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Australia's standoff with Facebook has lessons for Canada, publisher says – CBC.ca

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Canada should move quickly on legislation to make Facebook and Google pay for news content, because it was only when Australia began taking action that the digital giants responded with deals, says the head of the association representing the Canadian news media industry.

“If these companies will only act once legislation is imminent, then we’d like to see legislation sooner rather than later,” said Bob Cox, chair of News Media Canada and publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press.

Australia’s Parliament on Thursday passed the final amendments to the so-called News Media Bargaining Code that forces Google and Facebook to pay for news. Last week, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said Canada would introduce its own rules in the coming months.

How Canada proceeds will likely have a major impact on the future of news in the country. Cox said Google and Facebook have so much power in the marketplace that it makes it impossible for small players to to compete. And they’re so big — Google parent Alphabet had about $180 billion US in revenue last year — that almost everyone is a small player.

In Australia, the digital giants won’t be able to make take-it-or-leave-it payment offers to news businesses for their journalism. Instead, in the case of a standoff, an arbitration panel would make a binding decision on a winning offer. A last-minute amendment gave digital platforms one month’s notice before they are formally designated under the code, giving the parties more time to broker agreements before they are forced to enter binding arbitration arrangements.

In return for the changes, Facebook agreed to lift a ban on Australians accessing and sharing news on their platform. Google had already struck deals with major Australian news businesses in recent weeks, including News Corp.

Canada’s news media industry has come out hard against Facebook and asked the government for more regulation of tech companies to allow the industry to recoup financial losses it has suffered in the years that Facebook and Google have been steadily gaining greater market shares of advertising.

‘They basically forced Facebook’

Cox said Facebook and Google had been reluctant to make any deals with publishers until Australia “forcefully” pushed forward, and it worked.

“They basically forced Facebook and Google to work with that legislation,” he said. “Now Facebook managed to get some changes to the legislation, but basically they’ll still be required to negotiate deals with publishers and that’s the end goal.”

WATCH | Newspaper publisher on making tech giants pay for news:

Bob Cox, publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press, says local news could be in trouble if the government doesn’t take bold action. 6:09

Cox said he gives credit to Google and Facebook for programs they’ve enacted to support journalism, including training, grants and tools. Facebook announced on Wednesday that it would raise its funding of news publishers to $1 billion over three years, and the company estimates that the traffic it sends to news websites contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to the Canadian news industry.

“What they haven’t done, though, is pay for content, and that’s what we’ve been trying to get them to do,” he said.

Google recently announced a willingness to pay for content through its Google News Showcase licensing model, but it hasn’t begun to operate yet, Cox said. In a statement, Meg Sinclair, head of communications for Facebook Canada, said the company is “exploring” investments in news licensing and programs to support sustainability of journalism in Canada, but isn’t in any discussions about specific licensing agreements. 

Chris Moos, a lecturer at Oxford University’s Business School, said the last-minute amendments in Australia’s legislation amounted to a “small victory” for Facebook.

Moos said the legislation would likely result in small payouts for most Australian news publishers. But Facebook could again block Australian news if negotiations broke down.

Andrea Carson, an associate professor in the department of communication and media at La Trobe University in Melbourne, agreed, but also said the government had gotten what it wanted.

What Canada can learn

As for what can be learned from Australia’s situation, Carson said Canada should consider whether Australia took the right approach.

“There are other mechanisms for doing this, such as putting a tax on digital advertising,” she said. “Maybe other countries might consider that rather than looking through competition law, which is what Australia’s done.”

Carson also suggested countries should make certain the money is used to fund public-interest journalism, a guarantee that doesn’t exist under the Australian system.

“It goes into the larger pool of News Corp.,” she said.

WATCH | Facebook and Australia are in a standoff. Is Canada next?

Facebook blocked news posts for Australian users as the government plans to make technology companies pay for sharing news content. There are concerns something similar could happen to Canadians. 7:37

Guilbeault, who could not be reached for comment on Thursday, has promised a “made-in-Canada” approach. 

“We need to find a solution that is sustainable for news publishers, small and large, digital platforms, and for the health of our democracy,” he said on Tuesday.

There have been concerns in Australia that smaller publications might miss out while the tech giants focus on big players, a “real danger” that Cox said should be dealt with in any legislation.

“The main reason why we’ve always argued that government action is necessary [is] so that it helps the entire industry and helps support local news across the country, as opposed to simply the bigger publishers who have had access to Facebook and Google for a long time anyway,” he said.

Disclosure: CBC/Radio-Canada has business partnerships with Facebook for content distribution and with Google for services that encompass mobile distribution, data storage and communication tools.

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Calgary Stampede to proceed with limited events

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The Calgary Stampede, an annual rodeo, exhibition and festival that is also Canada‘s biggest and booziest party, will go ahead this year after being pulled in 2020 due to the pandemic, though it will not look and feel the same, an event organizer told CBC Radio.

“It won’t be your typical Stampede … it’s not the experience that you had in years past,” Kristina Barnes, communications manager with the Calgary Stampede, told a CBC Radio programme on Friday.

She said organizers were still deciding whether to include rodeo or the grandstand show in this year’s version.

Known as “the greatest outdoor show on earth,” the Stampede draws tourists from around the world for its rodeo and chuckwagon races, but much of the action happens away from official venues at parties hosted by oil and gas companies.

“The Safest and Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth is what we’re going to call it this year,” Barnes said, adding the organizers are working directly with Alberta Health to ensure Stampede experiences stay “within the guidelines” that may be in effect in July.

The event is scheduled to take place between July 9-18, according to the Calgary Stampede website.

Last month, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told reporters the Calgary Stampede can probably go ahead this year as Alberta’s coronavirus vaccination campaign accelerates.

Barnes and the office of the Alberta premier were not available for immediate comment.

The cancellation of the event last year was a crushing disappointment for Canada‘s oil capital.

The news comes as Alberta has been dealing with a punishing third wave of the pandemic, with the province having among the highest rate per capita of COVID-19 cases in the country. Data released on Friday showed the province had 1,433 new cases, compared with the seven-day average of 1,644.

 

(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Chris Reese)

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U.S. trade chief pressured to lift duties on Canadian lumber

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 As U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai prepares to meet her Canadian and Mexican counterparts on Monday to review progress in the new North American trade agreement, she is under pressure from home builders and lawmakers to cut U.S. tariffs on Canadian lumber.

Shortages of softwood lumber amid soaring U.S. housing demand and mill production curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic have caused prices to triple in the past year, adding $36,000 to the average cost of a new single-family home, according to estimates by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Republican lawmakers have taken up the builders’ cause, asking Tai during hearings in Congress last week to eliminate the 9% tariff on Canadian softwood lumber imports. Senator John Thune told Tai that high lumber costs were “having a tremendous impact on the ground” in his home state of South Dakota and putting homes out of reach for some working families.

The Trump administration initially imposed 20% duties in 2018 after the collapse of talks on a new quota arrangement, but reduced the level in December 2020.

“The Biden administration must address these unprecedented lumber and steel costs and broader supply-chain woes or risk undermining the economic recovery,” said Stephen Sandherr, chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America. “Without tariff relief and other measures, vital construction projects will fall behind schedule or be canceled.”

On Friday, White House economic adviser Cecilia Rouse said the Biden administration was weighing concerns about commodity shortages and inflation as it reviews trade policy.

The tariffs are allowed under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade, which permits duties to combat price dumping and unfair subsidies.

The U.S. Commerce Department has ruled that lumber from most Canadian provinces is unfairly subsidized because it is largely grown on public lands with cheap harvesting fees set by Ottawa. U.S. timber is mainly harvested from privately-owned land.

Tai said she would bring up the lumber issue with Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng at the first meeting of the USMCA Free Trade Council, a minister-level body that oversees the trade deal.

WILLING PARTNER

But Tai told U.S. senators that despite higher prices, the fundamental dispute remains and there have been no talks on a new lumber quota arrangement.

“In order to have an agreement and in order to have a negotiation, you need to have a partner. And thus far, the Canadians have not expressed interest in engaging,” Tai said.

Youmy Han, a spokeswoman for Canada‘s trade ministry, said the U.S. duties were “unjustified,” and that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has raised the issue with U.S. President Joe Biden.

“Our government believes a negotiated agreement is possible and in the best interests of both countries,” Han said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

But builders are growing frustrated with a lack of high-level engagement with high-level Biden administration officials on the issue as they watch lumber prices rise.

“They are clearly still gathering facts, which is even more frustrating given that this issue has been going on since before the election, before the inaugural,” said James Tobin, a vice president and top lobbyist at the NAHB.

 

(Reporting by David Lawder and Jarrett Renshaw in Washington and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Writing by David Lawder; Editing by Paul Simao)

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Centerra to fight Kyrgyzstan takeover of its gold mine

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Centerra Gold said on Sunday it has initiated binding arbitration against Kyrgyzstan government, after the parliament passed a law allowing the state to temporarily take over the country’s biggest industrial enterprise, the Kumtor gold mine operated by Centerra.

Recently, a Kyrgyzstan court also imposed $3.1 billion fine on Kumtor Gold Company (KGC), which operates the gold mine, after ruling that the firm had violated environmental laws.

The gold miner said that it intends to hold the government accountable in the arbitration for “any and all losses and damage” due to its recent actions against KGC and the Kumtor mine if no resolution is reached.

“The Government’s actions have left Centerra no choice but to exercise our legal rights, through the pursuit of arbitration and otherwise, to protect the interests of KGC, Centerra and our shareholders,” Centerra’s Chief Executive Officer Scott Perry said in a press release.

Kyrgyzstan has a long history of disputes with Centerra Gold over how to share profits from the former Soviet republic’s biggest industrial enterprise.

 

(Reporting by Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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