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Facebook announces $8 million for news publishers ahead of expected grilling in Ottawa

Facebook Inc. on Friday pledged to spend $ 8 million to support news publishing in Canada, just days before a senior executive appeared in Ottawa to address questions from lawmakers on issues that include paying traditional media companies for news. displayed on the tech giant’s platform.

Kevin Chan, head of public policy at Facebook Canada, is to be questioned by members of the standing committee on Canadian heritage about why Facebook controversially withdrew news from its platform in Australia last month while the country was giving the finishing touches on legislation to ensure publishers would be compensated for the featured news.

The Minister of Heritage, Steven Guilbeault, is preparing legislation to create a “comprehensive, coherent and equitable digital framework” for publishers and online platforms that must be presented before the summer holidays. It is understood that it is following the Australian model closely in at least one way – ensuring that dominant search and social media platforms, such as Alphabet Inc.’s Facebook and Google, cannot choose which news they want to pay for.

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In a company blog where the new three-year funding was announced on Friday, Facbeook said the money would be used to “help support the sustainability of the news industry in Canada”, with a clear focus on local reporting, publications smaller and “under-represented” voices.

In an email, a spokesman noted that Facebook is open to “trade deals” with all publishers for access to the news – but only to items of their choice.

“Facebook will not pay for news or content links that publishers voluntarily place on our platform,” said the spokesman. “However, in cases where the Facebook community can benefit from additional access to news links, Facebook would pay to bring these opportunities to our users.”

The news editors argued that, given Facebook’s dominance, they have little choice but to use the distribution channel it offers and should share the financial benefits.

John Hinds, president of News Media Canada, said Facebook’s most recent commitment to Canada – part of a $ 1 billion global pledge over the next three years – justifies legislation that guarantees fair compensation.

He noted that a portion of the $ 8 million that Facebook pledged is already set aside to extend an existing local news initiative, which will leave little to spread to the rest of the Canadian industry.

“In Australia, where legislation exists to ensure fair compensation, Facebook will be contributing more than $ 100 million a year,” said Hinds, whose organization represents news publishers across Canada.

“Legislation is the only way to ensure that publishers are fairly compensated by Facebook and other platforms for the use of their news content.”

Equity committee members from all parties are expected to question Facebook’s Chan on other issues on Monday, including the technology platform’s response and responsibility for policing hate speech online.

The Canadian government is planning to introduce legislation soon that fulfills Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to force technology platforms to immediately remove illegal content, including hate speech.

Committee members are also expected to ask Chan about Facebook’s ties to the liberal government, a continuing line of questioning that examined the lobby and movement of officials between the government and the technology giant.

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