Days after Canada pledged to charge Facebook for news content amid an ongoing media battle with tech giants, a newspaper editor warns local news could be in trouble if the government is not taking bold action.
“Facebook and Google control the digital world,” Bob Cox, publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press and president of News Media Canada, told John Northcott of TBEN News Network on Sunday. “They control the vast majority of advertising and they’ve really made it really hard for other media to make a living, as you might want to say, online.
“You’re going to come to a point, a tipping point, where all of a sudden you have communities without information – without media, newspapers or TV stations or radio stations.”
Facebook on Wednesday announced it was blocking Australians from seeing or sharing information on its platform due to the country’s laws proposing to charge digital giants for journalism.
“Bill fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and the publishers who use it to share news content,” said William Easton, regional managing director of Facebook.
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TBEN / Radio-Canada has a content distribution partnership with Facebook and Google which includes services like mobile distribution, data storage and communication tools.
Cox said news organizations’ advertising revenues have been slowly declining for years, limiting the journalism they can provide amid shrinking jobs and resources. There is also a risk of misinformation filling the void left in the absence of local news, he said.
Federal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, who is tasked with creating similar legislation in Canada to be unveiled in the coming months, said Facebook’s actions in Australia will not deter Ottawa from taking a stand.
“Canada is at the forefront of this battle … we are truly among the first group of countries in the world to do this,” he told reporters Thursday.
Guilbeault said Canada could use the Australian model, which forces sites like Facebook and Google to make deals to pay the media, or it could agree to a price through binding arbitration.
Whichever path the federal government chooses, Cox said it was critical that he take some sort of position to change everything.
“Either way, the idea will be that it will force Google and Facebook to basically negotiate with publishers,” said Cox, who described the current relationship between the media and the tech giants as “ that of a huge imbalance of power “.
“What we’ve seen around the world is that unless governments act, these companies usually don’t do anything.”
Proliferation of conspiracies
The implications of such inaction are huge, said Jason Hannan, associate professor in the University of Winnipeg’s Department of Rhetoric and Communications, which studies social media and how it shapes public discourse.
He said news organizations have struggled to survive since the transition from print media to digital news – but digital giants like Facebook and Twitter have thrived during that time.
“They have the ability to post, to present topical content, and every time we publish an article or like or share or comment or so on, it drives traffic and activity on Facebook and they profit from it.” , Hannan said.
“And unfortunately, that doesn’t really generate a lot of revenue for the news organizations whose stories they publish.”
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Left unchecked, Hannan said more news organizations would face financial situations too difficult to continue and will have to bow. It could degrade democracy, he said.
“The implications are that we will have fewer and fewer qualified and trained journalists providing quality information, and then we will see a proliferation of people with no journalism training, but with a lot of practice on YouTube posting absurd and conspiratorial theories. “Hannan said.
“We will see fewer news articles and more memes and YouTube videos and this will only contribute to the already severe degradation of our public sphere.”