Happy Warrior MP makes C-11 hearings great drama.

Liberal MP Chris Bittle at the Heritage Committee hearings on C-11

May 30, 2022

Until today, Conservative MP Rachael Thomas held the title of Happiest Warrior at Heritage Committee (CHPC) hearings on Bill C-11.

Liberal MP Chris Bittle took her crown today.

In the final five minutes of a four-hour CHPC hearing managed with grace and humour by Liberal Chair Hedy Fry and Conservative Vice-Chair John Nater, the former civil litigator Bittle tore into the Executive Director of Digital First Canada (DFC), Scott Benzie.

A film promoter who uses the YouTube platform, Benzie was put on the witness stand by the Conservatives to speak against C-11 applying to hosting platforms YouTube and TikTok (which I posted about here, here, and here).

Benzie never hid the fact that Digital First Canada is a lobby organization without dues-paying members or any mandate from the 160,000 Canadian YouTube creators (of which 40,000 make some money on the hosting platform). He did claim the authenticity and expertise to make his arguments.

But today he let it slip that 20% of Digital First Canada funding comes from YouTube and TikTok, not noted on its website. Nor did he mention the YouTube and TikTok funding when asked by the Committee in a previous witness appearance on March 23rd.

Bittle blasted him, alleging Benzie was in a conflict of interest by claiming to represent the interests of YouTube artists while taking money from the platform. Bittle also accused Benzie of misleading MPs in his previous appearance before the Committee (see transcript below) and was so aggressive you couldn’t help feeling sorry for Benzie who was not allowed the last word as time ran out on the session’s allocated time.

Here is the five minute clip from ParlVu.

Update: On June 1st Betakit published a story about the campaign training session run by TikTok for Digital First Canada. The story makes reference to the financing of DFC.

Moving on from politics to policy, there were important take-aways from the witnesses appearing today and asking for amendments to C-11:

Is this an existential moment in broadcasting history for independent Canadian TV programmers?

The Independent Broadcasting Group represents about a dozen major Canadian television channels like APTN, Super Channel, Pelmorex Weather Network, and OutTV that are distributed by cable companies Bell, Rogers, Telus and Videotron.

Under the current Broadcasting Act and CRTC regulations the cable companies must carry a minimum number of these independent channels seeking Canadian audiences. Carriage of some of the channels is mandatory.

There is nothing in C-11 which guarantees these CRTC rules will be applied to the new generation of online “aggregator” platforms Roku, Amazon Prime, or Apple TV. Nor is there anything in C-11 that says they won’t. But the IBG programmers want the Act amended to provide that guarantee.

Disney Plus pleads for regulatory flexibility under C-11

No Netflix or YouTube at these hearings until tomorrow, but Disney Plus VP David Fares appeared as a witness today.

It was a classy performance. Fares resisted Rachael Harder’s invitation to trash C-11 and instead pointed to Disney’s big spending on US service productions filmed in Canada as well as trumpeting three film projects (ah, the good timing!) telling authentic Canadian stories, even if they weren’t certified as official Canadian content under CRTC or federal CAVCO rules.

What he pleaded for was CanCon “flexibility” under C-11. That was code for the expected demand from all American streamers for relief from Canadian content rules requiring a Canadian producer and that those Canadian producers retain sole copyright over any CanCon project. That may be the most challenging task for the CRTC in the post C-11 world as I wrote in a previous post.

Fares had the good manners not to ask Canadian MPs for an amendment.

ACTRA and Directors Guild warn of the watering down of quotas for key Canadian creative talent:

Bill C-11 waters down the “point system” of certifying Canadian content that consists of a head-counting of Canadians in key talent positions (producers, lead actors, directors, writers, etc.)

The dilution in C-11 does not apply Canadian-made movies but to foreign streamers choosing to make certified Canadian content. —-the opposite of a “level playing field”— but certainly something that offers “flexibility” to Disney Plus and Netflix:

Here is the language from the version of C-11 that passed Second Reading:

3(1) f)each Canadian  broadcasting undertaking shall employ and make maximum use, and in no case less than predominant use, of Canadian creative and other human resources in the creation, production  and presentation of programming, unless the nature of the service provided by the undertaking, such as specialized content or format or the use of languages other than French and English, renders that use impracticable, in which case the undertaking shall make the greatest practicable use of those resources;

(f.‍1)each foreign online undertaking shall make the greatest practicable use of Canadian creative and other human resources, and shall contribute in an equitable manner to strongly support the creation, production and presentation of Canadian programming, taking into account the linguistic duality of the market they serve;

Further down in the text of the Bill, section 5(2) a.2 suggests that a broadcasting undertaking that does not make maximum use of Canadian creative resources may contribute through cash commitments to production funds:

(a.‍2) ensures that any broadcasting undertaking that cannot make maximum or predominant use of Canadian creative and other human resources in the creation, production and presentation of programming contributes to those Canadian resources in an equitable manner;

ACTRA and DGC want section 3(1) f.1 struck from the Bill.

From my point of view, watering down the CanCon “point system” is not the “flexibility” the foreign streamers want or need to make CanCon here. Rather they want the domestic and global copyright over the big budget films they are going to make here.

Why can’t the CRTC get its act together?

The CRTC might be Canadians’ second-favourite pinãta (right after the CBC). Many of the criticisms from activists and Internet and Wireless re-sellers are cheap shots. But some of it is deserved.

Veteran CRTC observer and industry analyst Monica Auer of the Forum for Research and Policy in Communications told Heritage MPs there is an opportunity in this once-in-a-generation reboot of the Broadcasting Act to demand more transparency from the Commission.

According to Auer, the Commission possesses a treasure-trove of useful industry data that doesn’t appear in their annual reports.

Regulatory and licensing files linger for years (although often the Commission is entitled to share the blame with litigants).

Even closer to the bone, Auer asks a simple question: why can’t the Commission report every year on how it is meeting the ambitious statutory objectives under the section 3 of the Act ?

Indeed. Publicly traded corporations must provide detailed performance metrics to their shareholders. The CRTC could do the same for Canadians.

*****

From CHPC Evidence March 23, 2022:

Mr. Chris Bittle    Well, I’m happy to have that meeting. It’s been fairly combative between you and me the last few days or so.

    This is a purely volunteer organization, your part in this…? You’re not receiving any funding from tech companies in regard to this organization…?

Mr. Scott Benzie

    Is it called “volunteer” if you’re actually sinking your own money into the organization?

Mr. Chris Bittle

    You tell me.

Mr. Scott Benzie

    I don’t know…I’m kind of paying to run the organization.

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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.

7 thoughts on “Happy Warrior MP makes C-11 hearings great drama.”

    1. IT would allow Netflix and Disney to fulfill their CanCon obligations by making films that used less Canadian talent (e.g. lead actors) than a Canadian film maker who made the same movie.

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      1. That’s correct. Moreover, its not necessary (or fair) to have two distinct standards.
        Besides, there is already significant flexibility built in to the system.

        Notwithstanding that, some stakeholders are calling for a review of Cancon requirements overall. Why not simply deal with the question as part of that process ?

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      2. IMO: There is another section in the Bill that says if OTTs aren’t making “maximum” use of Canadian talent they can essentially buy their way out of it with contributions. But that’s not much of a consolation prize and just encourages outsourcing of CanCon to foreign producers who you would expect will want to make it “not too Canadian” in order to satisfy their global audiences.

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