OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is showing no interest in compromising with Meta and Google over a proposed law that would make them pay for Canadian journalism that helps tech companies generate revenue.
Trudeau said Wednesday that Meta and Google's bullying tactics will not work with his government, which he says is ensuring those companies do not weaken Canada's democracy by threatening its domestic media industry.
Meta announced last week it will run a test blocking access to some news for a small percentage of Canadian users of Instagram and Facebook.
The company said it is prepared to permanently end access to news content in Canada if Parliament passes Bill C-18, which would require tech giants to pay publishers for linking to or otherwise repurposing news content.
Google ran a similar test earlier this year, restricting access to news on its search engine for less than four per cent of its Canadian users. It says it is looking for a compromise from the Liberal government.
"The fact that these internet giants would rather cut off Canadians' access to local news than pay their fair share is a real problem, and now they're resorting to bullying tactics to try and get their way. It's not going to work," Trudeau said at a news conference.
"We will continue to make sure that these incredibly profitable corporations contribute to strengthening our democracy, not weakening it."
Big publishers have told a Senate committee currently studying the bill that they could lose millions of dollars should their content be blocked by Google and Meta.
The online news bill already passed in the House of Commons and could be approved by the Senate as early as this month.
If it becomes law, both companies would be required to enter into agreements with news publishers to pay them for news content that appears on their sites if it helps them generate money.
Senators studying the bill in the transport and communications committee that up to 700 news outlets in Canada will likely benefit from the bill.
But Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux told the committee on Wednesday that the legislation is not well-designed for smaller media companies. He said they don't have the same resources as legacy media outlets and will likely find it daunting to negotiate with the powerful Silicon Valley firms.
Both Meta and Google have argued that news doesn't generate much revenue for their companies, and they are considering ending local news on their platforms altogether.
Meta said news makes up about three per cent of the content that's on Facebook feeds, and Google said less than two per cent of searches have to do with news, because people care more about recipes than articles.
Still, each company has proposed amendments in the Senate, including changes to the section of the bill that deals with arbitration and tweaks that would create more certainty around which publishers they would have to enter into agreements with.
For example, Google said that as the bill is currently written, it would have to enter into agreements with community and campus broadcasters, even if they do not produce news content and have no obligation to adhere to a code of ethics.
Spokesperson Shay Purdy said in a statement Wednesday that the company has raised "reasonable and pragmatic solutions" that would increase the company's investment in Canadian news.
"We're very concerned about the path we're on and we're doing everything we can to engage constructively and avoid a negative outcome for Canadians."
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has said that the bill is already balanced, and that Meta and Google have his phone number if they want to talk.
"(C-18) is about the future of our news industry in our country," Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said in the Senate on Wednesday.
"It’s about upholding our democracy, because our democracy —any democracy — needs a free, independent, and thriving press."
Meta declined a request for comment about the prime minister's remarks.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2023.
Meta funds a limited number of fellowships that support emerging journalists at The Canadian Press.
Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press