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News Publishers, Broadcasters Call for Investigation into Meta’s News Blocking

August 8, 2023 4:15 PM | The Canadian Press

By Ian Bickis, The Canadian Press


The Meta logo is seen at the Vivatech show in Paris in Paris, France, Wednesday, June 14, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Thibault Camus)

A group of Canadian news publishers and broadcasters is calling on Canada’s Competition Bureau to investigate and prohibit Meta from blocking news content on its digital platforms.

The request comes as social media giant Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, said it would begin blocking news on its platforms in Canada starting Tuesday after the Canadian government passed a bill forcing Google and Meta to pay publishers for content they link to or repurpose.

News Media Canada, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and CBC said in a joint statement they have filed a request to the Competition Bureau to investigate Meta’s “abuse of its dominant position.”

They said the practices of the social media giant are “anticompetitive” as they will prevent Canadian news companies from accessing the advertising market and significantly reduce their visibility to Canadians on social media platforms.

“If Meta is allowed to proceed unchecked, it could inflict significant damage to Canadian news organizations’ ability to offer quality news services to Canadians, which is critical to the functioning of a free and democratic society,” they said in their application to the Competition Bureau.

The news publishers and broadcasters said they are calling on the Competition Bureau to use its prosecutorial tools to prohibit Meta from blocking Canadians’ access to news content.

The Competition Bureau has been closely monitoring developments related to Meta’s decision to block Canadians’ access to news and is in the process of conducting a preliminary review, said spokesman John Power.

He confirmed the Competition Bureau has received the complaint from the news organizations but said it would be inappropriate to speculate or comment on whether specific conduct may raise concerns under the Competition Act.

Asked to respond to the application, Meta spokeswoman Lisa Laventure pointed to the company’s previous comments on the Online News Act, also known as Bill C-18, where it has said the law is built on a flawed premise that leads it to block news.

“The only way we can reasonably comply with this legislation is to end news availability for people in Canada,” the company said.

Meta had previously been blocking news content for some users in Canada, but the move was set to extend to all Canadians starting Tuesday. Canadians will no longer be able to view or post news on Facebook or Instagram and news organizations will start to see their stories blocked on those platforms.

The company noted that Canadians can still access news online by going directly to news publishers’ websites or using their mobile news apps.

Using existing competition laws to take on Meta’s news-blocking actions will be tough, said Keldon Bester, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Monopoly Project.

To establish abuse of dominance, as the media organizations allege Meta is doing, they have to prove Meta’s substantial control of a market, that it’s practising anticompetitive acts, and that there are anticompetitive effects.

The three news groups say that Meta controls the social media and online advertising market and their exclusion of Canadian news media is anticompetitive. They say Meta’s conduct will impair news organizations from being able to compete for revenue from online advertising and from their readers.

Defining the relevant market as it relates to news organizations will be a challenge though, said Bester, while the Competition Bureau looks at whether there are alternatives for consumers, such as news publishers’ own websites, when judging the threshold and impacts of anticompetitive acts.

“There are likely stumbling blocks that we can see already that makes it unlikely to succeed,” said Bester.

The blocking of news on Meta platforms does likely mean a hit to media broadcasters and publishers, said Marsha Barber, a professor at Toronto Metropolitan University’s School of Journalism.

“There was always a concern under Bill C-18 that news media would lose access to something very valuable, which was the kind of visibility they got on social media. Now it’s happening and the news media appears to be looking for ways to mitigate that,” said Barber.

“It’s a good thing that they are prepared to push back, because the fewer people who are exposed to news, the worse it is for democracy.”

Numerous news groups have declared they would not advertise on Meta platforms as a protest to the company’s move. On Tuesday, Montreal-based media and technology company Stingray Group Inc. said it would also immediately withdraw all advertising on the platforms in response to Meta’s decision to block Canadian news.

Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge said in a statement Tuesday that Meta does not yet have obligations under the Online News Act. The government is still developing regulations for the law that is set to come into effect by the end of the year.

St-Onge said the company has not participated in the regulatory process, the aim of which is creating a sustained free and independent press in Canada.

“They would rather block their users from accessing good quality and local news instead of paying their fair share to news organizations,” she said.

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