Bill C-18: University Publications caught in the ‘crossfire’

    Still showing the locked Instagram's profile for local student newspaper The Aquinian, after the setting of Bill C18. (Daniel Salas/AQ)

    Meta, parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has blocked Canadian news from its platforms until further notice in response to Bill C-18, affecting small local publications and student papers. 

    Bill C-18, the Online News Act intends to promote fairness within journalism by making companies like Meta and Google compensate news outlets for sharing content on their platforms. Now, with Meta blocking news for Canadian consumers, publications across the country are losing a vital pathway to their readers.

    “Meta and Google both released statements and they both lobbied the federal government saying ‘hey, if you guys do this, if you force us to pay, we will do something,’” said Andrew Mrozowski, president of the Canadian University Press.

    Mrozowski said people suspected the removal of news on Meta platforms would be the consequence, despite Bill C-18’s good intentions. Mrozowski also believes the government was trying to do good by finding a way to credit and compensate journalism.  

    “They were trying to find a way to regulate, just like other licensed content. How do we create intellectual content for journalists, so they own the right to their work and get compensated fairly for it?” said Mrozowski.

    In April 2022, the federal government made a statement that they understand “digital platforms and social media are now the gateways where people find, read and share news.” They also stated that “advertising revenues have shifted away from local news and journalists to these gatekeepers, who profit from the sharing and distribution of Canadian news content.” 

    The loss of advertisement for television, radio and news is estimated to be $4.9 billion in the past 12 years. Recovering this loss of revenue is the government’s intent – university and other small publications are receiving the consequences.

    “Student journalism is absolutely caught in the crossfire and the federal government must recognize that small local publications are also caught in the crossfire,” wrote Jamie Gillies, head of the journalism and communications department at St. Thomas University, in an email.

    Gillies said the federal government needs to revise Bill C-18 for small media organizations and university publications, such as The Aquinian.

    Gillies thinks that the government and large media producers such as Bell and Rogers are starting to realize the power Meta and Google hold.

    “These organizations wield so much power and can decide to simply ban news content,” said Gillies.

    Gillies and Mrozowski both believe revisions need to be made to disqualify university publications from Bill C-18. Mrozowski and his team will try to work with the government in the coming months but that won’t necessarily remove university press from Meta’s scope.

    “From a legal legislative perspective, Canadian University Press (CUP) papers are not involved in C-18, so that’s why I don’t know how much will come out of [our] meeting with the Minister of Heritage, because at the end of the day they don’t control who gets blocked,” said Mrozowski.

    CUP is working with the government and trying to contact Meta on behalf of its members, but Mrozowski and his team believe they may have to focus more on adapting.

    Bill C-18 does not mean the end of journalism, it just makes sharing news stories more difficult. Mrozowski says it only affects journalists once they hit publish, everything up until that point is the same.

    “We are still able to tell stories, we are still able to share stories, just now, we have to pivot the way we share them.”