Right in the Centre - Cling to your local paper


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

The government of Canada passed Bill C-18. The bill essentially demands that companies like Facebook pay news outlets for their content. In response Facebook has removed a number of news media outlets from Facebook and posted the following message:

“People in Canada can’t see this content. In response to Canadian government legislation, news content can’t be viewed in Canada.”

The message is a bit misleading in that Bill-C-18 doesn’t say it can’t be viewed, it asks that news outlets must be paid for their content by Facebook. I am not exactly sure where I stand on this issue but it is concerning that news outlets rent or buy buildings, hire reporters, try to gather news and sell ads and subscriptions to put together what is hopefully reliable news and then Facebook uses that news to build up their numbers to sell ads without paying for the content.

Facebook has lashed out at the government and news media outlets with their bans but ironically, Facebook was paying the larger news outlets hundreds of thousands of dollars in side deal agreements across Canada. They have given notice that these deals are no more but the smaller news outlets weren’t being compensated anyway. In the bluntest of terms, when Facebook used content from smaller new outlets, it was taken without compensation. It may not be theft but it comes pretty close.

There are a lot of wrinkles to be worked out and it may take months or even years to settle out but as for me and our company, the loss of coverage by Facebook may not be all bad. People who want the news from The Banner & Press can go directly to our website, www.myWestman.ca and read the paper. A brief version is available for free and a better version is available by subscription.

It seems to me to be OK if readers have to go to our web site and get the news directly. I spend some time on Facebook, probably too much, but it can be handy to track down some news about things that are of interest. However, Facebook is very, very unreliable, not because of Facebook as such, but because people can post anything they want on Facebook and it may or may not be true. There is no way of really verifying the truth of Facebook content. Facebook claims to have over 3 Billion users. There is no way on God’s green earth that they can check the truth in all these posts.

Several years ago, I was invited to Ottawa to testify before the Parliament of Canada Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. I made a strong presentation on the need for reliable, local news. I was privileged to answer the MP’s question after the presentation. As soon as I was done, the head of Facebook Canada spoke and Committee Chair MP Hedy Fry asked the FB head man, “How can you guarantee the people of Canada that news on Facebook will be as reliable as what Mr. Waddell puts in his newspaper?” Facebook didn’t have a good answer because there is no way they can possibly verify what is on their sites. They say they have fact checkers but let’s say if one fact checker could check 10,000 sites (an impossible task) they would need 300,000 fact checkers if my math is correct. They only have 86,000 employees in total.

Facebook users, other than news outlets, will be able to continue to use FB. However, we need to remember that Facebook is not and never has been an editor or publisher. It is not a reporting service, it is a “repeater” service. Facebook can’t, in spite of possibly having noble intentions, provide assurance that their content is truth. Truth can only be achieved by locally owned, accountable news outlets. We can be assured of reliability because we have a fact checker in every reader’s home.

Obviously I have a personal interest in this topic but I implore readers to cling to their local paper. All the other sources of information may be well and good but, in spite of the odd error we make, nothing available has the reliability of locally printed news.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the Banner & Press staff.