Meta’s news block affecting Indigenous media say publishers

Indigenous media outlets across the country that serve local audiences say they’ve been left scrambling after Meta, the company behind Facebook and Instagram started blocking news in Canada on Aug. 1.

Meta’s news block was a response to the Online News Act (Bill C-18), which became law on June 22 and requires tech companies to compensate Canadian publishers when their news content is shared on their platforms.

However, Greg Horn, the editor and publisher of the Mohawk community newspaper Iorì:wase, located in Kahnawake, says he has seen a 13 per cent drop in page views over the last few weeks.

“For small publications, that could be very detrimental,” Horn told APTN News. “Prior to this ban on news, we reached 25,000 accounts a week so to not know how many accounts we have reached in the last two weeks, it’s challenging.”

Before passing the law, the federal government previously said that Bill C-18 would “level the playing field” between global platforms and Canadian news outlets.

But instead, Meta walked away from the negotiation table and has since made good on its threat to block news. Presently, Google is continuing talks with Ottawa.

Anna McKenzie, a journalist with Indiginews in British Colombia, said they recently started sending out QR codes in their newsletters and encouraging people to print them out and put them up in their communities.

“Now outright, 43 per cent of our audience can’t access our stories because of the Online News Act and Meta’s response on Instagram and Facebook. So. It’s really scary, compounding the silencing of our newsroom in a lot of ways,” McKenzie said.

“With all of the fires, we can’t get our stories to our audience. We have lots of folks reaching out, ‘What is going on?’ They don’t even know the full impact of what is happening in Canadian news right now.”

On Aug. 21, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticized Meta for continuing to block news as wildfires continued to burn in Canada.

Eden Fineday, the publisher of Indiginews, said that she was worried about the survival of her news outlet and noted the massive reach that Facebook has in Indigenous communities.

“Facebook is where we go. Facebook is where we found each other. Where we connect. For so many years, that is where I got information from my band council,” Fineday said. “It’s certainly where all of my aunties, cousins, neighbors on the rez, all of those folks, people that I am not related to but I am connected to through my community, they are all on Facebook.

“So, for us to have that taken away specifically, it really hurts. It really hurts us more as Indigenous people.”

Paul Deegan, president and CEO of News Media Canada, a group that represents media outlets from coast to coast, lobbied the federal government in support of the Online News Act.

He explained that the legislation would allow smaller publishers to participate in negotiations with tech companies.

“No piece of legislation is perfect, but in our view, this is good legislation. Google and Meta both have concerns about it. And what we are saying to them is let’s work through these concerns together during the regulatory process,” he said.

However, the federal government released the draft regulations on Sept. 1 and estimates that Meta and Google would need to contribute $62 million and $172 million, respectively, to the Canadian news industry to be exempt from intervention by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) under Bill C-18.

Nevertheless, Meta remained firm on their stance to continue blocking news in Canada.

“As we have communicated to the government, the regulatory process is not equipped to address the fundamentally flawed premise of the Online News Act,” Rachel Curran, the head of public policy for Meta Canada, said in a statement.

“As the legislation is based on the incorrect assertion that Meta benefits unfairly from the news content shared on our platforms, today’s proposed regulations will not impact our business decision to end news availability in Canada.”

Michael Roberts, the publisher of Nunatsiaq News in Nunavut said that his paper is the last independent newspaper in northern Canada because of the decline in advertisement revenue over the years.

“Over the last five years in particular, Facebook and Google have used their dominant market position to gradually siphon off advertisement dollars across Canada and in the north,” Roberts told APTN.

“When you look at the reduction in advertising dollars flowing through to support local journalism, this just becomes the straw that will break the camel’s back for many publications,” he added.

Meta’s news block has also financially impacted The Nation, a news magazine serving Quebec’s Cree communities.

“One advertiser just started three months ago for a six-month period, and that is $8,000 ad campaign, and we are going to lose money on it,” William Nicholls, the editor-in-chief at The Nation, said.

Meta responded to a request for comment by referring ATPN to a prior statement regarding its position on the Online News Act.

“As with any independent Indigenous news magazine or newspaper, there is a limited market for us to be able to access advertisement and money. And this just puts another burden on us,” he said.

A 30-day public consultation period on the draft regulations is now in effect.

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