By Al Beeber
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has begun blocking Canadians from seeing online news content from Canadian publications.
Google will be following suit as the online giants respond to a federal law that requires online platforms to negotiate deals with Canadian news organizations to access their content.
Such restrictions mean readers of Southern Alberta Newspapers will no longer see the stories we post to our Facebook pages.
An alert on the Lethbridge Herald’s Facebook recently stated “in response to Canadian government legislation, some content from news publications, like posts, Stories and Reels can’t be viewed in Canada.”
Meta Platforms recently began ending access to Canadians on Facebook and Instagram for all of its Canadian users.
“The Lethbridge Herald is committed to bringing Lethbridge and surrounding area local news that matters. It is very disappointing that Meta has made the decision to discontinue Canadian content,” said Lethbridge Herald publisher Ryan Turner.
“You can still visit our website http://www.myLH.ca , you can download our Lethbridge Herald App on your devices, and have the paper delivered to your home. Hopefully there will be a resolution soon, whereby news outlets will be properly compensated for the work they do to provide local journalism to our communities,” said Turner.
In mid-July Facebook users may have seen a message from Meta stating that “in response to the Online News Act, content from global news outlets, including news publishers and broadcasters will not be available to people accessing Facebook and Instagram in Canada.
“People in Canada will not longer view or share news on Facebook and Instagram including news content posted by news outlets. In addition, people in Canada will not longer see links or content from any news outlet pages or accounts.”
In an interview with Reuters news service, Meta’s head of public policy in Canada Rachel Curran said “news outlets voluntarily share content on Facebook and Instagram to expand their audiences and help their bottom line.”
A Canadian Press story said that Meta began running a test in June that limited news for as many as five per cent of users but it is now moving out of that phase.
“In order to provide clarity to the millions of Canadians and businesses who use our platforms, we are announcing today that we have begun the process of ending news availability permanently in Canada,” Rachel Curran, head of public policy for Meta Canada told the news agency.
In that CP story, Paul Deegan, News Media Canada president, said the action will harm the user experience and devalue Facebook’s platform.
“Without access to real fact-based news created by real journalists, Facebook will become far less attractive to users and advertisers,” Deegan said in a statement. “We expect more and more advertisers and their agencies will begin pulling advertising from the platform in response to this unilateral, undemocratic, and unreasonable move,” Deegan said.
Bill C-18, the Online News Act, received royal assent on June 22 and is intended to achieve several goals.
One, says the federal government, is to ensure fair revenue sharing between digital platforms and news outlets.
The canada.ca website also says it:
Provides for collective bargaining by news outlets.
Promotes voluntary commercial agreements between digital platforms and news outlets, with minimal government intervention.
As a last resort, establishes a mandatory arbitration framework when digital platforms and news outlets cannot reach commercial agreements.
Defines the role and tools of the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) as the regulator.
Ottawa expects the legislation to create “a flexible regulatory framework that facilitates fair business relationships between digital platforms and news outlets.”
It’s also hoped that it results in “sustainability of the Canadian news ecosystem, including the sustainability of independent news businesses as well as Indigenous and official language minority communities news businesses, and support for innovative business models.
The act is also intended to ensure the maintenance of press independence.
The government says Governor in Council will publish regulations specifying the application of the act and the criteria for being exempted. The CRTC will set out processes and procedures to implement including the bargaining process.
During this period, digital platforms and eligible news businesses are still able to negotiate commercial agreements outside of the legislative framework.
Bill C-18 is set to come into effect no later than 180 days after getting royal assent.
It’s estimated that the bill could benefit the Canadian news industry by about $329 million with the government saying Google and Facebook earning 80 per cent of all digital advertising revenue in the country.
Since 2008, about 500 media outlets in 335 Canadian communities have shut down with more than 20,000 journalists out of work.