A group of Canadian news publishers and broadcasters are urging Canada’s Competition Bureau to investigate and ban Meta from preventing the display of news content on its online platforms.
Meta, the social media conglomerate that owns Facebook and Instagram, has announced its intention to block news on its platforms in Canada starting from Tuesday, following the passage of a law that mandates Google and Meta to pay publishers for content they upload or use.
In a joint statement, News Media Canada, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, and CBC have requested the Competition Bureau to investigate Meta’s abuse of its dominant position.
Bell Media, a subsidiary of BCE Inc., is responsible for producing CTV News.
According to the statement, the social media giant’s practices are “anticompetitive” as they will prevent Canadian news companies from entering the advertising market and significantly reduce their visibility to Canadians on social networking sites.
The Competition Bureau was warned by them that allowing Meta to continue unchecked could have detrimental effects on Canadian news organizations’ ability to provide quality news services to Canadians, which is critical for the functioning of a free and democratic society.
The Competition Bureau is being urged by news publishers and broadcasters to use prosecutorial tools to prevent Meta from limiting Canadians’ access to news content.
The Competition Bureau is conducting a preliminary review and has been closely monitoring the developments surrounding Meta’s decision to restrict Canadians from accessing news, according to spokesperson John Power.
The news organizations’ complaint was acknowledged by him, but he stated that it would be inappropriate to speculate or comment on whether certain conduct could cause issues under the Competition Act.
Lisa Laventure, a spokesperson for Meta, highlighted the company’s previous statements regarding Bill C-18, which is an outdated law that restricts news broadcasts.
The company stated that the legislation can only be met by preventing news coverage for Canadians.
The move was made by Meta, which had already blocked news content for certain Canadian users. It was planned to be extended to all Canadians starting Tuesday, and will result in the removal of access to view or post news on Facebook or Instagram. Additionally, news organizations will have their stories blocked on those platforms.
According to the company, Canadians can still access news online by visiting news publishers’ websites or using their mobile news apps.
According to Keldon Bester, the executive director of the Canadian Anti-Monopoly Project, it will be a challenging task to use competition laws to tackle Meta’s news-blocking measures.
The media organizations’ claims of abuse of dominance require proof of Meta’s extensive control over a market and its anticompetitive actions.
The three news groups argue that Meta’s dominance over the social media and online advertising market is counterproductive by excluding Canadian news media. They contend that this will hinder news organizations from competing for revenue from online ads and their readers.
The definition of the relevant market for news organizations is a challenge, as stated by Bester, while the Competition Bureau evaluates consumer alternatives such as the publishers’ websites when determining the threshold and impact of anticompetitive acts.
According to Bester, there are likely to be obstacles that hinder the success.
Marsha Barber, a professor at Toronto Metropolitan University’s School of Journalism, stated that media broadcasters and publishers are likely to suffer if Meta platforms block news.
Barber pointed out that the news media is now exploring ways to mitigate the impact of social media visibility, which was once a concern for them under Bill C-18.
“The fact that they are willing to retaliate is a positive sign, as democracy suffers when less people have access to news.”
A number of news groups have declared their non-advertisement on Meta platforms as a form of protest to the company’s decision. On Tuesday, Stingray Group Inc., headquartered in Montreal and responsible for media and technology, announced that it will immediately cancel all advertising on the platforms due to Canadian news.
The Online News Act is not binding on Meta at present, as stated by Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge on Tuesday. The government is currently working on regulations for the law, which will be implemented by the end of the year.
St-Onge stated that the company has not taken part in the regulatory process, which is focused on establishing a free and independent press for Canada.
“Rather than contributing their fair share to news organizations, they prefer to block their users from accessing good and local news,” she remarked.
The Canadian Press first published this report on August 8, 2023.
Bell Media conveyed to CTV News that:
“This application is being directed by Bell Media, a member of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, who are also working with other industry participants.”
According to a statement posted online by Karine Moses, the senior vice-president of Bell Media and spokesperson for CTV News, “Meta’s decision to block links from Canadian news organizations is concerning.”
Canadian news organizations are a trustworthy, reliable, and sought-after source of news that spans the different communities they serve. They offer valuable perspectives on issues that impact everyone, according to Moses.
The Online News Act’s provisions are crucial for ensuring access to valuable Canadian news content through fair negotiations, which is essential for our democracy.
By downloading Bell Media’s news apps and visiting our news websites, Canadians can stay up-to-date with the latest breaking news from their local area and global communities.