Google has announced plans to remove news links in Canada, while Meta terminated its contract for journalism fellowship

Google has announced plans to remove news links in Canada, while Meta terminated its contract for journalism fellowship

As the fallout from Bill C-18 continues, Google has announced its plan to remove news links in Canada, while Meta has terminated its contract for a journalism fellowship.

OTTAWA—On Thursday, the already precarious state of Canada’s news industry became even more uncertain as Google announced its plan to join Meta in blocking all Canadian news content from their platforms. This retaliation is in response to the online news bill recently passed by Ottawa.

Google has recently revealed its plan to eliminate Canadian news outcomes from its search engine, news aggregator, and Discover app for users in Canada. Moreover, the tech giant will discontinue its Google News Showcase program that promotes over 150 Canadian publications. These significant modifications will occur in approximately six months, coinciding with the expected implementation of the Online News Act.

The Government of Canada has enacted a new law called Bill C-18 (the Online News Act), requiring two companies to pay for simply showing links to news, something that everyone else does for free. The unprecedented decision to put a price on links (a so-called “link tax”) creates uncertainty for our products and exposes us to uncapped financial liability simply for facilitating Canadians’ access to news from Canadian publishers.

“We’re disappointed it has come to this. We don’t take this decision or its impacts lightly and believe it’s important to be transparent with Canadian publishers and our users as early as possible,” Google’s president of global affairs Kent Walker wrote in a blog post.

On Thursday, Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez still needs to provide solutions in response to the highly anticipated announcement. Instead, he reiterated the stance of the Liberal government that the law “balances the power of big tech” and creates a fair playing field.

“Big tech would rather spend money to change their platforms to block Canadians from accessing good quality and local news instead of paying their fair share to news organizations. This shows how deeply irresponsible and out of touch they are, especially when they make billions of dollars off of Canadian users,” the minister said in a statement.

What is Ottawa’s online news bill?

On June 22, 2023, the Online News Act was passed, which mandates platforms such as Google, Meta, Facebook, and Instagram’s parent company to negotiate agreements with Canadian media publishers to share, preview, and direct users to online news content. The Liberals intend to eliminate the tech giants’ control over the digital advertising market, as both platforms earned over 80% of Canadian online advertising revenues in 2020, leading to the closure of hundreds of journalism industry establishments. Failure to comply with the legislation would result in financial penalties for the platforms under the new framework.

Several news publishers (including Torstar, which publishes the Toronto Star) have lobbied Ottawa in favour of the legislation, and already have deals in place with both companies to share and repurpose their content. Torstar also joined the Google News Showcase program in 2021.

The multinational tech company had hoped for specific reassurances from Ottawa before the regulatory process — where further details regarding how the law will work in practice will be finalized — gets underway.

“Last week, just as the bill was approaching final passage and royal assent, the government agreed to discuss the possibility of addressing some of the most critical issues, which we welcomed. In that discussion, we asked for clarity on financial expectations platforms face for simply linking to news, as well as a specific, viable path toward exemption based on our programs to support news and our commercial agreements with publishers,” Walker’s post notes.

Walker expressed gratitude for the government’s acknowledgement that their concerns were legitimate and that the law won’t be enforced until regulations are established. Nonetheless, they still harbor doubts about the efficacy of the regulatory process in addressing critical issues like compulsory payment for links and boundless financial responsibility.

How could Google and Meta’s retaliation affect Canadian media?

Considering the challenges faced by Canada’s news industry in shaping the future of journalism in the country, NordStar Capital and Postmedia have shared news about a possible merger. NordStar Capital owns the Toronto Star and Metroland Media, while Postmedia owns the National Post and several daily newspapers nationwide.

As part of the proposed merger, the editorial assets of the Toronto Star would be managed by a separate company called Toronto Star Inc. Additionally, CTV’s parent company recently announced job cuts and the closure or sale of nine radio stations, affecting 1,300 positions.

It is believed that Google and Meta’s combined responses could result in millions of dollars in lost revenue for Canadian news publishers, possibly shuttering some smaller and independent outlets.

From the beginning, both platforms strongly opposed the bill, claiming that it would impose unfair agreements on them to drive significant traffic to online news outlets and generate crucial revenue for publishers.

In 2022, Google Canada stated that they have linked to Canadian news publishers over 3.6 billion times, providing an approximate value of $250 million to Canadian publishers.

Google has been more cautious in moving forward with its threats than Meta, which announced last week that it would officially ban news content from being posted or shared on Facebook and Instagram in Canada in the hours before C-18 received royal assent.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday said it was “extremely disappointing” that Meta “continues to refuse to accept its responsibility towards our democracies by refusing to pay the fair share” regarding Canadians accessing news.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, meanwhile, blasted Trudeau on Thursday for passing what he called “censorship laws” that “reinforce oligopolies.”


Marites de Jesus, FWH