The bullying has begun in Canada, which suggests our northern neighbor is making progress toward getting Big Tech to start paying for news content.
Facebook parent Meta last Friday threatened to block the sharing of news content on Facebook in Canada, if Parliament proceeds with a proposal requiring it to negotiate with news outlets.
Hopefully this threat, a repeat of Facebook’s appalling performance in Australia last year, has a similar effect. There, bullying by Facebook and Google strengthened resolve of lawmakers to pass a groundbreaking media-bargaining policy, though it did influence the final wording.
Will lawmakers cave to a few rich Californians who don’t want to pay a bill that’s come due? How will they react if constituents, who rely on tech platforms, are jerked around and used as lobbying pawns?
The Californians eventually came around and paid up in Australia.
As a result, the death spiral of its local-news industry was interrupted. Smaller outlets that were unable to reach content deals before are now getting paid, avoiding further layoffs and enabling newsrooms to hire again.
Facebook actually followed through with threats in Australia and blocked nationwide access to news for about a week. That also cut access to emergency services and other non-news pages on the site.
Company whistleblowers told The Wall Street Journal in May that Facebook deliberately caused havoc in Australia to weaken the legislation. The company denies this but the Journal obtained records showing executives celebrating the outcome.
“The documents also show multiple Facebook employees tried to raise alarms about the impact and offer possible solutions, only to receive a minimal or delayed response from the leaders of the team in charge,” the WSJ reported.
Now, Facebook appears to be using the same playbook to make Canada’s proposal more favorable to the company. It’s threatening to block citizens from what’s become a primary source of news for them.
“If this draft legislation becomes law … we may be forced to consider whether we continue to allow the sharing of news content on Facebook in Canada as defined under the Online News Act,” the company said in a statement.
Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez last week cited research that found 77% of Canadians now get news online, 55% of which is coming via social media.
Meanwhile its news industry, like that of the U.S., is declining. It saw 460 outlets close since 2008, including 78 that closed during the pandemic, Rodriguez said Friday during a House of Commons discussion of its media bargaining policy.
“So we’re seeing that news is being widely distributed by platforms but the companies that create that news are not benefiting as much as they should,” he said. “And right now there is absolutely no incentive for digital platforms to fairly compensate the media for their content, and all this has a direct impact on our ability as a society to access reliable news.”
Rodriguez passionately argued for the policy, saying that a thriving, free and independent press is “one of the pillars of our democracy, it is absolutely fundamental to our democracy.”
“What we are talking about here is the very existence of independent journalism … we’re talking about it’s survival,” he said.
Canada learned from Australia and improved its proposal, adding an auditing feature, for instance. Australia in turn may update its policy to incorporate learnings from Canada.
Rodriguez called it a “market-based approach that lessens power imbalances” and encourages good-faith negotiations.
The U.S., meanwhile, has yet to approve its version after three years of consideration in Congress. There’s still hope, especially after a Senate committee advanced the JCPA last month, but time is running out with the deck reshuffling on Nov. 8.
Democracy is on the legislative docket as well as the ballot. Let’s hope it prevails and not the bullies.
Oregon news ecosystem: Oregon’s dire local journalism market, and the consequences for civic health, are documented in a powerful new report by the University of Oregon’s Agora Journalism Center.
The report maps local news outlets and finds that Oregonians are unequally served by local news, with some communities having “few places to turn for truly local news.” While there are startups filling gaps in some places and collaborations between newsrooms, the overall picture “is concerning.”
“The underlying infrastructure for producing local news has been weakened by two decades of losses of newsrooms and reporting jobs … Ultimately, larger-scale interventions may be needed to create a stronger civic information infrastructure,” its executive summary says.
Montana papers sold: After 57 years shepherding local newspapers in Montana, Yellowstone Newspapers sold its 13 daily, twice-weekly and weekly papers to Minnesota newspaper chain Adams Publishing Group. Papers sold include the Livingston Enterprise. Adams already owns the Bozeman Daily Chronicle; its Washington papers include the Skagit Valley Herald and Ellensburg Daily Record.
Chavern moves on: David Chavern, CEO of the News Media Alliance trade group, is leaving to lead the Consumer Brands Association starting Jan. 3.
This is excerpted from the free, weekly Voices for a Free Press newsletter. Sign up to receive it at the Save the Free Press website.