In an interview with the Taber Times, Martin Shields, MP for Bow River, had plenty to report from his recent time in Ottawa. Back at home, he was quick on the draw in discussing the new agreement on Bill C-18. 

He said, “One of the things that I’ve done for years is worked in support of weekly newspapers. That was part of the Committee this week, and will continue to be. I’m on the Heritage Committee and we’ve dealt with C-11 and C-18 now for some time. So, the most recent Committee meeting had to do with the settlement that Google and the government did.”

To refresh: C-11 is an amendment to the Broadcasting Act; C-18 is the Online News Act. The latter is a bill that is “intended to secure fair compensation” for outlets when their news content is made available by dominant digital news platforms, and generates economic gain, according to the Canadian government.

The upshot is that this past week the Canadian government and Google came to terms on a deal that will see Google paying $100 million annually to Canadian publishers and allowing access to that publisher’s news content on Google platforms.

“We’ve had large and more concentrated resources in fewer media (outlets), and print media is having more and more challenges. C-11 and C-18 were supposedly in support of local media and the print media, but we all know that things change in technology. Whether through a print or an online format, small news outlets struggle to survive,” Shields said.

Referencing the new agreement and other funding initiatives, he said, “So, they got this new $100 million that’s going to be annual, and the minister said one-third of the journalists in this country are part of the CBC. Does the CBC get part of the $1.4 billion, part of the $600 million? In the fall economic update there’s $130 million and they’re going to get a bunch of that. So, are they getting about a third of this $100 million then as well?” 

Shields said he’s asked a lot of questions recently in Ottawa.

“The weekly papers, what are they going to get out of this? They’re small, they can’t lobby, so how do they compete?” he asked. “Google said, ‘If you pass the legislation we’re not going to go out and negotiate with everybody in the country, so here’s the deal: it’s $100 million and we need a group put together so that we deal with one group.’ But Google said that a year ago, and the government kept thinking they could get more than $100 million out of them. They ended up getting the $100 million that Google set on the table one year ago.”

“Weekly newspapers to me are the lifeblood of our communities,” he continued. “You’re the guys that are covering the municipal councils, the local sports teams, you promote events that are happening in the community, the fundraisers, all the different things. If you guys disappear, is the Calgary Herald going to cover that? Is the Toronto Sun going to cover that? No.”

He said that once a small community loses those news outlets, they don’t get them back, and we’re losing hundreds a year in Canada.

In his Nov. 29 newsletter, Shields pulled no punches. 

“Facebook didn’t budge, and now many small local news outlets that used Facebook as a means of connecting their publication to their community have been frozen out thanks to this government’s complete lack of transparency and foresight with this bill.”

The newsletter continued, “What’s worse, is that Bill C-18 would have seen an overwhelming majority of the revenue distributed to big broadcasting companies like CBC, Rogers, and Bell. Despite what the former Minister of Heritage would like you to believe, C-18 was not about ‘leveling the playing field.’ Because the small local weekly newspapers like many in the Bow River riding would have received pennies once the big corporations took their share.”

“So this brings us to the announcement. What was it? After months of negotiations and the government trying to play hardball…the government exempted Google from C-18, and allowed them to deal with what is being called a ‘media collective’ to display their news on Google. Which media will be in this collective? Well, state approved media of course. If an outlet doesn’t qualify, no Google money for you.”

The Online News Act comes into effect Dec. 19. The details and regulations expected to be released before that date.

By Cal Braid, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Original Published on Dec 19, 2023 at 09:03

This item reprinted with permission from   The Taber Times   Taber, Alberta

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