Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses Canadians on the coronavirus situation from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on March 25. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses Canadians on the coronavirus situation from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on March 25. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)

Canada’s biggest newsroom union and biggest publishers have united this week to demand the Canadian government follow France and Australia’s lead in demanding Google and Facebook pay for news.

“Canada’s news organizations are in mortal peril, and it’s time for the federal government to take on the two marauding tech giants who are largely to blame,” wrote Jerry Dias, Unifor union president, in an op-ed piece scheduled for publication nationwide in Canada Tuesday.  “Between them, they have scooped up the vast majority of the revenue in Canada’s $6 billion-plus online advertising market — advertising that has been the chief source of revenue for Canadian media organizations, ” Dias wrote. Unifor is a merger of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union and the Canadian Auto Workers Union.

Dias’ letter follows a weekend campaign in which daily newspaper publishers across Canada published full-page ads bearing a similar letter from news publishers.

“In April 2020 alone, Australia and France both announced plans to make sure Google and Facebook pay their fair share, instead of exploiting tax loopholes while making billions of dollars off the back of original content producers,” the publishers’ letter reads. “We, the undersigned publishers representing the vast majority of Canadian newspapers, call on Ottawa to follow the example of France and Australia.”

France and Australia filed antitrust and copyright actions against Google and Facebook in April, demanding the tech giants pay publishers for re-use of articles and photos. Australia set a July deadline to institute a new system of payments.

The Canadian publishers’ letter, drafted by Toronto Globe and Mail publisher Phillip Crawley, is co-signed by his counterparts at the The Toronto Star, Le Journal de Montreal, Le Devoir,  La Presse, PostMedia, Brunswick News Inc, Glacier Media Group, the Winnipeg Free Press and Black Press Media. The latter also owns Sound Publishing, owner of 43 newspapers in Washington state. Crawley said that level of unanimity among French and English publishers in Canada is unprecedented in his 20-year career in Toronto.

Advertising

Meanwhile, Google responded on Sunday to Australia’s regulators, saying the officials fundamentally misunderstand the business.

Google is like a giant poster in a news dealer’s kiosk, wrote Mel Silva, managing director of Google Australia, in a blog post. She said Google sends millions of potential new customers to publishers and does not profit by serving up links to Google Search customers looking for information.

“Excuse me for not thanking them,” said David Chavern, president of The News Media Alliance, one of two major trade groups representing U.S. newspaper publishers. “They get lots of value from people’s engagement with news.” Chavern said the push to get Canada following France and Australia’s lead is evidence of momentum in the news’ industry’s long-standing fight with the tech giants.

“This train isn’t gonna stop,” Chavern said Monday afternoon. “What we don’t know is if the platforms will get ahead of it and table a reasonable offer.”

Crawley, in Canada, was similarly unimpressed with Google’s response to Australia’s regulators. “That’s a nice little metaphor, but I’m afraid the numbers tell a different story,” Crawley said.

John Hinds, president of News Media Canada, said the open letter from the big publishers is now rolling out to smaller papers across the country.

Advertising

Despite that, “We’ve not had a good couple of days,” said Hinds, whose trade group represents 700 Canadian publications.

Case in point: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, appearing on a Sunday talk show (“Tout le monde en parle” on ICI) was asked about the publishers’ open letter. He said he is still committed to “balance” between publishers and the tech platforms, but that saving Canada’s daily newspapers is not a high priority during the pandemic.

Also, on Monday, Hinds said a cabinet minister said the other obstacle to action is that Canada does not want to antagonize the U.S., home to Google and Facebook and a major trade partner.

Correction: An earlier version of this article used the wrong pronoun for Mel Silva, managing director of Google Australia. Ms. Silva’s full first name is Melanie and she wrote the Times to say the correct pronoun is “she.”