On the Proposed Amendments to the Broadcasting Act
After a long wait, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has tabled a bill to amend the Broadcasting Act. Here's what we think of it.
The Broadcasting Act was last amended in 1991, but even though the internet was not front of mind back then, the law was written in a very flexible way that accommodates technological change.
The 1991 Act allowed the CRTC to govern streaming services like Netflix but the CRTC declined to do so. As a result, streaming services like Netflix, Disney+ and Spotify have been allowed to make billions of dollars in Canada without having to contribute to the creation of Canadian stories.
This new Act was supposed to eliminate ambiguity and bring foreign internet broadcasters into our system once and for all, but it doesn't. Here's our take.
Online publishers can keep pushing hate
The bill creates a new definition: programming control, which "means control over the selection of programs for transmission." It then goes on to amend existing portions of the law to clarify that social media companies are not responsible for any content they broadcast if that content is created by individual users.
This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how social media algorithms work; they are precisely a tool of control.
Because of this incredible provision, the bill implies that Facebook can live-stream the Christchurch massacre and YouTube can recommend decapitation videos without facing legal consequences. Letting these companies continue to make a profit by publishing harmful, illegal content is wrong and FRIENDS opposes it strongly.
A race to the bottom for Canadian content
The new Act would require the CRTC to negotiate individual deals with every single broadcaster – online or tradtional – with no minimum requirement for financing Canadian content. So while traditional broadcasters like Bell need to contribute 30% of their revenue to Canadian content, Netflix's lobbyists may be able to get a better deal. This will of course lead Bell to demand reduced obligations, creating a race to the bottom.
The new Act also waters down language around the importance of Canadian talent and storytelling.
"Canada" is much diminished
This is perhaps the most worrisome change in the Act.
Passage after passage of the original Act have been pruned to reduce the obligations of broadcasters in regards to Canadian culture.
Here's an example. The bill used to state that "each broadcasting undertaking shall make maximum use, and in no case less than predominant use, of Canadian creative and other resources in the creation and presentation of programming." The new Act says that broadcasters only need to use of Canadian creative resources "to the extent that is appropriate".
Simply put, Canada is being erased from the bill in troubling ways.
The bill has nothing for the CBC
The Yale report made a few recommendations concerning CBC/Radio-Canada:
- CBC should go ad-free within five years
- Government should provide increased, stable, long-term funding in five-year chunks, to increase CBC’s independence
- The independence of CBC’s board should be enshrined in law
But these provisions were not reflected in Minister Guilbeault's bill. The Liberal government has repeatedly promised to buttress CBC's local services, but this Act does not deliver. In fact, the bill does nothing to address CBC's funding, independance or fundamental mandate.
Minister of Canadian Heritage
Steven Guilbeault succeeded Pablo Rodriguez as Minister of Canadian Heritage in 2019. Minister Guilbeault's mandate includes the CBC and other critical cultural institutions.
Les géants du Web
Also known as FANG (an acronym for Facebook, Apple, Netflix and Google), these foreign billionaire companies are amongst the most profitable in the world. Ottawa has given them a free pass on several obligations for years, allowing them not to collect taxes or to contribute to our cultural landscape.
Social Media Platforms
Online platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter profit immensely from content created by Canadian media contribute nothing back. Further, they are perhaps now more well known for spreading harmful and illegal content with disastrous consequences for our democracies.
Unlike their Canadian competitors, foreign Big Tech streaming firms like Netflix, Disney+ and Spotify have been allowed to do business in Canada with no obligation of contributing to Canadian content or programming.