On October 2, 2023, the CAJ submitted the following to the federal government in relation to submission requests on the draft regulations for the Online News Act.
Submission to the Canada Gazette:
On behalf of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), thank you for this opportunity to provide important stakeholder feedback on the draft regulations for the Online News Act. We hope to play a constructive role as the federal government implements these measures.
The CAJ is the country’s largest professional membership organization that serves to advance the interests of journalists from coast to coast to coast. Our association’s primary roles are to engage in public-interest advocacy work and to provide gold-standard professional development opportunities for our members. For the past 45 years, the CAJ has been actively involved in issues related to press freedom and access to information reform. We have also developed widely-adopted ethics guidelines that address foundational journalistic standards and best practices in an evolving digital world.
While we were not asked to provide testimony to the committee responsible for drafting the Online News Act, let us state at the outset of this submission that we recognize there is not a universal consensus within the journalistic community, let alone our association’s membership, on how to properly regulate the so-called ‘digital duopoly’ of Meta and Google in a way that best supports the future of public service journalism in Canada. For that reason – and has been the case in previous submissions like these to the federal government – we have surveyed our members in order to provide carefully considered questions and feedback on the proposed regulations.
We would briefly like to highlight some of the key areas of concern, and other trends, we heard from our members:
A) Transparency on agreements
The open call process as outlined in sections 2 to 5 of the regulations needs to be transparent. Our democracy relies on an independent press and any legislation and regulations related to journalism should reflect the principles of transparency and accountability.
Similarly, we have heard from members that despite the efforts to ensure ‘fair compensation’ (e.g., section 6 of the regulations) this process could still result in a considerable financial spread between organizations. A fair and equitable arrangement would be to ensure that any agreements created through the Online News Act should be made available to the public.
B) Ensuring funds are used to support the production of public service journalism
Based on the language of the current regulations, it is unclear on how monetary contributions can be used by news organizations. It should go without saying that these funds should be used to directly support the production of high-quality public service journalism.
There are obviously various ways to ensure that happens. At the end of the day, however, the CAJ is of the view that monetary contributions should be used to create journalism jobs in newsrooms or retain journalists. There is a dire need to support journalists in newsrooms, especially journalists operating in news deserts and journalists serving diverse communities including Indigenous, Black and other racialized communities.
C) How would ‘non-monetary’ contributions be valued? And by whom?
The current language of the regulations provides an unclear picture on how non-monetary contributions made by platforms will be valued and which group or agency will be responsible for having a final say.
This ambiguity is concerning. The CAJ is of the view that non-monetary contributions should not be included in the calculation of agreements reached between parties as part of negotiations under the Online News Act.
The CAJ respects that non-monetary contributions, such as have been offered by Google and Meta, can bring value to news organizations. At the same time, without clear language or understanding around valuation, this provision has the considerable potential to become a logistical nightmare in defining what qualifies as sufficient “non-monetary compensation.”
At the risk of stating the inherently obvious, no amount of in-kind training can be used to level the playing field between news organizations and platforms, which has long been the stated intent of this legislative project. As one respondent stated in our membership survey: non-monetary contributions cannot pay for more journalists to ply their trade in Canada.
D) Bargaining units are costly and other concerns from smaller news organizations
The current regulations provide a detailed framework so that news organizations in smaller markets, and which incorporate different business models and corporate structures (for profit/non-profit), are duly considered to receive any benefits of this legislation.
At the same time, however, we have heard concern from our members that establishing collective negotiating units, which are costly endeavours to support, does not necessarily have a guaranteed promise of financial return. This is a particularly strong concern amongst our members who work in some smaller organizations and in more remote Canadian communities. Given the precarious financial state of the news industry, adding costs to fund and create bargaining units detracts time and resources from the primary work of news organizations – which is doing journalism that serves the public interest.
E) Supporting news organizations serving Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities
We are disappointed to see sec.11(1)(a)(vi) of the Online News Act omitted from the regulations. This section defines news organizations serving diverse communities, “including local and regional markets in every province and territory, anglophone and francophone communities, and Black and other racialized communities.”
By omitting this section in the regulations, there is no accountability measure to make sure news organizations serving racialized communities are included in the agreements. There is a dire need for financial support for publications serving Indigenous, Black and racialized communities, as stated in the recent report regarding the Changing Narratives Fund. We need to increase engagement and funding with publications serving these communities.
F) Regulations must take into account realities of labour trends in the industry
The regulations currently describe that compensation would be determined relative to the number of “full-time equivalent” journalists paid by an eligible news organization.
While we recognize this would be a fair metric to use as a benchmark in many industries, the CAJ would highlight that this definition is ambiguous about the value of contributions made by freelance staff or part-time editorial employees, which are very common in our industry. If the intent of the regulations is to provide a fair and equitable evaluation of the costs that news organizations, which adhere to Canadian journalistic codes and standards, accrue in the production of public service journalism, we believe this language should be clarified.
G) The role of broadcast-specific editorial functions are unclear
As defined by the Income Tax Act, a journalist is an individual who spends their time engaged in the production of original written news content.
The regulations presented, however, are unclear on the roles and responsibilities of editorial employees who produce broadcast content. If broadcasters are to be included in this legislation, as the government has said, this is an incongruence that should be addressed.
Recommendation #1 – Any agreements between operators and news organizations made from the open call process should be available online to ensure transparency and accountability. Similarly, in order to ensure ‘fair compensation,’ deals between platforms and news organizations should be proactively disclosed.
Recommendation #2 – Any monetary contributions from the agreements should be required to go towards the hiring and/or retention of journalism jobs. While the platforms have been keen to provide training to the industry on how to use tools and programs, this contribution should not be retroactively applied to these negotiations.
Recommendation #3 – News organizations should not be prohibited from joining a bargaining unit based on the high costs of joining such ventures, particularly given the already challenging financial state of the industry.
Recommendation #4 – Amend the regulations to include an interpretation of sec. 11(1)(a)(vi) to state that agreements by the operator with its request for an exemption do not exclude any group of five or more news outlets that serve diverse communities including Black and other racialized communities.
Recommendation #5 – The regulations must reflect the important editorial contributions made by part-time journalists and freelancers, in addition to those who are employed in full-time positions.
Recommendation #6 – The regulations must clarify the standing of broadcast-specific editorial functions in accordance with the stated objectives of the Online News Act.