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Ottawa to suspend advertising on Facebook, Instagram in ongoing disagreement over Online News Act

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Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez says the federal government will suspend all its advertising on Facebook and Instagram, after what he called the social media giant Meta’s “unreasonable” and “irresponsible” decision to pull Canadian news from its platforms in response to the Online News Act.

The federal government’s Online News Act, Bill C-18, passed Parliament nearly two weeks ago, and it forces digital giants like Google and Meta to pay media outlets for content that is shared, previewed or otherwise repurposed on their platforms.

Both Meta and Google have announced they will block Canadian news in response to the Act.

The Canadian Press reported in June that Meta would temporarily block news links for some Canadians on Facebook and Instagram as part of a test run, ahead of the Act passing. Meanwhile, Google has said it will block news for Canadians on its search engine when the law comes into effect in six months, once the bill’s regulatory process has been completed.

“Today we’re calling on both platforms to stay at the table, work through the regulatory process with us, and contribute their fair share and keep news on their platform,” Rodriguez said Wednesday.

Rodriguez made the announcement alongside NDP House leader Peter Julian and Bloc Quebecois heritage critic Martin Champoux.

“We’re standing here together, with my colleagues from all major parties, except one, representing two thirds of all the MPs in the House, to stand up for a free, independent, non-partisan, fact-based and thriving press,” Rodriguez said.

He said tech giants are making “huge revenue” while profiting off of Canadian news organizations, and the federal government must take a stand against these companies.

“They’re superpowers. They’re huge,” Rodriguez said. “They’re rich, powerful, lots of big lawyers. It can be intimidating.”

“But are we going to let ourselves be intimidated? We can’t,” he added. “If the government and politicians don’t stand up against that kind of bullying or intimidation, who will?”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke against Meta’s decision to block Canadian news for some users at a news conference in St-Hyacinthe, Que., Wednesday.

“That’s just bullying,” Trudeau said. “And it’s undermining our democracy at a time where we need to stand up for democracy.”

A spokesperson for Meta told CTV News in an email Wednesday that the move is ultimately a business decision by the company.

“As we have repeatedly shared, the Online News Act is flawed legislation that ignores the realities of how our platforms work, the preferences of the people who use them and the value we provide news publishers,” the spokesperson wrote. “Meta does not proactively collect links to news content to display on our platforms; instead, publishers actively choose to post on Facebook and Instagram because it benefits them to do so.”

“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,” the statement adds.

CTV News has also reached out to Google, but did not immediately receive a response.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault tweeted Wednesday afternoon the provincial government will also stop advertising on Facebook until Meta resumes its negotiations with the federal government.

“No company is above the law,” he tweeted in French.

Rodriguez told CTV’s Power Play last week he was “a bit surprised” by Google’s decision to block Canadian news outlets from its search engine, adding his office had been in discussions with the digital giant.

The heritage minister reiterated Wednesday that those conversations are ongoing, and he’s confident the federal government and Google will be able to reach an agreement, so there are no plans to suspend advertising with that company at this point.

Meta, he said, “took a different approach,” prompting the suspension of Government of Canada advertising.

Rodriguez said the move will not prevent MPs or members of the Liberal caucus from posting on Facebook and Instagram.

“I think it's a conversation we could definitely have in terms of caucus,” Rodriguez said. “I'm speaking on behalf of the government. This is a government decision, then members could look at what they do, but they can also be inspired by what their government does.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Liberal Party told CTV News it will continue to advertise on Meta platforms.

NDP spokesperson Éric Demers wrote in an email to CTV News that while his party welcomes the federal government’s decision to stop advertising with Meta, the NDP will continue to do so.

“While the New Democratic Party of Canada will continue to communicate with Canadians on these platforms, we will monitor the situation in the hopes that the government’s advertising suspension will get web giants to follow the law and pay their fair share,” he added.

Bloc Quebecois spokesperson Julien Coulombe-Bonnafous said in an email the party stopped advertising with Meta last week.

CTV News has reached out to the Conservative Party for comment but has not yet heard back.

Quebec-based telecommunications companies Quebecor Inc. and Cogeco have also said they will pull their advertising from Meta platforms.

With files from CTVNews.ca’s Daniel Otis, CTV Power Play producer Caroline O'Neill, and CTV News' Stephanie Ha

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