Since its introduction last spring, online news outlets have expressed fears that Bill C-18, the Online News Act, will primarily benefit large incumbent news organizations. Those concerns increased once the parliamentary budget manager estimated more than 75% of revenue would go to broadcasters such as Bell, Rogers and the CBC. After Postmedia and Torstar collect their share, there may be little left for innovative online startups. The government has apparently tried to ignore those startups with Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez speaking of more than 400 news outlets closing since 2008, but failing to mention the hundreds of new outlets that have sprung up in the same period.

During the clause-by-clause review of Bill C-18, Liberal MP Lisa Hepfner, herself a former journalist, provided a striking example of how the government sees only incumbent news organizations as worthy of support. In response to a proposed Conservative amendment to the bill, Hepfner said:

When we see that hundreds of news organizations have shut down in this country since 2008, and we see the argument that another two hundred online news organizations have popped up during that time, what we don’t see is that they’re not news. They don’t collect news. They only post opinions. We have a proliferation of opinion organizations out there, posting their opinions without people actually going out to report the news.

I will not support this amendment. I don’t think it’s necessary. News organizations have codes of conduct that they follow. They have laws they have to follow. They need to understand what they can do in a courtroom. They have to go before the CRTC if they don’t follow all the proper journalistic standards. These are things that are taught in journalism schools and newsrooms across the country.

Leaving aside the rather bizarre and inaccurate comments about going to the CRTC if they don’t follow the proper journalistic standards (the CRTC doesn’t regulate newspapers), the key comment is the government’s view that online news organizations “are not news. They’re not collecting news. They’re publishing opinion only. Hepfner’s reference to news openings and closes comes from the Local News Research Project. He has referred to closes data in the past, but he apparently thinks opens don’t matter. However, within driving distance of her campaign office, she managed to find multiple online outlets that clearly qualify as news gathering.In fact, you don’t have to be an experienced reporter to find these sites, since Local News Research Project has them all easily listed in an Excel spreadsheet.

  • In his guide, there is the Public Record, which appears to cover nothing other than Hamilton City Hall. In fact, he even covered his campaign just last year and is the source of the photo accompanying this post.
  • Covering Hamilton and the entire region is Insauga.com, which generates millions of page views each month and serves 18 Southern Ontario cities, including Hamilton. Hepfner has appeared in multiple stories in the past.
  • In nearby Ohsweken is Two Row Times, an online Indigenous news organization. Hepfner previously voted specifically to support Indigenous news outlets, but later actually described the one closest to his home as non-news. Hepfner is definitely familiar with the news as he posted a story and photo of him last summer.
  • Oakville News, which provides extensive coverage of local Oakville news, is another online news outlet located a short distance from his office.
  • Closer still is Burlington Today, one of many nearby online news outlets operated by Village Media.
  • A little further away is The Lake Report, which provides local news in Niagara-on-the Lake.

These are all examples of just a few of the digital news outlets that have been open since 2008. Even a quick review reveals that these are not focused opinion, but rather local news, ironically many with stories about Hepfner. They deserve better than an unwarranted slander from a government MP, much less a bill targeting the media lobby that will ultimately make it harder for smaller digital news organizations to compete in the news marketplace and serve their local communities.

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