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A closer look at the government’s O̶n̶l̶i̶n̶e̶ ̶N̶e̶w̶s̶ ̶A̶c̶t̶ Horse and Buggy Act

Commentary

Dear Hub reader, after weeks of speculation the federal government finally released this weekend its first pass at a regulatory interpretation of the Online News Act. Known by its legislative moniker C-18, the Act mandates that Google and Meta either voluntary pay news organizations for their content or enter into mandatory collective bargaining process overseen by the CRTC.  

We thought we would have some fun with the government’s regulatory overview by imagining that the Online News Act was written for and in a different time. Hub readers can draw their own conclusions as to whether we are onto something here, or not.

Note to readers: the following transpositions were made verbatim from the government’s interpretative bulletin summarizing the Act as published in the Canada Gazette. You can access the full text here. Enjoy!

September 2, 2023 1915

Statutory authority
Online News Act Horse and Buggy Act

Sponsoring department
Department of Canadian Heritage Transportation

REGULATORY IMPACT ANALYSIS STATEMENT

Issues

Digital platforms Car manufacturers, such as search engines Ford and social media networks Studebaker, have emerged as common gateways means Canadians use to access news content transportation. At the same time, a small number of digital platforms car manufacturers have come to dominate the online advertising transportation market. The Canadian news sector has Horse and buggy makers have been impacted by these developments, seeing a significant decline in advertising revenues and an increase in the closures of news businesses over the past decade. Canadian news businesses Horse and buggy manufacturers continue to produce content that attracts web traffic and adds value, while seeing their advertising revenues dwindle as a result of the market control exerted by large digital platforms the car manufacturers. The Online News Horse and Buggy Act (the Act) intends to address the growing imbalance between digital platforms and news businesses car manufacturers and the horse and buggy industry in Canada by establishing a bargaining regime to ensure news businesses horse and buggy companies are fairly compensated for the news goods they produce.

The Act provides that digital platforms car manufacturers may negotiate voluntary commercial agreements with news businesses horse and buggy companies to qualify for an exemption from the mandatory bargaining provisions of the Act. The exemption section is a key component of the Act as it provides digital platforms car manufacturers with the opportunity to reach fair commercial agreements with a wide range of news businesses horse and buggy companies and contribute to the sustainability of the news horse and buggy marketplace. The proposed Regulations would provide more specific direction on how select exemption criteria could be met, with a view to providing greater business certainty to both platforms car manufacturers and news horse and buggy businesses.

Current state of the news sector horse and buggy industry

Many Canadians use digital platforms cars, like search engines and social media networks Ford and Studebaker, as gateways to accessing news content transportation. A small number of digital platforms car manufacturers have come to play an integral role in Canada’s news transportation ecosystem. While the Canadian news horse and buggy sector has seen a significant decline in revenues and an increase in the closures of news businesses over the past decade, these digital platforms car manufacturers have seen their revenues increase significantly.

Designing a legislative response

The Act seeks to capture the largest and most prominent digital platforms car manufacturers that operate in the markets that have a strategic advantage over news horse and buggy businesses. The proposed Regulations specifying the application of the Act and how digital platforms car manufacturers can be exempted from the mandatory bargaining process are a key part of supporting this implementation process.

The Act introduces a new legislative and regulatory framework that ensures fair revenue sharing between digital platforms car manufacturers and news horse and buggy businesses. The Act is expected to enhance fairness in the Canadian news transportation ecosystem and contribute to its sustainability. The key objective of the Act is to encourage platforms car manufacturers and news horse and buggy businesses to reach voluntary commercial agreements. Failing that, it provides for a mandatory bargaining process, backstopped by final offer arbitration. Large platforms Car manufacturers that have a significant bargaining power imbalance with news horse and buggy businesses are subject to this legislation. A platform car manufacturer is considered to have a significant bargaining power imbalance if it is large and occupies a prominent position in a Canadian market (e.g. social media and search transportation) that gives them a strategic advantage over news horse and buggy businesses. The legislation facilitates fair commercial agreements between digital platforms car manufacturers and news outlets horse and buggy businesses while maintaining press horse and buggy independence, with minimal government intervention.

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Stuart Thomson: Reporters should take Poilievre’s combativeness as a challenge

Commentary

One of my best memories from journalism school was when John Baird visited for a Q&A session and had the time of his life.

Baird was the infrastructure minister and in the early stages of rolling out the government’s economic action plan, a massive stimulus program designed to jolt the economy out of the doldrums that followed the Great Recession.

He stood in front of 30 or so bright-eyed journalism students, all keen to pin him down on something or another, and ripped us to shreds one by one.

When it was my turn to ask him a question I had already seen several of my classmates go down in a blaze of glory so I wrote out my question and tried to find the exact wording that would stump the minister.

I asked him if he was worried about cost overruns or scandals arising from this massive blast of infrastructure spending and before I’d finished my sentence Baird cut me off.

“Do you have any examples of what you’re talking about?” he said.

I groped for examples and came up with a newsy U.S. scandal about a “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska. That allowed Baird to pontificate about the differences between the U.S. system and the Canadian one and my question mostly went unanswered.

To be entirely truthful, I considered it a victory. I got out of there alive without looking too stupid.

At the time, it felt like a reality check. Baird’s performance seemed like a preview of what life would be like if I reached my goal of someday covering politics for a living.

Don’t ask a lazy or unfocused question, I told myself, because these people will absolutely pounce on you.

But strangely, those responses from Baird were some of the most intense I’ve ever seen in journalism. And to be clear, Baird had a smile on his face for much of it. He was just having fun in a low-stakes situation.

I have seen reporters get extremely heated with politicians and other public figures, sometimes to a degree that I considered unprofessional or excessive. I’ve also seen flashes of ire behind a politician’s eyes in response to my questions, but it always subsides into a calm and measured response.

Until Pierre Poilievre came along, anyway.

When Poilievre cut a reporter off mid-sentence last week to clarify an accusation that he was “dog-whistling to the far Right,” it brought me back to that day in journalism class.

Poilievre asked who was making that accusation and when informed by the reporter that it was unnamed experts, he asked which ones. After a brief back-and-forth, Poilievre told the reporter that her question was based on a false premise and seemed, to him, like a “CBC smear job.”

Up until that last part (it wasn’t even a CBC reporter), Poilievre seemed to be on solid ground. If he is to respond to accusations that he is either an extremist or courting extremists, it seems perfectly reasonable to ask for an example or some evidence.

But of course, like anything in politics, it shouldn’t just be taken at face value.

For Poilievre, the short-term benefits of this strategy are obvious: his supporters dislike the media and it’s fun to watch him take on reporters like this. Clips of Poilievre raking journalists over the coals are especially popular on YouTube.

The long-term benefits are harder to see, though. Poilievre has been undergoing a “softening” of his image lately, and these prosecutorial exchanges seem to conflict with that. Swing voters usually don’t like argumentative people, even if they are right (and sometimes especially when they are right).

The other effect for Poilievre might be that reporters start doing what I unsuccessfully tried to do once I realized Baird was going to interrogate me. I put a little more effort into my question and I started to think about my strategy for getting a good answer.

It’s easy to see why most politicians don’t argue with bad or lazy questions, though. Instead, they nod sagely, as if they are impressed with it, and then rumble through their talking points. Pushing for a better question actually makes their job harder.

As it says in the Bible, and in every NFL training camp since time immemorial, iron sharpens iron. Poilievre may be inadvertently forcing reporters to think twice as hard about their questions and their story premises, pushing them into a little more research than they may otherwise do and generally making his life more difficult.

It’s also worth considering that the social media world, and the way it divides us into ideological tribes, provides bad incentives to reporters the same way it does for politicians. For a journalist courting a left-wing audience, sparring with Poilievre is valuable, the same way heckling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would be for a journalist seeking a right-wing audience. These tribal social media incentives tend to be contrary to the health of our democracy and its institutions.

It also puts more emphasis on the process of journalism than its result. Because scrums and interviews are such a big part of a journalist’s day, and because they can be exciting, adrenaline-pumping moments, it’s easy to put too much importance on them.

Of course, it’s vital to get politicians on the record, and to report on it when they don’t answer our questions, but the key mechanism for accountability is not the question screamed at a hapless politician or its tepid response, it’s the news stories that get written afterward.

Most big scandals start off with a “no comment,” or a talking point, or a flimsy denial“The allegations in the Globe story this morning are false.” and the bickering in the scrums isn’t even a footnote.

There is a temptation among reporters to see any kind of pushback or criticism as an assault on our role in the democratic process. We should be careful about that. It’s worth considering that the kind of spirited exchanges we’re used to seeing in question period might be good for us in scrums and interviews.

And anyway, the YouTube content will be great.