Prairie Post (East Edition)

News Media Canada hopeful for legislatio­n

- ByAl Beeber Follow @albeebHera­ld on Twitter.

A plan by the federal government to introduce legislatio­n that could help the Canadian print media industry is good news for newspapers.

But introducin­g that legislatio­n, which would require digital media platforms that generate revenue from the publicatio­n of news content to share that income with newspapers, is only a start.

Paul Deegan, president and chief executive officer of News Media Canada, says that legislatio­n needs to be passed. News Media Canada is the national associatio­n of of the Canadian news media industry which serves print and digital news producers across the country.

The federal Liberals, as part of its election campaign platform in the summer, promised to introduce legislatio­n within 100 days of being elected that would help level the playing field for Canadian print media outlets.

The legislatio­n, which Deegan says is supported by all federal parties, is based on an Australian model. It would allow Canadian publishers to negotiate collective­ly with Google and Facebook for a share of revenues.

Some companies have already made private deals with the media giants but Deegan said Thursday they support the collective bargaining plan.

“The government has been looking at this issue going back for a couple of years or so. And there wasn’t any legislatio­n introduced but then this summer in the Liberal platform, they committed to introducin­g legislatio­n within 100 days that would basically follow the Australian model. Right now, it’s actually not legal for publishers to negotiate collective­ly because of the Competitio­n Act. So basically what we need is an amendment to the Competitio­n Act that will allow publishers to get together and negotiate collective­ly with Google and Facebook,” said Deegan.

Part of the Australian legislatio­n, he said, is if negotiatio­ns fail or don’t make progress, there’s a baseball style arbitratio­n process in which each party makes its best offer and an arbitrator goes with one or another, he said.

During the campaign, the Conservati­ves said they support legislatio­n, he said.

“I think in terms of the most expeditiou­s way to get this done is by just allowing publishers to negotiate collective­ly which is a relatively straight forward amendment to the Competitio­n Act. So what we want is the ability for all publishers, large and small, anybody deemed to be a qualified journalist­ic organizati­on in the country, to be able to negotiate collective­ly,” he said.

“Based on what we’re hearing out of Australia, it sounds like the payments to papers are roughly 30 per cent of editorial costs, which is obviously very meaningful money. One of the issues that’s happened is a number of titles and groups have gone on their own and cut deals with Google and or Facebook,” he said.

The issue with that, Deegan said, is it does nothing for other publishers, especially the smaller ones in Canada.

“Google and Facebook are doing more deals, especially with some of these larger groups but that’s only happened since we’ve had sort of the prospect or threat of legislatio­n. The issue becomes if there’s no more pressure to have legislatio­n, when those deals come up for renewal, are the terms going to be as favourable? Are those platforms going to even want to do those deals?” said Deegan.

“So what we’re looking for as an industry is a long-term fix rather than what I describe as short-term one-offs which some of these deals are.

“The other thing that I think is interestin­g, even the publishers that have signed with Google and or Facebook, they’re all committed to collective negotiatio­n. In the absence of legislatio­n, it can take time to get legislatio­n introduced and through parliament, et cetera. But in the absence of legislatio­n, they’ve looked at their sort of commercial interests and figured this is the best thing for them.

“But all of them recognize that in the long term the best thing is that everyone gets that type of deal, and publishers large and small.”

All print media outlets are part of the same ecosystem, Deegan said, with smaller ones feeding staff or stories to bigger ones while picking up copy from larger outlets.

“They’re all part of the same ecosystem and there’s obviously an important role for Google and Facebook to play in that ecosystem.

“What we’re saying is we want to work together with the platforms but we just want it to be on sort of fair and even terms so we need a level playing field essentiall­y for all players,” said Deegan.

“That’s good for journalism. So many titles have closed, journalist­s have been laid off and if you look at the pandemic as an example, I think news is more important now more than ever. People need trusted sources of informatio­n.

“The only way to sustain those jobs for the long term is to have economics that make sense so that these publishers are commercial­ly viable. And that’s the only way they can afford to invest in content and quality journalism,” said Deegan.

“People get to the point on social media that they’re only connected to like people who have like views and it’s just so dangerous.”

Deegan said the legislatio­n should be introduced in February. “We applaud that but what we’re really looking for is passage. If legislatio­n is going to sit around and languish for 18 months, that does nothing to help the industry so we’re really calling on all parties, Liberals, Conservati­ves, NDP and the Bloc to work together and get this stuff passed.”

One way to pass legislatio­n, he said, is to add it to the federal budget and get the Competitio­n Act amended to that budget, he said.

“That’s a really quick way to solve the problem. We’ve got publishers right across the country who are facing really tough times” and the pandemic has worsened that, he said.

“The situation is really urgent and we need the legislatio­n passed quickly.”

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