Catching Up on – Rogers-Shaw hits speed bumps; Geist bombast; Online Harms legislation challenged in Germany.

March 4, 2022

The merger proposal that never stops feeding the news cycle had a big week.

Federal Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne announced he would not approve the “wholesale” transfer of radio spectrum licenses from Shaw’s mobility business in Ontario and western provinces to Rogers. The Parliamentary Industry committee chimed in today with its non-binding opposition to the overall merger, especially the wireless assets.

Champagne’s clipping of Rogers’ wings on the wireless end of the $26 billion deal could impact the anticipated ruling of the Competition Bureau on whether the merging of wireless, ISP, cable and satellite assets “substantially lessen competition.”

The CRTC also holds a veto on the merger of the broadcasting cable and satellite assets (the Global News chain of television stations operated by the Shaw-controlled Corus Broadcasting is not part of the merger). The Commission held hearings in November and Rogers is hoping for a decision before its targeted closing in the second quarter of the year.

The Parliamentary Heritage Committee (CHPC) has been convening its own hearings focused on the merger’s impact upon the financial stability of Global’s local stations in a dozen mostly mid-sized markets across the country. 

The hearings are mostly political theatre. As a Parliamentary committee CHPC has no authority to block the merger that results in the Global stations being cut adrift from Shaw Cable’s $13 million supplementary funding of Global stations that has existed under a CRTC mandate since 2017.

MPs on the Committee mercilessly grilled Rogers Broadcasting VP Colette Watson on the elimination of that $13 million from Global’s $102 million budget. 

Watson declined to offer the too candid answer: Rogers would violate its cable license if it didn’t spend the $13 million on its own City-TV stations

Instead Watson suggested Global stations should absorb the 13% budget cut to their news resources and —in a gob smacking statement— suggested there was “no proof” that Global ever spent the $13 million on local news since 2017. The proof of course is a matter of public record posted on the CRTC website.

More helpfully, Watson’s colleague from Rogers Cable Pam Dinsmore suggested MPs consider bigger solutions to the crisis of local news in Canada’s television networks when deliberating Bill C-11. A good analysis of that crisis was published earlier in the week by the Toronto Star’s Christine Dobby.

Speaking of political theatre, the CHPC has yet to schedule its hearings on the Online Streaming Bill C-11 but early indications are it will be a replay of the C-10 drama from last spring.

In a recent blog post on Senate hearings considering Bill S-210, Internet activist Michael Geist gleefully turned the bombast meter up full blast and claimed that a CRTC official testifying before the Committee had inadvertently disclosed the Commission’s broad ambition to censor Internet content if it gets more regulatory authority under Bill C-11. The CRTC witness in question civil servant Scott Hutton is the Commission’s Research Director, not a Commissioner, and he was referring to the CRTC’s current lack of regulatory authority over “this issue” under discussion in the Senate Bill: age verification requirements to deter minors accessing pornography on the Internet.  

The international efforts to regulate online harm took another twist in Germany. Google, Meta and Twitter persuaded a lower court judge that a new law requiring the Big Tech platforms to inform police of posts that reveal threats of criminal activity —and provide supporting persona data— is unconstitutional until a crime is committed. The ruling is being appealed.

Published by

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.

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