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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