Truth in advertising? QB’s local media scene Part 3

First, an update:  In Part 1 of QB’s local media scene, we noted that Oceanside News appeared to be surviving on just one advertisement in six months of operation, in their first incarnation as Mid Island Independent News (MIIN) and later, after their “merger” with the previously non-existent company, Oceanside News (ON). However, we have since discovered that MIIN-ON actually had two advertisements in six months.

Recent advertisement in Oceanside News for Pheasant Glen Golf Resort.

The second ad was for Precision Wealth Management, a company that has a business relationship with Joel Grenz, announced last fall as the publisher of Oceanside News.

And just last week, our civic affairs reporter noticed a new advertisement in Oceanside News, this one for Pheasant Glen Golf Resort about their controversial application for a “resort community” currently before Council.

In Part 2 of QB’s local media scene, we explored Joel Grenz’s financial relationship with BC Liberal Party leader, Andrew Wilkinson, as reported in the Times-Colonist. We also wondered why Grenz, in his first article as publisher of Oceanside News, chose to parrot an argument currently being put forth by lobbyists for corporate media conglomerates, to the detriment of local, independent media outlets, and even to an individual’s use of social media. On the surface, Grenz, who claims to have attended a “law degree program” but is not registered with the BC Law Society, appears to be arguing against his own interests.

Now, in Part 3 of QB’s local media scene, we take a closer look at the lobbying efforts of established corporate media companies, and how it could impact many of us in QB.

Canada’s corporate media are lobbying hard

Over the last several years, traditional corporate news organizations like Postmedia, TorStar and Black Press have lobbied the federal government hard for taxpayer subsidies and bailouts, and to impose legislation that would kneecap their social media competitors in the advertising marketplace.

“Such is the [newspaper] industry’s sense of entitlement, and such is its disavowal of any responsibility for its current state, that mere direct government aid is not enough.”

Andrew Coyne, Globe and Mail, September 18, 2020

This is just one of several aggressive efforts by corporate news media interests to obtain public funding for their private businesses. In an article published May 21, 2020, Second Opinion QB called out PQB News / Black Press for begging local residents for donations to Black Press, i.e. crying poor — at a time when many local people were temporarily laid off or had lost their jobs, and businesses were hanging on by a thread. As an aside, if you haven’t noticed, PQB News was, at the beginning of the pandemic shutdown, and continues to be, chock-full of advertising.

You may also have seen some of the newspaper industry’s frequent advertisements, including full-page newspaper ads (often fronted by their lobby group, News Media Canada), and columns similar to the one written by Joel Grenz in Oceanside News decrying Facebook and Google. Canada’s traditional news corporations recently wrestled $500 million of taxpayer money over five years from the federal government (pre-COVID), a pool of money available only to the large corporate media in Canada.

Now, Canadian media conglomerates are seeking federal government regulation of social media that could result in the online public no longer being able to share news story links (such as our link to the Times-Colonist story provided in QB’s local media scene, Part 2), and resulting in an increased proportion of questionable or misleading (i.e. fake) news. Think that couldn’t happen? Read on.

Experts warn of Canadian newspaper industry campaign against social media

It is generally acknowledged that social media giants like Facebook and Google wield too much control and influence over our lives. Virtually everyone, except the big social media companies themselves, agrees that these monopolistic empires should be broken apart to constrain their dominance. The United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union are moving in that direction.

In Canada though, it’s a different story. Here, the federal government is not contemplating efforts to break apart the big social media monopolies. Instead it is considering imposing restrictions on the use of social media. If the Canadian news media industry is successful in lobbying the federal government to implement their plan, it would likely entrench and extend the domination of the Canadian news industry heavyweights — to the detriment, and perhaps dissolution, of independent local news websites, including Oceanside News and Second Opinion QB, and the infringement of legitimate communication among advocates, activists and members of the public. Here’s why.

If the Canadian news media industry is successful in lobbying the federal government to implement their plan, it would likely entrench and extend the domination of the Canadian news industry heavyweights.

According to Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa and the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, the proposed legislation “could result in Facebook blocking all sharing of news articles in Canada, which would harm Canadian media organizations, the broader public, and contribute to increased profile for questionable or misleading sources of news. If enacted, the government would be establishing a regime that would grant news organizations guaranteed payments for their own posts, which helps explain why Facebook has indicated that they are likely to simply stop the linking altogether.”

Andrew Coyne, writing in a September 18, 2020 Globe and Mail column about this industry lobbying effort, explains, “Such is the [newspaper] industry’s sense of entitlement, and such is its disavowal of any responsibility for its current state, that mere direct government aid is not enough. Hence the demands, which the [federal Heritage] minister is in haste to fulfill, to force Facebook and Google to hand over a share of their revenues to the news business.

“This [argument] is usually expressed, not least in the newspapers’ own pages, as a matter of elemental fairness. Facebook and Google should, it is said, be forced to compensate news sites for using our content. In the more colourful formulations, the social-media sites are said to be “stealing” our content, on which they are supposed to earn “billions” in revenues.

“What, in reality, does that “content” consist of? Links to stories on news sites, together with short “snippets” of copy: what are called “quotes” when newspapers use them, which is often and without compensation.”

As Andrew Coyne states, “If you think I’m exaggerating, you have not been listening…”

[Indeed, on the eve of publishing this article, the story broke that Google has threatened to remove its search engine from Australia and Facebook has threatened to remove news feed for all Australian users, as explained in an article by The Guardian newspaper, in retaliation for proposed legislation that would force them to enter into negotiations with news media companies for payment for content.]

Where does this slippery slope lead? Will users of social media platforms and bloggers and not-for-profit community news websites and students all have to pay a fee to Postmedia or Black Press to recite information, with attribution, found in the Vancouver Sun or PQB News — even if the person republishing the citation purchased a copy of the newspaper, or has already paid for an electronic subscription? What about quoting, with attribution but without explicit permission or payment, the content of research papers, textbooks and novels for non-commercial purposes in the public interest?

While Canada’s Copyright Act does have a difficult time keeping up with all the forms of information transmission and reproduction and royalty mechanisms, it would be questionable, if not harmful, public policy to suppress the rights of citizens of a democratic society to freely share information — here in Qualicum Beach or anywhere.

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