May 24, 2022
Heritage MPs hosted more than a dozen witnesses today at the first formal review of the Online Streaming Act C-11.
Much of the five-hour session was predictable: well known advocates and critics of C-11 recycling their narratives.
There was some interesting new material, however.
Skyship Entertainment CEO Morghan Fortier made her case against regulating User Generated Content (UGC) as a successful Canadian entrepreneur creating and uploading children’s programming for the global market, using YouTube as her distribution platform.
It was a refreshing witness appearance in a proceeding dominated by the usual suspects. Fortier avoided anti-regulatory and cyberlibertarian tropes, arguing that her kind of digital first creators aren’t concentrating on the domestic Canadian market, the fundamental policy impetus for regulation under the Broadcasting Act. She was in effect telling MPs that her business model is working just fine thank you, no help sought or needed.
The repeated criticism of regulating UGC from other C-11 critics appearing before the committee was that imposing “discoverability” obligations on YouTube and TikTok to include Canadian content in their algorithm-driven responses to key word searches would backfire on Canadian creators. It’s an arguable point, unfortunately none of those witnesses took the time to explain why that might happen.
Another witness, former CRTC Vice-Chair Peter Menzies, speculated that leaving the door open to regulating UGC might invite the CRTC to censor posts in the future. That’s something that C-11 appears to prohibit. But his comment does reflect the visceral fear that free speech absolutists still have about the Bill.
Representatives of the Québecois music industry argued in favour of regulating UGC for the purpose of extending the CRTC’s radio funding and discoverability obligations to YouTube and TikTok music services. It was a compelling perspective that English Canadians don’t hear much about. So much so that it was a disturbing Canadian moment to observe English speaking Conservative MPs and C-11 critics hammer away against any regulation of UGC, oblivious to francophones pleading for cultural oxygen.
Another under appreciated policy point was brought forward by OutTV CEO Brad Danks. He supports C-11 for ensuring that CRTC rules giving Canadian programmers access to Canadian cable TV audiences will be expanded to include access to online aggregation platforms like Roku, Amazon and Apple TV. Danks predicted a future in which foreign aggregator platforms flood the Canadian market and warned MPs that some of them (not the aforementioned Americans) have already refused to carry his LGBTQ+ content.
In a different political environment one could be philosophical about the entrenched policy differences expressed before the Committee because the Minister has promised to release a Policy Directive to the CRTC with more detailed instructions on how to handle User Generated Content and how to revise the certification rules of Canadian content. Following the release of that Directive, the CRTC will do what it does best: hold public consultations with scores of witnesses and thousands of pages of submissions covering C-11 implementation in an encyclopedic way.
But the Minister has given no indication he is going to issue that Policy Directive prior to Royal Assent. He may have made the astute observation that Conservative MPs and critics of C-11 remain inconsolable in their opposition to the legislation.
Here’s hoping that MPs put policy ahead of partisanship on this Bill.
Committee hearings resume next week.