Grasping the Effects of Bill C-18: Alterations in Canada's Digital Media Landscape

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The digital world is always changing, requiring all of us to continuously adjust our habits to stay current.

With the emergence of Web 2.0 in recent years, our patterns of media engagement have undergone significant shifts. In fact, an increasing number of consumers are transitioning from traditional media to digital platforms. Additionally, a sizable segment of the population now exclusively accesses their news and media sources via links showcased by their social media.

The introduction of the federal Bill C-18, An Act concerning online media platforms disseminating news to individuals in Canada (but more concisely just called the Online News Act), has raised concerns among web giants that the context of this legislation is
impossible to navigate. The Act received approval in June and is set to come into effect within 180 days, which will occur in December.

Meta (parent company of Facebook, Instagram and related platforms) has pre emptively restricted news content on its platforms, even before the act's official enforcement. Google has similarly declared its intent to exclude news content from its services once the legislation is active, affecting its Search, News, Discover and the Google News Showcase – the latter of which will cease to be accessible in Canada.

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What is the Online News Act (Bill C-18)?

The Online News Act aims to recalibrate the dynamics in the online news sector by ensuring Canadian media and journalists are compensated for the distribution of their work through online media. It sets forth a legal and regulatory structure allowing digital entities to strike deals with Canadian media sources to feature their material on these platforms.

Moreover, the act brings to light definitions not formerly present in Canadian law, some of which include:

  • news business”: An individual or organization running a news outlet within Canada;
  • “operator”: An individual or group that manages a digital news intermediary by any given method; and
  • digital news intermediary”: An online communication platform, including a search engine or social networking service, that falls under the legislative authority of Parliament and through which news content produced by news media is made available to persons in Canada. This definition excludes a messaging service whose primary purpose is to enable people to communicate with each other privately.[1] 

The primary clauses of the legislation

The act sets out a structure for the duty of digital news intermediaries to enter into contracts with news entities based on a predefined procedure.

It also covers, among its various stipulations, the collective negotiations by news outlets, and it promotes the creation of voluntary business contracts between digital service providers and news outlets, which should then be presented to the state for endorsement, with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) being the overseeing agency. If, as a final measure, digital service providers and news outlets cannot come to a business agreement, it also allows for compulsory arbitration.

What's the controversy around Bill C-18?

Both Google and Meta have expressed strong reservations about this act. They've pointed out that, given its existing specifications, it would not be feasible for them to operate within these constraints and they would rather exclude content from their service than adhere to these stipulations. Indeed, Meta was the first to abandon discussions even before the enactment of the law, and it was the first to halt news on its platforms, selecting a decisive approach from the start.

While the federal government continues to negotiate with Google, it labeled Meta's forceful approach as "bullying" and ended all of its advertising on Facebook and Instagram. The government of Quebec was swift in doing the same.

Thus, there's currently a power struggle unfolding between the Canadian authorities and the internet titans.

Repercussions in the communications domain

It's evident that this state of affairs is touching abroad segment of Canadians. According to a Digital News Report survey conducted in 2023, only 25% of French-speaking respondents refrained from using social media to discover, peruse, view, discuss, or sharenews during the week preceding the survey[2], leaving the remaining 75% who actively engaged with social media for these purposes. This underscores the risk of accelerated misinformation spread when credible news sources are removed, allowing unchecked dissemination of potentially unverified content to prevail.

The fallout on the domain of communication and journalism is even more pronounced. In the face of news restrictions, all media entities that relay their materials on Meta or whose URLs are indexed by Google will be negatively affected, but not all news companies will feel it on the same scale.

Prominent media outlets like CBC/Radio-Canada, CTV, The Globe and Mail, La Presse, Québecor (Journal de Montréal, Journal de Québec, QMI, etc.) could potentially capitalize on their apps or channel users to their portals through alternate avenues. Conversely, smaller regional news providers, having fewer resources to lean on, stand at a crossroads if consumers do not have access to their materials on search engines or social platforms. On August 11, 2023, it was disclosed that Métro Media was putting a pause on all of its community papers and digital platforms. Then, just a month later on September 15, the community newspaper chain owned by the Toronto Star, Metroland Media Group, announced it was declaring bankruptcy and shutting down print editions of 70 community newspapers in Ontario. Such alarming developments seem poised to endure.

Repercussions for communications experts

How is this impacting those the communications field? What implications does this have for our clientele? How might the communications and marketing divisions of companies maneuver through this transition?

Influence on media relations initiatives

Media relations stands out as the facet of corporate communications poised to face the most significant challenges if traditional media audiences decline. However, major traditional media aren't vanishing entirely and their stature as thought leaders endures, even increasing as fewer outlets remain available. Intriguingly, the CanTrust 2023 Index revealed that 47% of Quebec residents have faith in conventional media, a jump of 8 points from the year prior. On the flip side, here are some anticipated shifts:

  • Impressions: Less traffic to news articles from social networksand search engines means less reach and fewer impressions for the articles secured.
  • Performance: Instead of benchmarking objectives against results from previous years, align them with the new landscape so goals can be achievable. This is vital for both media relations agencies and their clients, the corporate communicators accountable to their leadership. This situation serves as a platform to highlight and champion the overall value of all performance indicators, beyond impressions, such as quality scores and metrics that scale down to corporate activities.
  • Monitoring tools: The significance of specialized media monitoring tools (such as MRP and Meltwater) will grow as search engines phase out news distribution. Media relations agencies equipped with these specialized services can offer their clients cost-effective and time-saving solutions by providing access to these tools.
  • Content reach: Emphasizing diverse communication channels (including organic and paid media coverage, organic and paid social media) and crafting strategies that incorporate them becomes increasingly crucial. While amplifying media-generated content for maximum reach has been a common tactic, this approach will require reconsideration, as paid promotion of this nature will likely diminish.

Use digital marketing to reinforce core messages

  • Crafting a 360-degree campaign: At Capital-Image, we remain firmly committed to the effectiveness of holistic communication campaigns, which entail leveraging multiple communication channels, including digital marketing. Whether it involves social media (organic or paid), in-app media placements, or a search engine campaign, digital marketing can facilitate the dissemination of essential messages to the intended audience, complementing our traditional media relations efforts.
  • Disseminating news through alternative means: There exist alternative avenues for promoting acompany's news. For instance, we can create a newsletter containing pertinent content and the latest updates, supported by a strategic social media acquisition plan to redirect followers to this platform.

The future of online news and communication

Unquestionably, despite the legislation having been enacted, this whole issue remains unresolved, and Canadian communication professionals are vigilantly monitoring developments. Other countries are also closely observing the outcome of this situation in Canada as they too contemplate revising regulations governing digital platforms. Given its significant implications for the political landscape, this matter is of concern to all citizens.

Furthermore, the legislation aims to establish frameworks for representation and funding for media from diverse backgrounds, while acknowledging the contribution of local media to Canada's communication landscape.

It's a reasonable assumption that the law and its impact will evolve, and its implementation will undoubtedly present complexities. A pertinent case study is the 2021 situation in Australia, where Facebook initially threatened to block news content but later reached an agreement with the government, leading to compensation for local media by Facebook and Google. Maybe a similar middle ground will emerge in Canada,provided dialogue is promoted by all parties?

While we await further developments, our focus remains on following events and discerning their impact on communication practices. Now, more than ever, it is imperative to invest in robust integrated communication strategies and enlist the expertise of agile, creative professionals to address the industry's emerging and evolving challenges.


[2] The Digital News Report (DNR) is an international survey led by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford. Deployed in 46 countries in 2023, it focuses on the practices and perceptions of information consumers, particularly issues relating to online information. The Center for Media Studies (CEM) is responsible for the Canadian portion of the investigation.