Google warns online news bill could make it subsidize biased news outlets

OTTAWA –

Google warns that the federal government’s online news proposal could force it to subsidize non-authoritative or biased news sources, such as the Russian state-sponsored news agency Sputnik.

But the organization that represents Canada’s news media industry says the wording of the bill is strict and specifically excludes stores that promote an organization’s interests.

Google claims that the bill’s definition of a qualified news source is so broad that non-professional news channels with two or more journalists in Canada, including those funded by foreign states, may be eligible for payment from technology giants.

The online news proposal, based on a similar law in Australia, is designed to support Canada’s news industry and counter the spread of news from biased or unreliable sources.

The bill, known as the C-18 in Parliament, would make tech giants like Google and Meta pay to reuse news produced by Canadian news organizations.

The proposed legislation would also prevent technology giants from punishing or giving priority to news organizations with which they have reached agreements.

But Google says this may affect how it ranks news on its search engine and moderates content.

After the war in Ukraine began, it began to limit the visibility of the state-controlled Russian media organization RT, including on the search engine Google News.

Lauren Skelly, a spokeswoman for Google, said the search engine could face “heavy fines for presenting the most useful and reliable content to Canadians and enforcing our own policies.”

Skelly said that the technology giant supports the central purpose of the bill but is concerned that the legislation, as it is drafted, could have unintended consequences, including making it pay news outlets that do not meet journalistic standards.

This could potentially include two people starting a digital news organization from their basement, foreign state-sponsored newsgroups with an agency in Canada, or news outlets with a far-left or right-wing extremist.

“We have to believe that this is not a result that politicians have in mind and hope to work with them to address these issues,” Skelly said.

“The legislation as it is written uses an extremely broad definition of qualified news outlets and provisions on ‘undue preferences’ which, when implemented in practice, can result in mandatory payment for content that does not meet basic journalistic standards.”

But the president of News Media Canada, which represents the country’s news media industry, said the proposed law is carefully worded.

“This is very good legislation that specifically excludes news channels that promote an organization’s interests as opposed to producing original news content of general interest,” says Paul Deegan.

“The bill will allow many smaller publishers to merge and negotiate content licensing agreements with major technology companies. We urge MPs from all parties to work together and adopt this urgently needed legislation before the summer break.”

Canadian Heritage said in a statement that “it is not the role of the government to decide what is and is not online news.”

“There is an objective set of criteria, removed from political decision-making, for determining qualified news organizations. A free and independent press is crucial for democracy,” it said.

When announcing Bill C-18, the federal government said the legislation would ensure that Canadians have access to qualitative fact-based news in a time of growing disinformation and public distrust.

The broadcasting regulator, the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission, will have the job of appointing what qualifies as a news organization.

The bill states that in order to qualify, a newsgroup must be designated as a Canadian Journalists’ Organization under the Income Tax Act or produce news content primarily on issues of general interest and operate and employ two or more journalists in Canada.


This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 14, 2022.

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Meta funds a scholarship that supports journalistic services at The Canadian Press.

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