Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in this fundamental and very important discussion on how a federal, provincial or other government can support journalism and media outlets in our communities, cities, towns and regions across the country.
This is the kind of bill that makes the NDP say, “finally”. Finally, the government is doing something about this issue. It was high time. Unfortunately, as is too often the case with the Liberals, we had to push them for years before they agreed to do the right thing.
We saw it with the broadcasting bill, the official languages bill and with dental care and pharmacare, which are coming. We also saw it with the anti-scab bill, which is part of our agreement and is supposed to be introduced next year.
We always have to push them. In this case, is it too late for some media outlets? The answer is yes. The government is backpedalling, which is too bad. It is trying to salvage something from the wreckage.
Taking this approach and trying to shore up this fundamental pillar of our democracy—local, regional and national media—is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, that observation was made several years ago. Indeed, this crisis has existed for years now; newsrooms have been closing and jobs have been lost, and this has real consequences.
Democracy does not work without this fourth power, without this counter-power, this check and balance that is professional independent media. I will come back to the idea of what is a media outlet, what is a reporter, what is a journalist and what is real journalism versus propaganda or disinformation. This is so important.
It has long been said that there are three main pillars of power in our society: the executive, the legislative and the judicial. However, without the counter-power of journalistic work, there is no real democracy. It is important to establish this from the outset, so that we know exactly what we are talking about.
It is equally important to talk about web giants. They prey on journalistic work. They are simultaneously voracious and greedy. They are parasitic, in the sense that they will scoop up news and feed it to the news aggregators on their websites.
Many web giants do that. They literally steal real journalism, real articles and real news, and they put it on their websites. When people click, web giants cash in. They do not pay for that. They are essentially stealing other people's work.
Someone else does the essential work, and web giants do not pay a penny to take an article from a regional news source, from La Presse, Radio-Canada, Le Devoir or whatever, and put it on their news site. They do nothing. They have no newsroom of their own, and they steal other people's work without offering any financial compensation whatsoever.
At least Bill C‑18 tackles the problem and offers a solution. I am not saying it is perfect or even as good as it could be. It can be improved, but it is worth exploring.
It is important that we, as parliamentarians, address this issue. It is important that we consider these concerns and look at what we can do to improve things so that we can keep this check and balance, this counter-power, in our democracy here in Quebec, here in Canada.
We need to protect the employees, the workers who are experts at reporting the news, digging into things, poking around, asking questions, contradicting us and sometimes even putting pressure on the government, opposition parties and all elected representatives. That is exactly as it should be, and it has to stay that way.
Unfortunately, we are in an ecosystem where selling news is not necessarily the most lucrative. We have seen a reduction, crumbling or erosion of the capacity of newsrooms to ask the real questions and cover what is happening in politics, but also in the economy, in society or in the cultural milieu, for example.
I think the government had to do something. We in the NDP have been saying for years that we needed to do something and support wages, newsrooms and businesses. Furthermore, the balance of power needs to be re-established between the web giants, whose aggregators pick up articles on which they have put no work, effort, human or financial resources whatsoever, and all those who are struggling to survive by asking the right questions and writing relevant articles that make society think and move us forward collectively.
We have heard a lot about local and regional news. It is absolutely fundamental. I asked my Bloc Québécois colleague a question a moment ago.
I have the example of Laval in mind, which is closer to me. For years, Laval did not have a real newsroom, a real media outlet capable of covering municipal politics. Laval is not far enough away from Montreal to have its own media ecosystem, its own newsroom or its own weekly newspapers. On the other hand, Laval is not close enough to Montreal for Montreal media to be truly interested in it. As such, for years, Laval's municipal politics were not really covered.
This situation allowed the former mayor of Laval, Gilles Vaillancourt, since charged and convicted, to embezzle public funds and commit unspeakable fraud that he profited from personally, as did his family and friends. This happened because there was practically no political opposition, no media coverage, no papers strong or independent enough and no radio stations capable of focusing on how contracts were awarded or public funds managed in Laval.
We witnessed what a media desert could lead to: impunity and no transparency. This also allows someone to think they are entitled to everything and they can do absolutely anything they want. It is important to have national journalists, but also local and regional journalists to monitor everything that is happening and all the fine people involved.
I think it is very important to point out that we absolutely must have reporters and resources abroad. These journalists can report on and explain to us what is happening abroad so that Canadians, but also elected officials, decision-makers and economic, social and political forces, are fully informed and able to react appropriately, knowing exactly what is happening in other countries around the world.
We saw this recently with the war in Artsakh, Armenia, with the exodus of the Rohingya from Myanmar, and with what is happening to the Uighurs in China. We absolutely need to know what is happening abroad. We need resources so that we can do that and so that we can have people on the ground who can tell us exactly what is happening.
I am going to take a few moments to show a little bias and say what a wonderful job I think that Radio-Canada foreign correspondents are doing. I tip my hat to them, and I think that there are a lot of people in Quebec and Canada who recognize just how important they are because they observe, analyze and tell us about what is happening abroad.
I cannot name them all, but I want to mention Marie‑Ève Bédard, Tamara Alteresco, Anyck Béraud and Jean‑François Bélanger, who, along with many others, are our eyes and ears in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Their work is absolutely essential to our understanding of the world.
As we are speaking about journalism, what happens abroad and the accountability that I spoke about earlier, I will take advantage of the forum given to me today to condemn and denounce the murder of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
She was killed while reporting on an Israeli army operation. She was wearing a helmet and bullet-proof vest with “Press” written on it. It was very clear that she was a journalist. For years, Shireen Abu Akleh was a revered star journalist who worked for Al Jazeera. She was killed.
The NDP condemns this murder, and we are asking for an independent investigation to find out exactly what happened and who was responsible for this act. I believe that many of my colleagues agree with our position.
There were many accounts on the ground. It is rather difficult to hit someone in the face with a stray bullet. Unfortunately, that is how Shireen Abu Akleh was killed. We are asking for this independent investigation, as are many other global organizations.
Yesterday, I moved a motion in the House to condemn the murder of this Palestinian journalist and to ask for an independent investigation. I am very sorry that this motion was not adopted. I believe it was the least we could do.
I am also concerned about what happened next. Israeli police raided the home where the family was gathered and tore down the Palestinian flags that were there. These people just learned of the death of their daughter, sister, friend, niece or cousin. It is absolutely appalling.
It did not stop there. Today, we saw extremely disturbing images from Shireen Abu Akleh's funeral in which Israeli police used batons on those carrying the coffin of the murdered journalist. They waded into the crowd, pushing people back, which nearly caused the coffin to fall. That is indecent and extremely violent. We want to know who did that and we are calling for an independent investigation.
Not only was this woman killed, but the police then showed up at the family home and were pushing people who were gathered for her burial. That is absolutely unbelievable. Who is responsible for that? Who ordered this assault on a grieving crowd, on the family and friends of this journalist who was recently killed while doing her job?
There are a lot of questions we need to ask about the safety of journalists all over the world and about their ability to do their jobs properly. There are also a number of questions we need to ask about the Palestinian territories illegally occupied by the Israeli army. Palestinian or foreign journalists must be able to do their jobs safely and report on the facts of what is going on.
We want to know what the consequences are for the military occupation of a territory, for stolen land, for destroyed homes and for illegal colonies being established very quickly. Thousands of new homes are being built on occupied territory in the West Bank, in defiance of UN resolutions. People on the ground have to tell us what is happening there. If they are killed, there will be no one left to tell us what is going on. The only version we will get will be the official version of government authorities. That is not what we want.
Journalists are being killed in Ukraine as a result of the brutal, illegal invasion by Vladimir Putin's Russia. This regime has killed journalists and political opponents in its own country. It is now targeting and killing journalists in Ukraine. We vehemently condemn these murders, as we should. However, when a Palestinian journalist is killed, there is radio silence.
People have to be respectful, equitable and consistent. Journalism is important everywhere: in Ukraine, Russia, Palestine, Israel, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, France, England, the United States, Canada and Quebec. It is important everywhere and for everyone. I think it is very important to say, loudly and clearly, that the NDP wants to support a free and independent press that can do its work safely. Journalists need to be able to do their work without being targeted by a regime that attacks them and sometimes even kills them or threatens their safety.
The bill before us today, Bill C‑18, is very important because, as I said earlier, it seeks to rectify the plundering of journalists' work and news content. This has severely damaged our ability to tell our communities' stories. For years, the NDP has been working with journalists' federations and journalists' unions to bring this idea forward. Finally, it is happening. Is it too late? Not for those still in the newsroom, but sadly, there may be many who have already left the industry.
I want to share some numbers. In Canada, 450 news media outlets closed between 2008 and 2021. That is nothing to sneeze at. In addition, 78% of people access the news online, often through these major companies' aggregators. Also, a mere 13% of news companies' revenue comes from online advertising or subscriptions.
However, Google and Facebook took in nearly $10 billion in revenue from Canadian online advertising in 2020. Google and Facebook combined account for 80% of the revenue. For years, the government stopped buying advertising in our weeklies and local or regional newspapers. Instead, it was buying advertising from Facebook and Google. Not only did this do nothing to aid journalism, but public funds were being used to pay these large foreign companies, often American, to promote the news that the federal government wanted to promote. It is absolutely unbelievable.
There were two ways the federal government failed to help newsrooms. It allowed them to slowly disappear as a result of the loss of revenue they were experiencing, and it also failed to provide direct support or assistance by buying advertising. Subscriptions and newsstand sales are not what make newspapers profitable, and that has been the case for years. It is the advertising revenue that makes media profitable. That said, ad revenues have changed. They are no longer generated by local radio stations, weeklies or dailies. They are generated by websites. These websites, most of which are owned by large media outlets, steal the work of journalists.
The Liberal government finally listened to reason and thought it might be time to address the problem, since we had lost over 450 newsrooms and hundreds of jobs. We looked at what was being done overseas. The Australian model forces negotiation between the media who produce the news and the web giants who use it, put it on their platforms and distribute it.
The possibility of collective bargaining is really important to the NDP. Local or regional independent media must not be left to face the giants like Facebook, Google and others on their own. They need to be able to come together to speak with one voice and get fair deals. That is really the crux of the matter and what is going to be extremely difficult to hear.
These agreements also need to be public and transparent, because it is important to be able to compare situations. It is important to know exactly what the web giant paid for the use of certain content, for a given percentage, for a given quantity of articles, for each year, in a given market and with a given audience. If that information is not available, everyone will negotiate blindly and it will be extremely difficult. Everyone will be at a huge disadvantage.
There needs to be an equitable power relationship, so these agreements need to include collective bargaining and transparency clauses. It is not enough to say that it is a trade secret, or some such thing. We must ensure that this is known and public, so that people can make comparisons and be fairly compensated for the use of their work.