Ottawa is panicking after Meta pulled Canadian news from its Facebook and Instagram platforms.
At a press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Trudeau himself called Meta’s gesture unacceptable. Then Pablo Rodriguez, the new Secretary of Transportation and “father” of the C-18 bill that sparked hostilities, resigned. “Meta’s decision is unacceptable when there is an emergency situation,” he said. He was referring to the Kelowna and Yellowknife fires.
Then it was Pascale St-Onge, the new Minister for Heritage, who wrote on X (ex-Twitter) that “Meta needs to start posting news on its platforms to keep Canadians safe”. Catherine Tait, CEO of Radio-Canada, was the most pathetic in an interview with the Washington Post. What Meta did “is the equivalent of taking your phone or your radio away from you.” And she begged Meta to at least give up her gesture until the wildfire threat passed.
ON A SILVER PLATE
These are demands I find difficult to comprehend at a time when a law yet to come into force seeks to cut Meta’s revenue in compensation for its platforms’ Canadian newscasts. Why would you charge someone for doing us a favor? If Meta et al. needed an argument to oppose a law that would force them to compensate the media, it was handed to them on a silver platter.
Of all these more or less hidden calls for help, it is Ms. Tait’s that surprises me the most. How did the Northwest Territories public broadcaster become so dependent on Facebook? The channel reaches 41,000 of the 46,000 inhabitants of the territories via Facebook and not via its own platform. However, CBC is not short of resources.
I would point out to Ms. Tait that in 1936 the CBC found a way to broadcast two-minute radio reports every half hour for three days about miners being imprisoned in an old mine in Moose River, Nova Scotia. This is the first example in the world of continuous information. Reporter Frank Willis’ topos have been followed by 100 million people around the world. Back then, Ms. Tait, there was neither Facebook nor the Internet, but public radio knew how to use it!
A shameful delay
It’s a shame that Canada, which pioneered communications in the 20th century, is now being left behind by the internet giants in informing its citizens.
In 1932 it was the Conservative government of Richard Bennett (say that in your whistle, Mr Poilièvre) that created the Broadcasting Commission. It is the ancestor of Radio-Canada, which was born four years later. Then Ottawa created the National Film Board, which enabled Canada to become the first country in the world to educate its citizens through cinema. By 1958, Radio-Canada’s television signal could be received nationwide. In 1972, Telesat, an Ottawa company founded in 1969, launched Anik, the world’s first satellite to support domestic telecommunications.
If the Ottawa government had been visionary like its predecessors, it would have created a national news aggregator at least a decade ago, providing access to all Canadian news. This is the role that Meta, Google and Co. have given themselves, wiping out 75% of the country’s advertising revenue. It is too late?