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Facebook, Google and the Online News Act: Why these negotiations need to matter to us all

Local news could vanish from Facebook and Google, but Canadian news media is fighting for a fair way forward.
Numbers show more Canadians get their news online than ever before. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

The Online News Act (Bill C-18) is set to come into force by the end of the year. Does this matter to you? Do you understand it? Many of us don't, but we should understand it and we should care, because it affects the readers of Alberta Prime Times, and all the journalists who work in news media in Canada.  

If you haven't already heard about it, Google and Meta (parent company of Facebook), are threatening to block Canadian news because the Online News Act will require these digital giants to compensate Canadian media publications for making news content available on their platforms. 

Rather than pay up, Facebook and Google have responded by vowing to abandon the Canadian news business altogether. No more links. No more shares.  Bottom line: If this happens, a lot fewer people will see our reporting, which will threaten our ability to continue that reporting.

Media organizations of all stripes have depended on advertising revenue to pay the bills and wages of journalists for decades. That’s true for most subscriber publications and all free newspapers like Alberta Prime Times. That business model came under threat with the arrival of the digital platforms, which offered targeted advertising based on user's searches on Google, Facebook, Instagram etc.

While you and I may still like to hold a newspaper in our hands as we have our morning coffee or go to online news sites to peruse the daily headlines, sports highlights or latest stock market and business news, the fact is, more and more people get their news from digital platforms like social media. Journalism is in crisis, and has been for some time. Newsrooms are shrinking as more people get their news this way, particularly younger folks. 

We’re now at the point where these two companies, Google and Meta, share 80 per cent of the digital advertising market and control the process of buying and selling in that market. That includes advertising that appears alongside the news created by journalists, whom they don’t pay; Canada’s news media pays them. Except it can't anymore. The dramatic decline in media revenue has cost thousands of journalism jobs in Canada and hundreds of thousands across the world.

The Online News Act is modelled on similar legislation in Australia. As it was passing through that legislative process, Google and Meta made similar threats before backing down and doing deals with Australian publishers for their news content. Democracies across the world are considering their own legislation, determined, like Canada and Australia, to save local journalism before it’s too late.  

The Online News Act is meant to level the playing field between the digital platforms and media organizations. It will force the platforms to negotiate with media for fair compensation for their news appearing online.

What can you, the reader, do? Continue to visit our Alberta Prime Times homepage--directly--your go-to source for local news and information.  

If you haven’t already subscribed to our daily newsletter, please do that here: The Daily - It arrives in your inbox bright and early Monday to Friday with the latest from Edmonton, Calgary and all of Alberta--the news, business, lifestyle, health, travel and more that is relevant to you.

Alberta Prime Times' parent company, Great West Media, will join hundreds of independent news organizations represented by News Media Canada to collectively negotiate a deal. We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, we will keep covering the stories that matter most: the ones closest to home for Alberta's 50-plus community.