Arthur News School of Fish
Photo by Annie Spratt via Unsplash

News Goes Down Under!

Written by
Robert Gibson
and
April 14, 2021
News Goes Down Under!
Photo by Annie Spratt via Unsplash

Facebook's actions in censoring information over a dispute about an Australian law demonstrates how fragile news organizations are. This further demonstrates the stranglehold big corporations have over media which is a problem for local decision making and an informed citizenry. As the Government of Canada is considering buying media here with similar laws it is important to review what happened down under. 

For people unfamiliar with what happened, the Australian Government passed a law, “News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code” requiring Facebook and Google to pay for media linked on their platforms based on bargaining with news outlets. This bargaining effectively excluded smaller press from the table. The podcast “Canadaland” covered this topic in “Will Government Media Rules Strangle Canadaland?” The episode included a cupcake metaphor where the tax was compared to charging a street when the smell of cupcakes reached it. Behind the scenes articles posted in the Arthur newspaper have meta descriptions and key words, this is a common practice, which are added to articles for someone to easily find them. Like the smell of cupcakes, links are desirable. The argument is that it is not reasonable for Facebook or Google to pay for links posted on their sites. In section 52M of the act, there was a requirement for news to make more than $150,000 a year for it to be considered as news; so student press or local news may face a difficult time being considered for the benefits of bargaining. In the podcast, it was revealed that some digital news organizations don’t have bargaining powers, as they aren’t considered news, but are still impacted by retaliation such as blocking all press content. 

In the Canadaland podcast it was pointed out that 90% of money contributed by Google to avoid regulations went to just 3 news corporations in Australia, and that news would be curated by both Facebook and Google. If this were to be applied in Canada it could mean that student and independent press would not be searchable on mainstream sites which is a major deal because there would be fewer stories covering environmental justice. As a result of the Bargaining Code law, Facebook blocked all news from its site. Currently, there are numerous examples of misleading, racist, sexist, transphobic or fake news content on Facebook that might go unchallenged if Facebook removed all press content. Arthur Newspaper would likely be caught in the crossfire, which could mean governments and universities might go unchecked in their attempts to pave the environment. Examples of this include the Trent Lands Plan not being supported for environmental reasons or Doug Ford’s weakening environmental law. An additional impact is that community members may miss planning meetings at City hall not covered by National newspapers. The Planning Act has a requirement for Municipalities to advertise meetings.  In the Article “What Happens When the News Is Gone?” from The New Yorker the impact of lost news was discussed for local meetings [Pollocksville] due to a lack of notice about public meetings. For the City of Peterborough this could mean development of Inverlea Park against public interest. 

When Facebook blocked news content in one Country it showed how much control large corporations have over the news we consume. An article from the Guardian newspaper “Facebook's Australian news wipeout showed it can delete our history at any time” discussed the implications of deleting content on research. The point made was that public opinions are not archivable nor as public as newspapers. Data  can be deleted in mass at any time impacting future historical research on what people thought.

The Canadaland podcast went on to say that Canada is in the process of making a law similar to the one in Australia and has Bill C-10 which will regulate online news content and subscription services, which is problematic because it requires the registration of all news sites. One concern raised was that the CRTC would have control over content and taxing Canadian content would only benefit large corporations at the expense of smaller organizations.In addition, it is revealed that Canada’s Heritage Minister wants to regulate harmful or hurtful content which would likely be challenged as unconstitutional. There would also likely be international trade disputes due to the stranglehold on foreign media operating locally. 

As Arthur news is using Google and Facebook it may be caught up in the crossfire of restrictions. For example, when you click on a link to Trent Arthur, other news sites on social media or search engines, there is an impact on future news you see, limiting content to someone’s existing world view. This is related to Arthur articles because it uses search engines such as Google and Facebook.

What happened in Australia shows us that the Government and corporations' control what we see and view as more and more attacks on democracy and the environment are flying under the radar. 


Arthur News School of Fish
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Arthur News School of Fish

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