Today, Meta’s president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, unveiled Meta’s position on the Online News Act, Bill C-18 in an opening statement he was planning to make at a Canadian Heritage committee meeting, before he refused to appear.
“This legislation puts Meta in an invidious position,” Clegg said in his statement. “In order to comply, we have to either operate in a flawed and unfair regulatory environment, or we have to end the availability of news content in Canada. With a heavy heart we choose the latter.”
Bill C-18, tabled last year by Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez, mandates tech giants such as Google and Meta negotiate deals that would compensate Canadian media companies for republishing their content on their platforms.
Clegg had agreed to appear before the House of Commons standing committee on Canadian Heritage meeting to discuss the legislation, until the committee decided to change the title of the session to “Tech Giants’ Current and Ongoing Use of Intimidation and Subversion Tactics to Evade Regulation in Canada and Across the World”, which he said to be “confrontational”.
Google has been the main target of the committee after it decided to conduct a national test in February to temporarily block news content. Google executives who were summoned by the committee also refused to appear at the initial meeting, leading to accusations of subversion as are now directed at Meta.
Although both companies are targeted by Bill C-18 for the same reasons, Clegg said that Meta is very different from Google, which, he says, “operates a search engine that functions by using links to news web pages.” He added, “Meta, in contrast, does not solicit, need or collect content from news websites to put on our services.”
Clegg argued that Meta does not benefit unfairly from people sharing links to news content. Instead, it benefits publishers who choose to share their content, because it drives traffic, helps them sell more subscriptions, grow their audience, etc.
“New technology has emerged, consumer behavior has changed, and old business models don’t work anymore,” Clegg stated. “Of course, everyone wants quality journalism to thrive. But it makes no more sense to claim social media companies are taking money from publishers than to say car companies stole from the horse and cart industry.”
In October last year, Meta shared its stance on the legislation and the possibility of pulling news content in Canada. Minister Rodriguez said at the time that his administration continues to have “constructive conversations” with Facebook.
Now Clegg simply says that the legislation is “flawed” and even went on to say that he “understands how difficult it is to craft good policy and sensible legislation.”
The legislation, he asserts, is “Robin Hood in reverse” that would subsidize big broadcasters at the expense of independent publishers and digital news sites, and further disadvantage smaller players.