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C-18 is an existential threat, not a benefit, to democracy
But there are alternatives that would actually help
Welcome to Substack, where you can subscribe to an individual writer’s products for a minimum amount higher than the current price of a complete subscription to the New York Times. Thank you, incidentally, for supporting me with that level of trust.
All of this means that to have reasonable access to a good variety of quality written news, analysis, and commentary can get very expensive very quickly.
Fox News, Rebel Media, and other far-right outlets do not charge access for their material. If you are on a budget, there is a profound political bias in what you can find outside the paywalls of modern media.
Until comprehensive, consistent, reliable, and objective public funding can provide for the information environment we need, billing social media giants for linking to news articles, as implemented by Bill C-18, won’t solve this problem.
Facebook and Google’s reaction of blocking news for Canadians rather than paying recognised media outlets whose news stories are linked from their platforms per this new government legislation may appear to be bullying, but they are not wrong to take that approach. Social media links to news stories are the bread and butter of many news outlets today, giving the only meaningful access to new readers.
Forcing social media giants to pay for content referred from their platform is a fundamental affront to the core tenets of the Internet, namely that links are free and that all traffic is equal, which has allowed the Internet to become the core social and financial infrastructure of our society.
That right wing propaganda sites are not always recognised as news and may not meet with C-18’s definition of journalism, will only further cleave society between those who can pay to be informed from those who cannot. Social media companies eschewing this rather absurd law will not have to compensate or block propaganda; only journalism. The consequences of such are both obvious and dire.
As a legacy item, an otherwise transformative and progressive Prime Minister has chosen an absolute doozie.
There are better solutions possible. Having a universal subscription system would, while imperfect, do a lot to mitigate the current situation.
If the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Globe and Mail, The Atlantic, the Hill Times, and every other major or minor media outlet that meets basic journalistic standards and has a paywall could work together to have a single, common subscription system, we could start to improve this situation.
If one could pay a certain amount per month for the aggregate collection of quality written material, as they might for a movie streaming service, and have their subscription fees doled out to the participating outlets and writers proportionate to their actual consumption of those materials, we would improve access to quality writing, improve revenue to quality writers, and grow the pie by making written material accessible to a far greater number of people.
If that subscription could go a step further and be the subject of a fully refundable tax credit or even a public allowance to ensure everyone in society has equal access, we would have a credible, democratised funding model that does not take access to quality information from right to privilege. To improve access to media for everyone, the government funding model for media should be guided through the consumers of that information.
At the very least, having generalised access to quality journalism, analysis, and commentary should be as socially acceptable, affordable, and common as a Netflix or Amazon Prime membership, where paying a single provider gets you nearly unlimited quality content.
Fundamentally, having public access and funding for journalism should be as universal as healthcare.
Demanding social media companies pay journalists for the right to send traffic to their content will only bias the information environment away from credible sources and further strangle what is left of the legitimate journalism industry.