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'Meta took a bad decision': Canada's heritage minister says about Online News Act fallout

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Canada’s heritage minister insists the federal government is still working to get Facebook and Instagram parent company Meta back to the bargaining table to negotiate a deal to compensate Canadian news organizations as part of the regulatory process for the controversial Online News Act.

Bill C-18, or the Online News Act, passed in June, and lays out a framework that would require digital giants such as Google and Meta to develop agreements with Canadian news sites to provide them with compensation for hosting their journalistic content on their platforms.

Pascale St-Onge — who was tasked with overseeing the negotiations over Bill C-18 with Google on behalf of the government — told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in an interview airing Sunday, she’s still willing to bargain with Meta.

“We're still looking at everything that we can do to try to bring Meta back to the table,” St-Onge said. “And of course, my door is always open.”

In response to the legislation, Meta started blocking Canadian news from Facebook and Instagram this summer, while Google threatened to do the same and block certain news content from its search engine.

But the federal government announced this week it had reached a deal with Google, which will see the tech giant pay $100 million annually to publishers, indexed to inflation, and continue to allow access to Canadian news content on its platform.

“But what I can say is that Meta, yes, decided to ban news in Canada, but we're seeing that they're doing this across the world,” she also said, citing the examples of Meta’s different rules and agreements with Australia and some European countries, as examples. “So this looks also like a business decision from Mark Zuckerberg to leave their platform to disinformation and misinformation, and I think that the public should be very worried about that.”

Reuters reported in August that data from different independent tracking firms showed Meta blocking news links on its platforms in Canada “had almost no impact on Canadians’ usage of Facebook.”

And when pressed on what should be inferred from the data showing Meta blocking Canadian news from its platforms hasn’t affected the company’s bottom line, St-Onge said the tech giant should still negotiate with the government as Google did.

“We passed the bill because it's important that the platforms that make money off of Canadian content should compensate the newsrooms that create that content,” she said. “Meta took a bad decision, in my opinion, their platform would be much better with news on it.”

On Wednesday, St-Onge also told Kapelos on CTV News Channel’s Power Play that she’s “had conversations” with Meta, but that “Facebook has made it pretty clear that they’re against the principle of compensating the news sector for the value that they bring to their platform.”

She also said she’d met with Rachel Curran, the head of public policy for Meta Canada, to discuss the issue, and reiterated that her “door is always open.”

“Ms. Curran met with the minister at her request in August, to keep the government informed as we ended news availability,” Meta spokesperson Lisa Laventure said in an email statement to CTVNews.ca. “As we have repeatedly shared, regulations cannot address the fundamental challenges of the legislation, and we relayed this to the minister at that time. “

Laventure also reiterated the company’s stance that pulling Canadian news entirely from its platforms is “the only way (to) reasonably comply with the Online News Act.”

The legislation comes into effect on Dec. 19.

With files from CTVNews.ca’s Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello and CTV’s Question Period Senior Producer Stephanie Ha

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