By Greg Newing
Local Journalism Initiative
PONTIAC RIDING – After social media giant, Meta, the corporation that owns and manages Facebook and Instagram, decided to ban Canadian news content from its platforms in response to Bill C-18, the Journal contacted MP Sophie Chatel for her perspective on the issue and for updates on the federal government’s efforts to support local media.
Bill C-18, also known as the Online News Act, requires online corporations like Meta and Google to compensate Canadian news publishers on the premise that the tech giants profit from hosting news content on their platforms. The bill, which aims to protect local media by ensuring fair revenue sharing, became law in June and will come into effect at the end of this year. Web giants Google and Meta have opposed the bill with Meta deciding to indefinitely block news content in August and Google threatening to block all Canadian news once the law is in effect.
When asked about her views on C-18 and Meta’s actions, Chatel said she’s concerned by what she sees as an intimidation tactic against Canadian democracy, “Local media is fundamental to democracy and providing our communities with good fact-based information … Bill C-18 is not even in force yet and Meta has preemptively blocked access to news to put pressure on the Canadian government.”
Chatel hopes the government will be able to bring Meta back to the negotiating table and reach a deal before the end of the year. Repealing the law is not an option, she noted. “Facebook and Google make over 10 billion dollars a year in Canada on online advertising revenue and over 500 newsrooms have closed at the same time. This is a big crisis and something has to change, otherwise more and more newsrooms will close,” she told the Journal.
When asked about how these developments will affect the way she communicates with the Pontiac riding, Chatel said that although she has a Facebook page, she prioritizes face-to-face interaction with constituents and communicating through local media. “It was a personal choice to invest our advertising and communication budget almost entirely in local media, including radio and newspapers in the riding,” she said, noting it’s a trend she will continue.
When asked about whether the federal government will reinvest more of its own advertising budget in local media after it pulled all advertising from Meta’s platforms in June, she said that while the crisis is making the government rethink its advertising strategy, no decisions have been made.
Chatel said she encourages the government to invest in traditional local media through publicity campaigns as a way to help people understand what the government is delivering to Canadians. “It’s beyond partisanship, it’s about helping people understand what the government is doing,” she added.
Local newspaper publisher Lily Ryan, who owns The Pontiac Journal, West Quebec Post, Aylmer Bulletin and the Gatineau Bulletin, echoed Chatel’s perspective that Meta’s response to C-18 creates barriers to informed civic engagement by threatening local media. She urged Chatel to lead by example and make use of the five local papers in her riding for advertising and communicating with constituents.
Now that the government is no longer paying Meta for an audience, Ryan said it’s time for the government to reinvest in local newspapers. She commented on the importance of government publicity ads for local media, noting the lack of advertising support for newspapers has extended across several governments.
“Paid publicity provides important information to readers, income to newspapers and doesn’t shift the labour efforts of newspapers to managing grant projects. What is new at Veterans Affairs? Are there new deductibles at CRA? How to spot scabies? Answers to these questions are the type of content formerly found in paid advertising from the federal government,” she concluded.