Catching Up: Poilievre Attacks the Media; Bill C-10 is Back; Minister Rodriguez reports on Online Harms consultation

Pierre Poilievre accuses the mainstream media of “insulting Canadians.”

February 7, 2022

No news round-up of Canadian media policy can begin without first remarking on the quantum leap in the vilification and attempts to intimidate the Press during the last two weeks.

Pierre Poilievre’s viral video tweeted January 29th in solidarity with Convoy protesters accuses “the media” of “insulting Canadians.” His most recent video road-testing his leadership narrative goes full Trump, weaving in attacks on the mainstream media as a member of the establishment cabal plotting against freedom.

The bile spewed at journalists both on social media and during live news stand-ups is daily fare now, seemingly a Scouts-badge for Convoy militants. 

Right-wing efforts to foster the Trump formula in Canada are in full swing: malign the integrity of all political institutions including the mainstream media, leaving only faith in the Leader. 

We are about to find out what kind of country we are.

Poilievre’s video briefly alludes to a Liberal attempt to repress political speech through its Internet legislation. With the Liberals re-tabling C-10 amendments to the Broadcasting Act, we can expect the Conservatives to re-boot their political opposition from 2021 focussing on the regulation of social media posts.

The new Online Streaming Bill C-11 was drafted to smooth the rough edges from last year’s Bill C-10 aimed at ending the 20-year regulatory exemption of Internet-based broadcasting. The main thrust of the legislation is to require foreign streamers Netflix, Disney, DAZN, Amazon, Spotify and YouTube to make the same in-kind or in-cash contributions to Canadian content as regulated Canadian TV and radio broadcasters do.

The distraction –-and opportunity for critics— is the Bill’s provision for regulating the streaming of programming on social media platforms; programming that mimics conventional broadcasting but distributes content on social media platforms instead of (or mostly in addition to) Internet apps or TV channels. The Bill delegates to the CRTC the rule-making on what kind of program uploads will be regulated and provides Parliamentary criteria for the Commission to follow. The chief criterion is whether the programming is commercially monetized.

Critics immediately pointed out that despite Parliament’s guidance the CRTC could regulate a huge array of amateur and start-ups creators trying to monetize their uploads.

Given its past history of foregoing regulation of small cable operators and broadcasters, the CRTC will almost certainly grant a widespread exemption for nascent commercial activity. 

But given the Liberals are trying to dodge controversy in C-11, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher they didn’t write in a more specific exemption for programming uploaded by small scale content creators.

The political weak link in C-11 has little to do with the fine print of the legislation: its vulnerability is that a common front of opponents and critics of communications regulation have kept up a years-long campaign against the CRTC and lately have been personally targeting Chair Ian Scott.

We can expect the anti-C11 sound bites will be that Scott can’t be trusted with new powers over social media and the Bill is part of a power-hungry Prime Minister’s plot to shut down free speech. 

Wait and don’t see if I am right.

Meanwhile the Liberals’ work on an Online Harms Bill is back in the news

Unlike C-11, an Online Harms bill is a free speech and censorship issue. It also raises compelling harm issues that we never had to confront before: ask any journalist, especially female, Muslim or POC journalists about the threats and abuse in their social media feeds.

Minister Pablo Rodriguez released an interim report on Heritage’s public consultation, the now-standard “what we heard” summary of public submissions, so it’s going to be some time before we see a Bill.

At this point I make only one observation: the ill-advised decision of the Minister not to publish the 422 submissions Heritage received from various Internet companies, academics, civil society organizations, victim’s groups, and ordinary Canadians

The reason given by Heritage for this secrecy is that some submissions came from victims of online abuse who understandably want their traumas and identities kept private. But Heritage could easily have offered confidentiality to those Canadians without shielding all submissions from public view.

This is more than just a question of principle.

The Minister’s summary of “what we heard” repeatedly quantifies specific critiques of its proposed model of regulation. The Report is replete with “most people said” and “some said” and “few said.” 

Without knowing who is saying what —is it a commercial entity, a known political advocate, or an ordinary Canadian— how are we to adequately judge their arguments ? 

For instance, what has Facebook said to the government? Are we not allowed to know? We only know what Google has to say (some important things as it turns out) because its submission is posted voluntarily on Michael Geist’s website.

The Minister could do us all a favour by being more transparent.

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Howard Law

I am retired staff of Unifor, the union representing 300,000 Canadians in twenty different sectors of the economy, including 10,000 journalists and media workers. As the former Director of the Media Sector and as an unapologetic cultural nationalist, I have an abiding passion for public policy in Canadian media.

One thought on “Catching Up: Poilievre Attacks the Media; Bill C-10 is Back; Minister Rodriguez reports on Online Harms consultation”

  1. ” We are about to find out what kind of country we are” is a great line, and captures the moment for me. It was sad to hear the CBC national panel collectively lose its temper as they saw civility corroding in Parliament and on the streets of Ottawa.
    The critiques of two bills is critical and non-alarmist. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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