Governments struggle to rein in internet



The decision by internet behemoths META and Google to drop Canadian news sharing and searches rather than pay for the content created by others outlines one of the curious aspects of the “wild west” frontier and its “free” culture.

Monopolies are one of the inevitable results of a fully capitalist system, that is why even that bastion of capitalism, the US, has put in place combine legislation and other anti-trust laws. It is recognized that the only way capitalism can work is if there is competition. One of the well-recognized consequences of unfettered capitalism is that the rich tend to get richer and the poor poorer. What isn’t so obvious is that the middle class tends to find itself slipping more and more into the latter category—when it comes to joining the one percent, it is still possible to join the ranks, but don’t bother knocking on the door of the super-rich—that portal is locked to outsiders.

As corporations grow larger and larger, with revenues far outstripping all but the largest economies, it becomes more and more challenging for mere governments to reign the robber barons in. This isn’t the first time the world has faced this challenge, it was in the time of the Carnegies, the Rockefellers and Morgans that the worst of corporate excesses and skullduggery were first brought, somewhat, to heel.

Across the globe, national governments have been faced with the challenge anew, as multinational corporations play catch-me-if-you-can by switching jurisdictions to those that favour their bottom line best—with consumers and ordinary citizens paying the price.

Here in Canada and around the globe, news organizations have watched, near helplessly, as giant corporations mine the work news media companies have paid for in order to reap immense profits with no recompense to those who created that content.

Australia, whose legislation upon which Canada’s controversial Bill 18 was based, faced a similar assault on its news media by the very same internet giants who now threaten to hold Canadians hostage. Spoiler alert, Australia won. The giants blinked.

Now it is Canada’s turn in the fray, and it remains to be seen whether our nation will blink first. Let us hope not. A free (that is uncoerced by state or corporate actors) press is essential to the functioning of a democratic state—the founding fathers of our neighbours to the south knew that and took steps to prevent governments or corporations with deep pockets from oppressing the news.

Without real journalism, citizens will no longer have the information they need to make informed decisions when it comes to exercising their democratic rights. True, the current system is far from perfect or safe from undue government or corporate influence, but it does generally function within reason. But a free press is not free. It costs money to pay journalists (in more than “exposure”), to travel to where the news is happening, to print newspapers, broadcast radio and television segments, even to upload articles to be accessed online.

Internet giants claim they pay their share in providing “exposure” to news media outlets. Any creative can tell you how well that pays the bills to keep the lights on and feed the family. The rising tide of misinformation to be found on social media sites makes it clear that so-called “citizen journalism” cannot fill the void that would be left if news agencies were to disappear altogether.

A newspaper subscription generally costs less than a cup of coffee, in the case of The Expositor that’s less than a coffee a week, and we are proud to report local, provincial and national news of interest to Islanders each week. Yes, The Expositor does have a paywall online for many articles—the aforementioned “lights on” issue makes that imperative. Subscribers gain access to both the print and online versions at less than the cost of a coffee a week.

As the battle between the internet giants drags on, Canada has begun to hit back, cancelling its advertising on those sites who are blocking Canadian news. Quebec and many of its corporations are starting to step up as well. That begs the question, will Ontario and the Doug Ford government follow suit?

Upon ascending to power in Ontario, one of the first actions taken by the Progressive Conservatives was to cancel its subscriptions to print media and step back from advertising in print. Where did it send taxpayers’ advertising dollars instead? In case you haven’t guessed, those dollars went south to Facebook and Google—each based in the US, not Canada.

Journalism is important, but today it is under grave threat. Newspapers, television newsrooms and other outlets have been shuttering their doors in droves over the last few years, and the drain of advertising dollars to online giants is the clear culprit.

Take a few moments after reading this editorial to let our governments know you care and voice your support for local news and come visit us at manitoulin.com—and maybe consider buying a subscription.

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