Jesse Wente wants Canada to “tax the hell” out of Big Tech, but he’s open to cutting deals

Jesse Wente
Forget arguments over algorithms: Wente wants the money to build something better.

We’ve talked about several contentious bills from our federal government on the podcast in the past year.

But two in particular—Bill C-11 (the Online Streaming Act) and Bill C-18 (the Online News Act)—are now laws. And that hasn’t made them any less contentious.

“For a lot of Indigenous storytellers, there’s a lot of interest in those [tech] platforms, because those entities haven’t said no to our community for 50 years.”

Google and Facebook are threatening to block all Canadian news from Canadians, and almost every Canadian content creator believes that YouTube and TikTok will be forced to limit their exposure on those platforms if the CRTC can’t back up its regulation promises.

The kicker? As of this week, the minister responsible for shepherding those bills, one Pablo Rodriguez, is no longer in a position to be responsible for dealing with the outcomes those laws create.

So it looks like we’re on our own.

It’s obvious that BetaKit has a horse in this race, but we’ve talked to many people about the conflicting motivations before Canadians at this key moment in time:

  • A desire to support Canadian journalism, art, and culture in the new digital world.
  • A general distrust of Big Tech, their promises and threats, paired with a cozy familiarity and enjoyment of their platforms.
  • A practical or perhaps patriotic desire to not have our government pushed around by global corporations.
  • Limited confidence in our federal leaders to navigate these challenges with the sophistication required.

For all that talk, there has been limited conversation on the impact of these laws and platforms for Indigenous creators, Indigenous content, and Indigenous culture.

So if we’re going to have Raine Maida and Folding Ideas on this podcast, maybe we could create a little space for other perspectives?

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Joining us today is Jesse Wente, an Anishinaabe writer and broadcaster, the first Indigenous person to chair the Canada Council for the Arts, and until recently, the Executive Director at the Indigenous Screen Office–an organization that advocates for and funds First Nations, Inuit, and Métis filmmakers and creators in Canada.

Wente has held a unique position in this conversation: he’s familiar with pretty much all of the players.

He’s spoken to Indigenous creators themselves about their concerns–about the lack of support they’ve received from traditional media corporations, whether or not they consider themselves “Canadian” content creators in the first place.

He’s also spoken directly with the tech giants who are in the midst of retaliating against these laws, and found that they’ve strikingly been more willing to support Indigenous content than home-grown players.

So at this point, who can Indigenous content creators trust most—or who do they trust the least? It’s a rock and a hard place that Wente speaks to that directly, and I’ll let him explain it in his own words.

Wente comes with some strong prescriptions that seem better suited to the situation in my opinion: tax Big Tech to hell, protect user data, make deals, get the money, and use it to build something better. I think he might be onto something.

One of the great joys of doing this podcast is the conversations I get to have with the people on the other side of the microphone. This is one of those rare occasions where I think you’ll enjoy the conversation as much as I did.

Let’s dig in.

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The BetaKit Podcast is hosted by Douglas Soltys & Rob Kenedi. Produced & edited by Kattie Laur. Feature image courtesy Jesse Wente.

Douglas Soltys

Douglas Soltys

Douglas Soltys is the Editor-in-Chief of BetaKit and founder of BetaKit Incorporated. He has worked for a few failed companies and written about many more. He spends too much time on the Internet.

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