether or not they will meaningfully return to work before an election is called.
Dias said there’s “enough blame to frankly go around,” when it comes to why legislation has neither been introduced nor passed. He cited the Conservative opposition to the government’s controversial Bill C-10, which would regulate streaming services and social platforms, as something that may have taken some wind from Liberal sails when it comes to regulating the internet.
“The bottom line is this needs to get fixed, and it needs to get fixed now,” Dias said.
Last week, Andrew MacLeod, the chief executive officer of Postmedia Network Inc., which owns the National Post and dozens of other newspapers in Canada, said he’s concerned the federal government hasn’t passed legislation to force big tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, to pay news organizations for content.
“Are we disappointed this legislation wasn’t enacted before the summer recess? Yes. But we do recognize that the government was dealing with a pandemic of significant proportions,” MacLeod told the Financial Post last week. “We’re hopeful that it will be at the top of the list when the government resumes.”
Postmedia has long been pushing for the government to require technology companies to pay domestic media companies for use of their content, following in the footsteps of other nations such as Australia. Its one potential solution to help newspapers struggling with their bottom lines, as print readership and advertising revenues continue to decline.
“Though it may have some flaws, it’s still better than picking them off one at a time here in Canada,” Dias said.
In late June, though, a number of media outlets and chains signed separate deals with Google. Among them, The Globe and Mail, the Winnipeg Free Press, British Columbia’s Black Press and Glacier Media, Quebec’s Métro Media and Nova Scotia’s Saltwire Network.
“I don’t like that the media giants are being splintered off,” Dias said. “It’s about the tech giants stealing their content and paying nothing for it. You’d think there would be a complete show of solidarity, because it’s that type of solidarity that forces governments to react quickly.”
Unifor represents journalists at several of those companies, including The Globe and Mail, the Winnipeg Free Press, Black Press and Glacier Media.
MacLeod said he respects “the right of all companies to be doing what’s in their self-interest,” but argued the deal “speaks to the need for the government to enact the promised legislation.”
“Everybody’s panicking,” said Dias. “It’s almost like Google is implementing the oldest tactic in the world, the old divide and conquer tactic.”
Phillip Crawley, the publisher and chief executive of The Globe and Mail, pointed to government sloth on the file as the reason why the company had to sign a separate deal.
“From a Globe point of view, the opportunity to do a deal with Google on good terms and have it in effect this summer is something that I’m going to take, rather than wait and hope that government at some point is going to deliver,” Crawley told the Financial Post last week.
The office of Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said legislation will be introduced “in due course” and that the government is currently exploring options to “level the playing field.”
“This is about, to me, it’s about democracy,” Dias said. “You can’t have a democracy in any nation unless you have a strong media.”