Heritage minister says it makes sense for CBC to get Google funds, suggests cap is possible
Deal reached with Google makes $100 million per year available to news companies
Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge says it would be within the spirit of the government's digital news law if CBC/Radio-Canada were to receive money from Google — but suggested its share of the $100-million fund may be capped.
In an interview on Rosemary Barton Live airing Sunday, St-Onge said the deal was "mainly and mostly about written press" but that broadcasters like CBC/Radio-Canada also had digital written news and could be included.
"I think it's important to respect the principle that for these tech giants, public broadcaster's news must also have value" because of the advertising benefits Google receives, she told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton.
"So yes, there should be a recognition of that and the principle should be respected," she said.
"At the same time, I understand that the market is very difficult right now ... and we're going to make sure that it's fair and equitable."
Asked whether CBC's share of the total $100-million annual funding might be capped, St-Onge acknowledged it might be a possibility.
"It could look like something like that, and everything will be made public a few days before the legislation comes into action on Dec. 19," she said.
Earlier in the week, St-Onge expressed skepticism that CBC should receive a share in line with the proportion of journalists it employs in Canada.
"I don't think that CBC/Radio-Canada needs to leave with a third of the envelope, so we will address that in the final regulations that will be published soon before the coming-into-force of the law," she said in French.
The government's deal with Google, announced earlier this week, marks an important point in the history of C-18, the government's legislation meant to force two major tech companies — Google and Meta — to reach compensation deals with Canadian media companies.
The $100-million figure is less than what the government initially thought could be raised through the law, and some critics have argued CBC, which receives public funding per year, should not be included in the deal. CBC received around $1.3 billion in public funding in the 2022-2023 fiscal year.
"Given concerns about public broadcasters competing with the private sector for ad dollars, to have it also compete for [Big Tech] money makes matters worse," University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist, who opposed Bill C-18, told a Senate committee studying the bill in May.
In a statement Sunday, Leon Mar, a corporate spokesperson for CBC/Radio-Canada, did not comment on the possibility of a cap.
"CBC/Radio-Canada believes the agreement is an important step in ensuring that all Canadian media receive fair payment for the news content their journalists produce that is currently used by foreign companies such as Google to earn revenue. We look forward to seeing the regulations and the details of the agreement with Google," he said.
No deal with Meta
St-Onge was also asked about the other company targeted by C-18, Meta, which controls Facebook and Instagram. Meta has been blocking news on its platforms in Canada since the summer and has argued that removing news from its platforms is the only reasonable way to comply with C-18.
"Unlike search engines, we do not proactively pull news from the internet to place in our users' feeds and we have long been clear that the only way we can reasonably comply with the Online News Act is by ending news availability for people in Canada," a Meta spokesperson said in a statement to CBC News earlier this week.
St-Onge told Barton that she believed Meta was de-emphasizing news globally. The Wall Street Journal has reported some resources are being shifted away from news content.
"I don't understand what their business plan is, but it seems like they don't have a problem with leaving Facebook to disinformation and misinformation, and I think that that is a big problem," St-Onge said.
In response to a request for comment Sunday, Meta reiterated its previous statement on C-18. Meta does have several programs, including fact-checking partnerships, meant to combat misinformation and disinformation around the world.
Earlier this year, the federal Conservatives criticized the government for not accepting amendments on C-18, and pledged to replace it under a Pierre Poilievre-led government.
With files from The Canadian Press