Toronto Star

Media challenges government to rein in big tech

Lobby group calls for collective bargaining approach to content use

- JOANNA CHIU STAFF REPORTER With files from Moira Welsh and Alex Boutilier

Canadian news media organizati­ons, which say they are being bled dry by tech companies like Google and Facebook, have challenged the government to follow Australia’s lead and implement strong new measures to save the industry. On Thursday, News Media Canada, a lobby group representi­ng major print and digital publishers including Torstar, issued a report requesting that the federal government allow them to band together to bargain collective­ly with the tech giants, impose a code of conduct on “web monopolies,” and enforce that code with large financial penalties.

This model would help the struggling industry take on the “monopolist­ic practices” of the American tech giants and level the playing field at no cost to taxpayers and without the need for new user fees or subsidies, the organizati­on says.

Media companies, with the approval of government, would form a collective bargaining unit to negotiate compensati­on for the use of their content and intellectu­al property by Google and Facebook, which currently collect around 80 per cent of digital advertisin­g revenues in Canada, according to the organizati­on.

“Currently, media outlets are forced to play by their rules, and they can pay us whatever they feel like. We want to end a monopolist­ic abuse of power,” said Jamie Irving, vice-president of Brunswick News Publishing and chair of News Media Canada’s working group.

Google and Facebook collect

“We want to end a monopolist­ic abuse of power.” JAMIE IRVING CHAIR OF NEWS MEDIA CANADA’S WORKING GROUP

around 80 per cent of all advertisin­g revenues in Canada.

Canadian anti-competitio­n law currently prohibits media outlets from forming a negotiatin­g bloc, so legislativ­e changes would be needed for them to collective­ly negotiate with the tech giants. Irving oversaw the “Levelling the Digital Playing Field” report released Thursday, which reviewed how various countries have tried to address challenges posed by the dominance of web giants in digital advertisin­g.

“The Australia model was clearly the best model for Canada,” Irving said. “Our two countries are similar in many ways.”

In addition to allowing the country’s news media to form a collective bargaining unit, Australia is working on a legally binding code of conduct to ensure that tech companies don’t try to expand their market domination and anti-competitiv­e prices. Those that violate the rules would be subject to fines in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“The enforcemen­t would have teeth,” Irving said.

Advocates have long argued that Canadian publishing laws — mainly written for the predigital era — are antiquated.

In a brief statement, a Facebook Canada spokespers­on said the report misreprese­nts the way that some of the company’s products work and it is willing to work toward a solution.

“News organizati­ons in Canada choose to post their content on Facebook to reach prospectiv­e subscriber­s, monetize their content and sell more advertisin­g. There are many ways to approach these complex issues and we want to work with news publishers and the government on a solution,” said Meg Sinclair, head of communicat­ions, Facebook Canada.

News Media Canada represents publicatio­ns that reach more than 90 per cent of the news media readership in Canada through daily, regional, community and ethnocultu­ral news publicatio­ns.

Its membership includes Torstar, which publishes the Toronto Star, Glacier Media, Black Press, Postmedia, the Globe and Mail, La Presse, Quebecor and Brunswick News.

Irving says that he hopes that the proposal will achieve broad bipartisan support in Ottawa.

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