There are a lot of lessons to be learned from Liberal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault’s musing on the need to license news media outlets in Canada.
Guilbeault stirred the Internet last Monday when he appeared on a CTV news program and said the government was thinking about licensing news media following a report from an expert panel struck in 2018.
“If you’re a distributor of content in Canada and obviously if you’re a very small media organization the requirement probably wouldn’t be the same if you’re Facebook, or Google. There would have to be some proportionality embedded into this,” the neophyte minister told the show’s host.
When pressed by the host, the minister said: “We would ask that they have a license, yes.”
Oh my, if there ever was a statement to cause a stir, this was it. License news outlets?
Dear God, man, what were you thinking?
Twitter and Facebook saw dozens and dozens of posts condemning the minister and his, frankly, ill-liberal proposition.
Most commentators noted that the proposition ran counter to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and was a fascist’s wet dream.
Freedom of the press, after all, is the very foundation of democracy. Voters need access to information with which to make judgments about politicians.
The outrage was enough to see Guilbeault pedaling back the comments yesterday, stating that the government had “no intention to impose licensing requirements on news organizations,” nor will the government “regulate news content.”
Not really. The Trudeau government has every intention of regulating the big platforms. It has it sights set on Facebook, Google, Netflix, Amazon, Twitter. Make no mistake about that.
After all, that was the motivation behind the government commissioning the report in the first place.
Last month, the expert panel issued its recommendations which basically argued that the Canadian identity was on its deathbed if Ottawa did not act quickly to regulate the Internet.
There is loads of irony in all of this.
For one thing, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is on the record as proclaiming Canada as the world’s first post national state. So what’s to protect?
It could be argued that any country with a loose immigration policy such as Canada’s, where 40 per cent of the population will be foreign born in a decade, is working overtime to dilute its identity.
As for the news media, the report noted that declining advertising and subscription revenues, coupled with mergers, is reducing the amount of Canadian news available to consumers.
Again, there is a rich vein of irony here. The state broadcaster, the CBC, spends an inordinate amount of time covering American news and it is already subsidized by the taxpayer.
The reality is that the Internet has revolutionized how people get their news and entertainment. Convenience and immediacy are what’s driving the move to the web. That’s why Google and Facebook have garnered so much advertising revenue. This is a world-wide phenomenon.
Of course, all of this unnerves the bureaucrats. The Internet is not easy to control.
And do we really want to control it?
Think about it. It was commentators on Twitter and Facebook that shamed the minister (his handlers, actually) into backtracking.
That’s democracy in action and it wasn’t possible before the Internet provided citizens with voices.
There’s no question that not all voices are welcome, but most right thinking people would rather put up with the idiocy of a few than live with the tyranny of government.