Politics

Federal government has suspended its advertising on Facebook, Instagram, says heritage minister

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez says the federal government has suspended all of its advertising on Facebook and Instagram as it continues its battle over the Online News Act with tech giants Google and Meta.

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez says Facebook's decision to block news was 'unreasonable, irresponsible'

A bearded man in a suit stands and speaks.
Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 20, 2022. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez says the federal government has suspended all of its advertising on Facebook and Instagram as it continues its battle over the Online News Act with tech giants Google and Meta. 

"Facebook has decided to be unreasonable, irresponsible and started blocking news," Rodriguez said Wednesday at a joint press conference with the NDP's Peter Julian and the Bloc Québécois' Martin Champoux. "This is why today we are announcing the Government of Canada will be suspending advertising on Facebook and Instagram.

"Google, on the other hand, has been open to finding a solution."

The federal government's Online News Act, C-18, became law on June 22. It compels companies like Google and Meta, Facebook and Instagram's parent company, to pay money to news organizations each time a user accesses a web story through a link on one of their products.

The bill has been pitched as a way to keep news outlets solvent after advertising moved en masse to digital platforms, virtually wiping out a major revenue stream for journalism.

"Meta's decision to block news content in Canada is disappointing. It is disappointing and irresponsible," Champoux said Wednesday. "Google's threat to do the same is concerning."

Champoux said that, instead of viewing C-18 as an obstacle to profit, tech giants should see it as an opportunity to show that they care about democracy by backing a free, objective press and combating misinformation.

"The companies that do business here must respect our values and comply with our laws," Champoux said. "C-18 is a necessary tool."

A man in glasses and a blue suit stands and speaks.
Bloc MP Martin Champoux says laws adopted by Parliament "must be respected." (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Julian said that as local media outlets continue to close, and as larger ones lay off staff, the Online News Act is needed to preserve democracy in Canada.

"We are telling Meta and Google that they must respect Canadian laws and Canadian democracy," he said. 

"Today we have parliamentarians representing two-thirds of the House of Commons saying very clearly that the web giants … have profited enormously from Canada and now its time to give back some of those funds."

Google remains in talks: Rodriguez

Rodriguez said he is still having conversations with Google and is confident that a deal can be struck.

"What's clear on our side is that solutions can only come around the table," he said. "It's also clear that Google's concerns can be met by what we plan to do in the regulations.

"Meta, on the other side, is not talking to us unless they called this morning … so they took a different approach. I don't think it's good for anyone. Not for them, not the government, not for Canadians, for anyone."

A Meta spokesperson said in a media statement Wednesday that the Online News Act is "flawed legislation" that ignores the realities of how the company's platforms work.

"Unfortunately, the regulatory process is not equipped to make changes to the fundamental features of the legislation that have always been problematic, and so we plan to comply by ending news availability in Canada in the coming weeks," she said.

Rodriguez said the Online News Act is only asking companies to pay a "fair" price for links to content.

Watch: Heritage minister calls on Meta, Google to 'stay at the table' in C-18 talks:

Heritage minister calls on Meta, Google to 'stay at the table' in C-18 talks

10 months ago
Duration 0:49
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez says the government will no longer be publishing ads on Facebook and Instagram.

Telecom and media firm Quebecor said Wednesday it will pull its ads from Facebook and Instagram in response to Meta's decision to block access to news in Canada on its social media platforms. CBC/Radio-Canada also announced Wednesday it would be pulling its advertising from Meta.

"We join other Canadian media organizations that are calling for Canadians' access to news — all news, from all outlets, both public and private — to be protected," a statement from CBC/Radio-Canada said.

News Media Canada, which advocates for the print and digital media industry in Canada, welcomed the decision by the federal government and Quebecor and told CBC News.

"We encourage all municipal and provincial governments across Canada to do the same," the group said in a statement.

"Large corporate advertisers, like the banks, telcos, retailers and auto companies, should make a similarly strong statement to Meta. It's time for those who value a free press to stand up and be counted."

Liberal, NDP parties will continue Meta ads

While the federal government is suspending ads on Meta platforms, the Liberal Party of Canada and the NDP have confirmed they will continue to advertise there.

The Bloc told CBC News that it stopped advertising on Meta platforms on June 29.

On Wednesday, Quebec Premier François Legault announced on Twitter that the Quebec government also would stop advertising with Meta.

"No business is above the law," Legault said.

Speaking in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que. later in the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he expects more governments and companies will stop advertising with Meta in the coming days.

WATCH | Trudeau says government 'will not flinch' in dispute with tech giants:

Trudeau says government 'will not flinch' in dispute with tech giants

10 months ago
Duration 1:50
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the confrontation with Facebook and Google over C-18 amounts to a 'dispute over democracy.'

"We are not backing down on this. This goes to the core of a free and informed society that is able to make decisions in a democracy," he said.

"Canada and allies around the world are going to stand strong and demonstrate that we will not flinch in our defence of fundamental, foundational principles of democracy like a free, quality, informed press."

During the 2021-2022 fiscal year, the federal government spent $140.76 million on advertising. Social media companies such Meta, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok LinkedIn and Pinterest got  $21,205,519 of that. Meta's share was $11,423,728.

Over the same time period, the federal government spent $8,757,234 advertising through Google and another $1,147,062 on Bing ads.

C-18 amounts to censorship: Conservatives

The Conservatives voted against C-18 and party leader Pierre Poilievre vowed in a tweet to "repeal [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau's censorship laws."

Conservative Heritage critic Rachael Thomas issued a statement Wednesday calling C-18 a censorship law that limits what Canadians can see online.

"Common sense Conservatives submitted changes to fix flaws in Bill C-18 but the NDP-Liberal coalition blocked them. A Poilievre government will replace Bill C-18 and bring home freedom and choice for Canadians," she said.

Google and Meta also did not offer comment for this story. In the past, both companies have called the legislation unworkable.

Google has compared the exposure it provides through its search engine to a free newsstand service for media outlets. Meta has said it sees no room for negotiation with the government, given the way the law was written.

Google has said it looks forward to taking part in the regulatory process.

As a news organization, the CBC could see a financial benefit under C-18, which requires the CBC to provide an annual report on any compensation for news it receives from digital operators.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Zimonjic

Senior writer

Peter Zimonjic is a senior writer for CBC News. He has worked as a reporter and columnist in London, England, for the Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and in Canada for Sun Media and the Ottawa Citizen. He is the author of Into The Darkness: An Account of 7/7, published by Random House.

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