By Arnold Malone
Democracies everywhere require sets of fundamental pillars. Free and fair elections is one such pillar, and the independence of the judiciary is another example. While there are others, freedom of the press is as important as any.
When the drafters of democratic nations wrote their constitutions and included a section on “freedom of the press” they certainly did not imagine some other country’s freedom to swallow up our nation’s press.
It is widely known that the press in Canada is in serious difficulty. It is not because citizens are no longer interested in news but because Facebook and Google are increasingly transferring news. These worldwide conglomerates do not pay a penny for newsgathering. They let the locals do that while they rob community outlets from much of their traditional advertising revenue.
Australia has had enough of these freeloading snatchers who collect news without payment. They have legislation ready to implement, requiring that Facebook and Google pay a pro-rated amount for newsgathering. Canada and France are considering similar actions. We should encourage our government to move expeditiously to charge these mega-giants to pay for news information.
Newspapers, daily and weekly, are growing increasingly thin. Many have gone out of business and many more are hanging on by luck and a frayed thread. As news drifts increasingly to worldwide outlets, our capacity to understand our own local and national situation rests in the hands of foreign agencies far away from our context. In short, Google and Facebook get to shape what the world is allowed to know.
The first thing that is wrong with that picture is that only two entities are producing so much of the news, and secondly, news has been removed from our local experience. It has been transferred elsewhere. What a shame!
So, without paying, Facebook and Google provide eighty per cent of all digital news information in Canada. These leaches, Facebook and Google, both trillion-dollar outlets are causing a decline in journalism jobs.
Of course, Facebook and Google will protest and complain if they are required, as they soon will in Australia, to be assessed a charge for news information. However, a fair charge puts our local news on a more even footing. This proposal is not a complete cure. Mega Companies have more capacity to absorb costs than many local outlets.
All newspapers need to market. Therefore, there are some articles that are more designed to attract than inform. The street talk calls it “sensationalism.” Nevertheless, digital news is far more about Megan and Harry than it is about substantive information.
So, if we allow digital mega companies to grow without constraint, we will be increasingly filled with fluff and sensational information without the discipline of journalistic standards. The result would be a solid menu of “Cheers and Jeers” with tons of trumped-up responses. That becomes an incubator for fake news. What a shame! What an utter corrosion of the principal of a free Press.If allowed unchecked, much of the world would have a very few news outlets based mostly in one country.
Google and Facebook have threatened Australia by indicating that they could pull their services if Australia proceeds to force a charge upon them. This is all the more reason why Canada and France need to adopt a cost for news by big conglomerates. There is no way that Google or Facebook would choose to lose a market of more than one-hundred million people. Numbers will matter.