Canada's media industry warns Australia on Meta news ban

By Ruby Derrick | 28 May 2024
Credit: pixel8propix via Unsplash.

Canadian independent publishers have warned Australian counterparts to brace for impact if Meta's removes news from its platforms.  

In Canada, Meta blocked news on Facebook and Instagram in response to a new law forcing the big digital platforms to pay publishers for their premium news. 

Australia could face a similar future in the wake of Meta’s refusal to pay the media outlets for news content.

For independent Canadian publisher and media organisation The Walrus, the online news act “feels like an episode of Black Mirror”.

“Regular people in Canada who turn to their phones and computers for news and information have lost the most here,” executive director Jennifer Hollett told AdNews.

Hollett advises Australian publishers to focus on their own newsletter growth, owned and operated, and deepening their relationship with their audience. 

“Our traffic is growing, because we've focused on this work."

The news act has left people feeling frustrated and confused, wondering why they can't read or share news on some social media platforms, but they find mis or disinformation, or other content that isn't fact checked, she says.

“And people are still discovering this, wondering why things feel broken.”

It's hard for organisations such as The Walrus because while it has an editorial team, Hollett says, it also hosts events and produces podcasts. Those are blocked as well on Facebook and Instagram in Canada.

“This is a Big Media, Big Tech story, Canadian independent media has the most to lose (be it traffic, or no or smaller payments). It's a shame it's played out like this in Canada, for all parties,” Hollett says.

One of the larger policy goals here should be accessibility to fact based news and information, especially during the rise of synthetic media, and so much mis and disinformation, she says.

“The act and policy discussions are a decade plus too late. We should be discussing the AI News Act right now.”

For The Walrus, its overall web traffic is up, thanks to larger editorial, web, and newsletter strategy, Hollett says.

"We can't tell how the analytics on our own Facebook and Instagram posts and content have been affected as we haven't been able to access the analytics for the last few months. Facebook traffic to our website is down 75% year to date."

Branding and marketing strategist, and founder of advertising agencies Communique and Capital C, Tony Chapman, advises Australia to preserve independent journalism. 

He would argue for a stipend from every citizen, or ideally a taxable benefit for a user subscribing, versus handouts from the government in power, to fund it, and ultimately create their own propaganda machine.  

“I am also an advocate of local news as the vehicle for keeping politicians of all levels accountable and transparent,” he says.

The tension caused by having so much of the mass media in the reigning governments hands has created a number of startup media platforms that are purely funded by the reader, Chapman says.

“Sadly, to garner a following and subscriber base they have to leap into the pool of like-minded people - left or right, conservative or democratic, climate change versus those who deny, pro life or otherwise.”

The media in Canada has been on life support for some time, he says.

“Even with lavish government subsidies which further slant the editorial bias, it is doubtful that programmed news will survive against content within arms reach of desire and demand.  There is also too much and too many chasing a finite amount of time.”

Chapman would also argue that in the past five months passive content is becoming an endangered species because of AI and the users ability to prompt and get.

Social media has proven itself to be consistent in its ability to answer solely to its shareholders versus share values and value added across to its users, content creators and journalists, he says.

“The divide we are seeing in Canada and around the world can mostly be placed at the feet of social media algorithms who herd us to like-minded people, who validate like-minded content, conspiracy theories. 

“The middle ground has collapsed into a moat and like us, and hate you have become the battle cry of the day.”

The Canada News Act (Bill 18) was a notoriously ill-conceived piece of legislation that overlooked the symbiotic relationship between news providers and the platforms that distribute their content, IAB Canada president Sonia Carreno says.

While well-intentioned, the problematic bill forced the hand of Meta who ultimately decided to ban news content in Canada. 

“Since Meta’s banning of news in the country, we have noted the impact. A Fall 2023 MTM study has revealed some concerning trends for news consumption in the country with 35% of online Canadians, particularly the younger cohorts, feeling they will consume less Canadian news because of the Meta ban,” she says.

“On a more positive note, about a third of Canadians are now accessing news directly from the Canadian news broadcasters and are using the websites or apps of Canadian news organisations more frequently.”

Carreno says it’s incumbent on the media industry to help bolster the consumption of news to sustain a healthy democracy for Canadian citizens. 

While some advertisers are pledging to support Canadian media by investing a minimum amount of all budgets towards Canadian media, more must be done to stimulate consumption and distribution of the content itself. Ironically. news as a category, needs an ad campaign.

It’s not all bad though, she says. There have been many initiatives in the Canadian marketplace that are helping advertisers make responsible media choices to help support the news. 

IAB Canada created a domestic news media allow list comprised of thousands of news media properties in Canada. 

“This list, when added to a demand-side platform, serves as a tool to help advertisers consciously choose to support the news media sector in the country while providing a clean and credible list of domains on which to place ads. 

“We are also seeing an emergence of self-serve platform capabilities that will help small to medium sized businesses tap ad inventory that was once only available to larger advertisers or agencies. In an economy where 98% of our businesses are small to medium sized, the opportunity to provide access to local advertisers on credible news programming is finally on the horizon.”

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