The error-riddled Abacus C-18 poll commissioned by Google tells us nothing.

October 17, 2022

It’s a time honoured tradition in Canadian politics to bootstrap one’s cause with public opinion polls.

Last Friday Abacus released a poll commissioned by Google that surveyed 2,207 Canadians on the Online News Act Bill C-18. The announcement came just days before Google Canada’s Colin McKay appears before the Commons Heritage Committee tomorrow at 11 a.m. 

The pollster Abacus said its findings demonstrate public support for Google’s C-18 amendments:

The results clearly indicate that while few Canadians are paying close attention to what is happening with the Online News Act, the issues with Bill C-18 raised by Google resonate with Canadians and cause them to want legislators to amend the bill to address concerns they have with it – including Liberal supporters and those most familiar with the legislation.

Most Canadians use Google Search daily. It is an essential part of their life. They depend on Google to solve their problems, find information, and access news. But there is little appetite to pay to access that content – whether personally or by the platforms.

If Bill C-18 fundamentally changes the user experience, if it helps to spread misinformation or supports organizations that don’t follow core journalistic standards, Canadians will be dissatisfied and support for the legislation will quickly fall….

After being informed of Google’s concerns with Bill C-18, Canadians were asked whether the federal government and Parliament should work to amend the legislation to address these concerns or whether Google’s concerns are not that serious, and the legislation should pass as is.

59% felt the bill should be amended while only 15% felt it should be passed as it is. Another 27% were unsure.

It’s perhaps a small shortcoming of the amazing confluence of Google’s desire and the public mind that nobody including the survey respondents knows what Google’s amendments are. 

If only that was the sole problem with the poll.

Alas the survey questions are loaded with argumentative premises and false claims about the Bill.

Initially, the poll establishes some base line information that should not surprise:

The public is hooked on free information and doesn’t want that to change.

The majority of the respondents believe (or say they believe) that news media is financially stable, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Overall, Abacus’ questions and analysis of the results could be summarized: “your government is tiptoeing legislation through Parliament that will result in search fees, gerrymandered search results, more click bait, and foreign propaganda. We can’t show them to you right now but Google’s amendments would fix all those things. Do you agree?”

Is that unfair to Google and Abacus? Here are the poll questions.

Q1. How familiar, if at all, are you with Bill C-18, the Online News Act, legislation that the federal government introduced to regulate the internet and support news organizations in Canada. It is currently being reviewed and debated in the House of Commons?

The answer was only 8% said they were very familiar with the Bill (25% were somewhat familiar). It was a useful question and the answer helps build Google’s narrative: few Canadians know what’s in Bill C-18.

Q2. After specifying the different things C-18 might accomplish, respondents are asked which goals are most important?

Again, a useful question. Here are the results:

Q3. Thinking specifically about [the financial health of] Canadian news and journalism, do you feel the news industry in Canada is…

The result: an astonishing 55% think the Canadian news industry is financially sustainable despite all of the reporting and documentation on the collapse of the advertising-reliant business model for news.

It’s sad to say, but the significant degree of counterfactual opinion probably does not enhance the authority of those respondents’ answers to the remaining questions.

***

Next are two questions in a row suggesting Bill C-18 will result in Google’s news compensation costs being passed along to consumers as search fees:

Q4. “Imagine you read an article on a Canadian news website and shared it on social media because you wanted others in your network to read it. Do you think the social media platform you shared it on should have to pay the news organization a fee for that?

“Q5. If you were searching for something on Google and a link to a news article appeared in your search. Would you pay a small amount to be able to click through and get to the page through Google?”

The results were negative of course. Who wants to pay for what’s free?

The Abacus summary of these replies states:

69% are worried when they find out Online News Act would require companies like Google to pay news businesses simply so that they can help you find what you’re looking for. This is what’s known as a “link tax” and it fundamentally breaks the way search (and the internet) have always worked. Requiring payment for links risks limiting Canadians’ access to the information they depend on.” (Emphasis added)

Requiring payment?

Although not pointed out by Abacus to poll respondents, the Bill does not charge fees to news consumers

At Google’s direction, Abacus seems to be threatening poll respondents and Canadian MPs that if C-18 is approved Google will pass along its costs of paying for news to consumers: even though Google didn’t do that in Australia after legislation similar to C-18 was passed in 2021.

The two questions are argumentative and misleading.

***

(Q6) Abacus also asks a question about the CRTC’s governance of the bargaining scheme under C-18. The specific question and results are not posted by Abacus but the pollster provides this summary:

“70% are worried when they find out that ‘the bill gives the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) unprecedented, sweeping new powers to regulate every aspect of the Canadian news industry even though these decisions are far outside of its expertise as a broadcast regulator.‘”(Emphasis added)

You could include me in that 70% of worriers if any of it were true. I mean, “unprecedented sweeping” powers sounds very bad: even though 92% of poll respondents probably have no idea what it’s describing.

The claim that the Commission will “regulate every aspect of the Canadian news industry” is preposterous and false. 

As to whether the CRTC would be “far outside of its expertise as a broadcaster regulator,” the prose is embellished but identifies an important issue.

In its favour, the CRTC has extensive expertise in mediation and arbitration involving media companies.

As for journalism issues, the Commission has mostly left them to self regulation by those companies and lacks experience.

It’s an issue that should be addressed either by Parliamentarians or Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez.

***

(Q7) The next question (again, only the Abacus summary of results is available) raises Google’s concern that faux news organizations will use the C-18 bargaining process to get money from Facebook and Google by gaming the definition of “an eligible news organization”:

69% are worried when they find out “the proposed law uses an extremely broad definition for “eligible news businesses” and doesn’t require eligible news organizations to follow basic journalistic standards.” (Emphasis added)

The certification of an eligible news organization (ENO) in C-18 can take either of two paths.

The first accepts the existing certifications of Canadian daily newspapers as “Qualified Canadian Journalism Organizations” (QCJO) under section 248 Income Tax Act as implemented in 2019. That certification process has been considered a success. 

As a benchmark of what kind of news organizations might be disqualified because of (the lack of) journalistic standards, it’s worth noting that the arm’s length independent journalist panel that administers the QCJO program decertified Rebel News in 2021 after initially granting it QCJO status.

Unless already certified as a QCJO, media companies seeking ENO status apply to the CRTC under section 27(1)(b) that requires them to “produce news content.”

News content is defined in section 2 as “content — in any format, including an audio or audiovisual format — that reports on, investigates or explains current issues or events of public interest.‍” (Emphasis added)

In addition, section 31 allows Facebook or Google to ask the CRTC to carve out any of an ENO’s various “news outlets” (e.g. a publication, website, or news show) that don’t match a more detailed description of news journalism. Here’s the text:

(2) A news outlet is to be a subject of the bargaining process if the Commission is of the opinion that the outlet is operated exclusively for the purpose of producing news content — including local, regional and national news content — consisting primarily of original news content that is

  • (a) produced primarily for the Canadian news marketplace;
  • (b) focused on matters of general interest and reports of current events, including coverage of democratic institutions and processes;
  • (c) not focused on a particular topic such as industry-specific news, sports, recreation, arts, lifestyle or entertainment; and
  • (d) not intended to promote the interests, or report on the activities, of an organization, an association or its members.

While relying upon Google and Facebook to be the first identifier of faux news outlets, C-18 requires ENOs to do original news reporting. Moreover, section 31(2)(d) excludes many faux news organizations that might claim to being journalists. 

The Bill could be tightened up in two respects.

It could establish a high bar for the amount of news in any outlets’ overall content and in general the CRTC could adopt the exhaustive and detailed QCJO regulation from the Income Tax Act.

The Bill could also require news outlets belong to a recognized self governing News Council.

Having said that, it was inflammatory and argumentative for Abacus to tell survey respondents that the C-18 contains “an extremely broad definition for ‘eligible news businesses’ and doesn’t require eligible news organizations to follow basic journalistic standards.”

***

The next question Q8:

65% are worried when they find out “the Online News Act would effectively subsidize any outlet that “explains current issues or events of public interest”. This means that any opinion or commentary blog with two or more people could be eligible to receive funds.” (Emphasis added).

The definition of news content in section 2 does not only say “explain,” it also says “reports on and investigates” which Abacus appears to have omitted. That’s means news reporting, not just “opinion” or “commentary blog” (like the one you are reading).

Maybe Abacus doesn’t recognize the difference but most do. It’s a misleading question and the conclusion that “any opinion or commentary blog could be eligible” is false.

***

The next question Q9:

“60% are worried when they find out “foreign, state-owned outlets could be eligible, even if they are known sources of misinformation and propaganda, under the Act.” (Emphasis added).

What is the plausibility of “could?” 

If the CRTC acts incompetently and recklessly? In the recent case of banning Russia Today the CRTC got the right result (but I would say in a hasty manner).

Better, look to the language of the Bill.

Misinformation and propaganda are not “news content” as defined in the Act, they are at best “opinion” and “blog commentary” which by themselves are not “news content” unless accompanied by reporting and investigating.  

If Parliamentarians want to make the definition of “news content” more precise and demanding —fear-mongering has a way of motivating greater clarity— they might do so.

***

The last question Q10 is undoubtedly Google’s biggest concern:

“65% are worried when they find out “a section of the bill prohibits companies like Google from using ranking, or showing you the content most relevant to your search, first. It also could allow blogs, foreign state-owned media, or any other “eligible news business” to inflate their ranking in your search results, preventing Google from presenting you with the most reliable and useful content, making Search (and the internet) less useful and less safe.” (Emphasis added)

This is the scare-your-pants-off question, so let’s break it down.

First, the Bill’s “undue preference” provision in section 51 does not “prohibit” Google from “using ranking, or showing you the content most relevant to your search, first.” That is a false statement by quite a margin. Section 51 allows an ENO to lodge a complaint to the CRTC that Google’s algorithm is punitive to that ENO and the Commission should intervene.

Second, “blogs” and “foreign state media” would have to qualify as ENOs before being allowed to lodge a complaint. The likelihood of an opinion blog becoming an ENO is nearly zero and the only “foreign state media” likely to become an ENO are legitimate public broadcasters like the BBC (assuming it provides Canadian news in Canada).

What section 51 actually says is that legitimate ENOs can complain to the CRTC that Google’s ranking algorithm is “unjust, undue, or unreasonable” in favouring another source over the complainant’s content.

“Undue preference” is a known legal term with a history. So it’s difficult to see how a complaint would succeed unless (a) Google was favouring the rankings of its own journalism or undisclosed paying customers or (b) was punishing an ENO as a bargaining tactic.

If Heritage MPs are prepared to have a civilized conversation about the Bill (unlike the filibustered C-11), the undue preference clause will be an important issue to study carefully.

The clause is probably not integral to the central purpose of the Act —-rebalancing commercial bargaining power between Platforms and news organization—- except to ban reprisals against ENOs by Google and Facebook. But that doesn’t make it a bad idea.

The real issue is that Big Tech companies are prepared to go to the wall over allowing regulators to peer into the black box of their commercial algorithms. Expect a big fight.

***

If the Abacus poll proves anything it’s the difficulty of gleaning informed answers from an uninformed public. 

Feeding respondents questions that are argumentative, misleading or based upon false premises does not help.

Previous polls on C-18 from Nanos (for the Globe and Mail) and Pollara (for NewsMedia Canada which supports C-18) kept the questions general enough that the polls were effective in testing general attitudes and public mood, rather than the fine points of legislation.

Perhaps Abacus might approach the subject differently next time. It might have to find a different sponsor.

Catching Up on MediaPolicy.ca – Does C-18 fight news deserts? – Google takes off the gloves (again) – Robert Armstrong weighs in on C-11 – Netflix bites into the advertising apple.

October 15, 2022

Last week the Chicago-based Medill School of Journalism released its annual report on the state of local news.

Its focus this year is on expanding news deserts in suburban and rural areas. I posted about concerns expressed by Canadian publishers that the Online News Act Bill C-18 as drafted excludes smaller weeklies.

Google opposed the Australian version of C-18 last year and will appear before our Heritage Committee on Tuesday.

Google paid for a poll released yesterday by Abacus to explicitly support Google’s C-18 amendments that it has yet to make public. The proposed amendments were not included in the poll questions.

The poll was criticized on Twitter (not just by me) for its argumentative questions.

The Star published an article describing the Abacus survey with the government’s response.

As I posted previously, Google is funding Canadian lobby groups in opposition to the Online Streaming Act Bill C-11 and is also inviting Canadians to sign its online petition against the legislation now in the Senate.

***

The leading academic expert on Canadian broadcasting regulation Robert Armstrong published an opinion column in which he called for article 7(7) of Bill C-11 to be dropped: that section allows the federal government to substitute itself at will for the CRTC in devising regulations and orders.

I previously posted about this issue here after it was highlighted by the Forum for Research and Policy in Communications.

An announcement that may have caught your eye that massively impacts the broadcasting industry: Netflix’s anticipated move into advertising-supported streaming video will begin on November 1st when it introduces its $6.99/month service.

A similar move by Disney+ is expected soon.

Will Bill C-18 help rural publishers and push back news deserts?

Grasslands News (SK) Publisher/Editor Chris Ashfield appeared before the Heritage Committee on September 27

October 12, 2022

During Heritage Committee hearings on Bill C-18 on September 27th a skeptical Kevin Waugh (CPC- Saskatoon-Grasswood) questioned whether the FaceGoogle-Pay-For-News legislation would do anything for rural publishers

Testimony from Chris Ashfield, the publisher/editor of Saskatchewan’s Grasslands News group of five local weeklies, tapped into a deep concern previously documented by TMU’s News Poverty Project about the troubling spread of news deserts in rural and suburban communities.

Ashfield told Heritage MPs how the publications in his local chain and other Saskatchewan weeklies are shrinking in advertising revenue, news coverage, and the number of employed journalists.

The latter could be a barrier to rural publishers seeking access to the compensation expected to flow from C-18. Currently the eligibility criteria in s.27(1)(b)(i) requires a publication employ at least two journalists, excluding the publisher, other staff and freelancers.

Asked about that rule, Ashfield told MPs:

 In Saskatchewan, the outcome [of the two-journalist rule] would be fairly detrimental to a lot of the smaller publications. The newspaper industry has changed. Most of the work is now being done by the publishers, who are multi-tasking.

In my own operation, I run five newspapers, but each newspaper has anywhere from a part-time reporter to one full-time reporter. Under the current situation, we would not qualify for that…

Communities are on the verge of losing their newspapers and with them the coverage of their municipal councils, school boards, sports and cultural events and all the independent local news coverage residents have relied on for decades.

The growth of news deserts and the parched news coverage that results is without a doubt an alarming development for the Canadian news ecosystem and the democracy it sustains.

In its annual report released last week on the dire state of local news in the United States, the Northwestern University Medill Journalism School observed that communities in news deserts, or reduced to only one publication, skew towards a poorer, older and less educated demographic. They are also far less likely to be patronized by philanthropic donors or journalism programs, or by digital news start-ups, all of whom gravitate towards urban centres and state capitals. 

Even were we to ignore these news deserts as someone else’s problem, say the authors of the report, there is a knock-on effect on the entire polity:

In a healthy news ecosystem, the journalists at local print and digital news organizations not only cover the ebb and flow of everyday life in their communities, but also alert reporters at national and state newspapers, regional television stations and larger digital operations to developing trends and major occurrences that deserve broader attention. Journalists at these larger organizations, in turn, produce the majority of the investigative and beat reporting that prompts legislation and policies to correct problems. As cracks form in the base and local print and digital news outlets struggle to gain traction or disappear, the journalism of the national and state news organizations is also compromised. 

The Medill Report continues its year-by-year documentation of the decline in news publishing. The metrics of that decline in the US are supported by more granular data than are available in Canada due to the size of the market. The key and most reliable metric is the decline in journalism employment: down 60% nationally among dailies and weeklies since 2005.

Neither are digital publishing start-ups a saviour: the Report says their growth is incremental, dwarfed by the size of decline in conventional media, and in any event not taking root in news deserts.

The size of the US market provides more opportunities for experimentation: the Report cites encouraging examples of collaborative news coverage and shared overhead among publishers.

Financial aid to journalism also looks different in the US than Canada: the US is more advanced in private philanthropy and non-profit activity while remaining far behind Canada in terms of government aid. In addition, it’s not clear as yet if the American counterpart to Canada’s Bill C-18 will get through Congress.

In Canada, the flow of C-18’s anticipated journalism funding to small weeklies will be influenced by a number of legislative design factors including the two-journalist requirement.

The paid weeklies are already eligible for discretionary funding from Heritage Canada through the little-known but decades-old Canadian Periodical Fund/Aid to Publishers program. The free weeklies are eligible for similar funding under the Special Measures for Journalism program which began as Pandemic funding and has been extended for three years by the 2022 budget. In either program there is no requirement for a minimum number of employed journalists (only that the publication “regularly present written editorial content from more than 1 person.”)

There is however a public appetite for rigorous accountability in the funding of journalism as we saw in the hair-on-fire politics ignited by the federal government’s introduction of aid to Qualified Canadian Journalism Organizations in 2019. As it turned out, the government’s delivery of that program through an arm’s length committee worked out rather well.

It was the QCJO program that introduced the two-journalist threshold. As one eligibility criterion in a long list, the two-journalist rule was probably intended as a barrier to political action groups and basement bloggers accessing the QCJO program. This may be why the newsroom employment threshold found its way into C-18.

However the safety-features of the QCJO eligibility rules were designed with the reassurance that small weeklies like those published by Grassland News’ Chris Ashfield were already drawing government assistance under Canadian Periodical Fund/Aid to Publishers (and they could not draw from both federal programs for the same publication).

There may be amendments tabled by Heritage MPs on the two-journalist rule in C-18’s section 27 which would bring it in line with the Aid to Journalism and Special Measures criteria. On the other hand, the legislation establishes the power of the governing CRTC to devise eligibility regulations that could address the issue.

For its part, the advocate for small publishers, News Media Canada, is pushing for more resources through the government’s internship program the Local Journalism Initiative.

Catching Up on MediaPolicy.ca: “Vile” tweets from Heritage’s Anti-Racism Consultant – Google campaigns against C11 – Algorithms and Public Policy

Anti-Racism Consultant Laith Marouf

October 8, 2022

Federal media policy continues to swirl in the tempest of Parliamentary politics. 

Yesterday Heritage Committee MPs summoned Diversity and Inclusion Minister Ahmed Hussen to explain the government’s role in hiring anti-racism consultant Laith Marouf, the author of a series of Tweets variously described as vile, outrageous, racist and anti-semitic.

I posted a short account of the Committee hearing here, including a selection of Marouf’s most offensive Tweets (be forewarned).

***

Earlier the Senate held further hearings on Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act. This week Senators focussed on a vital policy issue: the unprecedented role that American studio/streamers will play in making Canadian content. 

I posted on that here. You can round out your understanding of the fine points with two excellent explainers published in Cartt.ca by Douglas Barrett and Leonard  St. Aubin. Also here‘s commentary from Globe film critic Barry Hertz.

This week’s C-11 political drama was Google’s e-mail to 160,000 Canadian YouTubers asking them to sign an online petition against C-11, hosted by Canadian lobby group Open Media (Google is a Platinum donor to Open Media).

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez responded he didn’t much like Big Tech wading into Canadians politics. 

Google’s campaign also put a new perspective on Liberal MP Chris Bittle’s provocative decision to file a complaint with the federal Lobby Commissioner against Digital First Canada for failing to make a timely disclosure of its financial backing from Google.

A final highlight on the C-11 hearings for now: Brock University’s Blayne Haggart and two other academics challenged Senators to think about whether the big platforms’ content algorithms are as neutral and untouchable as many are claiming. 

Algorithms are curated by the platforms and, in that sense, are privately regulated. As TMU researcher Irene Berkowicz noted in her Google-funded study on YouTube, YouTubers themselves have mixed feelings about the platform’s algorithmic manipulation. 

Haggart tweeted the short version of his argument here.

***

As for the Online News Act Bill C-18, Cartt.ca published a twopart post by Internet Society VP Konrad Von Finckenstein with his fix-it list for the pay-for-news-content legislation that awaits further hearing dates at the Heritage Committee.

report published by the Parliamentary Budget Officer stated that C-18 will result in compensation for news organizations at the rate of 30% of editorial costs. 

That estimate does not rely on any new data but cites the round-figure previously stated by Australian Competition Commissioner Rod Sims.

Liberals’ accountability in Marouf scandal stymied by Conservative filibuster

Anti-racist consultant Laith Marouf

October 7, 2022

The federal government was called on the carpet today to take responsibility for the scandal of Heritage Canada hiring Laith Marouf as an anti-racism consultant despite his history of anti-semitic and racist tweets (examples below).

Diversity and Inclusion Minister Ahmed Hussen answered questions from Opposition MPs on the Parliamentary Heritage Committee probing why Marouf was hired and why it took the Minister a month after being notified of the tweets on July 19th to comment publicly and terminate Heritage’s relationship with Marouf.

Hussen reiterated his condemnation of anti-semitism and racism and promised better vetting of consultancy applications and more training for Heritage officials. His explanation for his delayed public response was essentially that is the speed at which the federal civil service moves when lawyers and contract liability are involved.

MPs also asked how Heritage’s vetting of an anti-racist consultant did not include an Internet search that would have discovered the tweets.

Pressing the Minister, Conservative MP John Nater asked if he could confirm a press report quoting Marouf bragging that Heritage Canada was so desperate to appear responsive to racism suffered by media workers that officials pro-actively solicited an application from him to provide anti-racism training.

The Minister said he would check with officials on the report. But with the responsible Assistant Deputy Minister waiting in the witness queue to answer questions, Conservative MP Rachael Thomas began a filibuster of the remaining hour of the Committee session. The official was never questioned and so no answer was provided.

There has been detailed reporting on Marouf’s tweets, his work for Heritage and the government’s accountability in the matter. The pot will continue to boil because despite Heritage Canada banning Marouf from future consultancy contracts, the CRTC has said it may continue funding him under the Broadcasting Participation Fund to take part in certain Commission hearings.

Marouf’s defence —repeated by some— is he doesn’t mean all Jews.

You cannot read Marouf’s incendiary tweets without acknowledging, only to yourself if necessary, that they indiscriminately incite violent feelings and violent actions against Jews, not just Zionists (again, see below).

Everyone knows who Zionists are. They are Jews. There are millions of Jewish Zionists around the world, even if not all Jews are the “white supremacist” Zionists that Marouf insists he is accusing. But if you flood my house with gasoline and walk away, you are still culpable for the deadly spark and explosion that follows. Would we tolerate incitement of hate against Black Lives Matters because not all Blacks belong to BLM?

Yes, the situation in Israel and Palestine makes moral choices hard. Whatever you think injustice or justice means there, the fact remains there is a 75-year war that has never stopped and never will until those who insist on vanquishing their enemies turn to pragmatism and peace. 

Laith Marouf’s racist and anti-semitic tweets tells us he stands with the vanquishers. More’s the pity.

Senate witnesses refocus the C-11 debate on what matters

Netflix’s Stephane Cardin appeared before the Senate Committee reviewing Bill C-11. He didn’t mince words.

October 4, 2022

Despite the Senate’s singular focus on Bill C-11’s regulation of user generated content, today’s witnesses shed some light on other issues both important and neglected.

The biggest issue that has been mostly avoided in both the House and the Senate is what the post C-11 broadcasting world will look like when the US streamer/studios are placed under new obligations to make and/or finance CanCon, known in CRTC lingo as “Canadian Programming Expenditures (CPE).”

Debate over that issue immediately invokes a hot button issue: what counts as a certified “Canadian” program?

And debate over what is a Canadian program immediately poses a further question: should the current rule requiring Canadian ownership of the production’s intellectual property remain a sine qua non requirement? In film and TV production, “IP” refers to second seasons and spin-offs but also the exploitation of a production’s global distribution.

Netflix, Disney Plus, Paramount Plus and Amazon Prime are not Canadian, of course. So the C-11 question is how US studio/streamers will make Canadian programs in fulfillment of a CPE target handed to them by the CRTC? It’s hardly a secret they will prefer making their own “Canadian” productions rather than writing cheques to a Canadian film fund to finance someone else’s movies.

When a Senator asked Netflix spokesperson Stéphane Cardin today what his priority amendment was, he answered bluntly “copyright,” meaning Netflix should retain full intellectual property rights and be able to certify any movie it makes that otherwise qualifies as Canadian content.

Appearing for the US streamer/studios in Canada (including Netflix, Amazon and Disney Plus), Wendy Noss proposed an amendment stating that “no one factor is determinative” in defining a Canadian program, a swipe at current rules around employment of Canadians in key talent positions but mostly at the inviolable rule on copyright ownership.

The Noss amendment responds to Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez’s statement in May that he contemplates a post C-11 government directive to the CRTC to review the long standing CanCon certification rules, although it’s far from certain he had copyright in mind.

The intention of the streamer/studios’ amendment is best understood in the context of existing “CAVCO” rules governing a producer’s claim to “CanCon” production tax credits under the Income Tax Act that are in turn linked to the CRTC’s parallel set of rules governing certification of broadcasted Canadian programs (CPE).

Both the CAVCO and CRTC rules determine Canadian content by a point system that tallies the employment of Canadians in key creative roles. In addition the CAVCO tax rules require the producer to be a Canadian who retains copyright. The CRTC broadcasting rules are not quite as specific about Canadian copyright ownership and up until now that was unimportant because only Canadian-owned broadcasters are regulated by the CRTC, not American streamer/studios.

Here’s the realpolitik that few are saying out loud: if the US streamer/studios are regulated in Canada without the opportunity to retain global distribution rights to their movies, we are going to see a CUSMA trade complaint regardless of its merits.

The Canadian film and TV production industry is equally adamant about copyright 180 degrees in the other direction.

It is not just Canadian movie makers jealously guarding the Canada Media Fund’s $366 million kitty for certified Canadian films (although that matters of course).

It is not just questioning why big American streamer/studios should be permitted to access CanCon tax credits financed by Canadian taxpayers.

It’s instead the concern that unless independent Canadian producers retain full rights to exploit and profit from their best creations (including distribution to global audiences), they will become CanCon sub-contractors in their own land as US streamer/studios insist that Canadian independents surrender copyright and global profits in exchange for distribution on their global platforms.

As both of today’s “Canadian” witnesses (Blue Ant Media and the Canadian Association of Film Distributors and Exporters) stated, without copyright Canadian producers will become the “hewers of wood and drawers of water” of old.

There’s merit to both sides of the argument in an asymmetric way, meaning a win-win compromise is not out of the question. The streamer/studios’ amendment is probably a non-starter for the Liberals, Bloc and the NDP. But perhaps the CRTC —with a gentle nudge from the Minister in a policy directive— will look at it this way:

The US streamer/studios regulated by C-11 are likely to make big budget CanCon movies (with global audience appeal being the key) that just don’t get financed in Canada.

The CRTC could establish a high threshold for production budgets above which it could certify a film for Canadian content if the streamer/studio shares the copyright and exploitation rights 50/50 with a Canadian producer or broadcaster.

Any production below that threshold —-essentially the production budgets of current Canadian movies— would still require 100% Canadian ownership and retention of intellectual property.

Now that might seem like apostasy to some (and no less irksome to Netflix and Disney Plus) but would the Canadian industry and Canadians be better or worse off?

***

This is a post about C-11 hearings so there is no escaping the discoverability issue.

Today the Senate heard from its umpteenth YouTuber witness. But in a refreshing development, Bastien Forrest wanted to talk about how C-11 fails to address how we could nurture Canadian digital first creators by earmarking a portion of YouTube’s CanCon contribution for Canadian creators.

Similar to the pitch made by Andrew Cash on behalf of Canadian independent music companies on September 21st, Forrest argued that the shortest distance between creation and consumption of online Canadian content is subsidizing supply.

Forrest spent four and a half minutes of his five minute Senate presentation making his point, adding at the last moment his agreement with other YouTubers about the perils of interfering with YouTube’s distribution algorithm.

Unfortunately during questioning Senators ignored Forrest’s main point and obsessed about the latter.

This is consistent with the long shot political strategy devised by Digital First Canada who, in an alliance with the Conservatives, insist upon a total exclusion of regulating user generated programs. Meanwhile a consensus Senate amendment to limit its regulatory scope, or directly help digital first creators, might find favour with a majority of MPs in the House of Commons.

***

A C-11 issue concerning labour rights surfaced on September 14th when ACTRA appeared before the Senate and it doesn’t reflect well on a Liberal government that has no desire to appear to be anti-union.

Back on June 14th the Liberal, NDP and Bloc MPs on the Commons Heritage Committee broke through the Conservative filibuster and passed 42 amendments in one all-nighter session. Most of the amendments had been publicly tabled and debated by MPs during previous hearings but many had not and were pushed through unceremoniously following ex-camera negotiations among MPs.

One of these secret amendments sought by the US streamers was tabled by MP Michael Coteau on behalf of the government and supported by the Conservatives (though not the Bloc or the NDP).

It said:

31.1 Section 6 of the Status of the Artist Act is amended by adding the following after subsection (2)

Non-application

(3) This Part does not apply in respect of an online undertaking, as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Broadcasting Act.

There is a long explanation for why that defeats labour rights.

It goes like this:

  • Creator Guilds like ACTRA, the Writers’ Guild and the Director’s Guild represent movie talent whom are technically self-employed and not eligible to be unionized through conventional labour laws.
  • Instead, union recognition and collective bargaining are enabled by the Status of the Artist federal legislation.
  • Broadcasters are federally regulated. When they make in-house productions with Guild labour, the federal Status of the Artist Act applies.
  • Guilds like ACTRA have collective agreements with broadcasters CBC, CTV and the National Film Board. But since broadcasters mostly buy their TV dramas from independent film producers who are not broadcasters and not federally regulated, the Guilds instead have collective agreements with the independent producers under the banner of the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA) and the AQPM in Québec. These collective agreements are under provincial jurisdiction with mirrored versions of the federal Status of the Artist legislation.
  • When Netflix, Disney Plus and the other American streamer/studios become “online undertakings” under Bill C-11, their activities will fall in federal jurisdiction under the Broadcasting Act.
  • But the Coteau amendment says that these federal regulated streamer/studios are exempted from the federal Status of the Artist Act, meaning that when they make movies in-house (instead of buying from independent producers) their labour obligations do not include recognizing Guilds representing self employed talent.
  • Bottom line: federally regulated streamers making in-house productions will be able to operate non-union.

Let’s follow the money. As today’s testimony from US studio/streamer spokesperson Wendy Noss appeared to confirm, the amendment came from them.

At the moment, it’s mostly Disney Plus that prefers to make movies in-studio while Netflix tends to make movies in partnership with or through purchase from provincially regulated independents. So Disney Plus is the immediate beneficiary of the Coteau amendment.

But now that the federal Liberals have handed US streamer/studios a path to making movies in Canada non-union, Netflix will have an opportunity to make their movies in-house at cheaper labour rates than they would by continuing to work with the independents bound by the CMPA master agreement with the Guilds.

Catching Up on MediaPolicy.ca – Public attitudes on media bashing – Trouble at the Toronto Star – A synopsis of Bill C18 – Sleeper issue in Bill C11 – LaFlamme & Arden duet for human rights

October 1, 2022

Mercifully this past week did not prominently feature Conservative MPs attacking Canadian journalists and media.

Mainstreet Research tweeted interesting polling results on public attitudes towards politicians’ media bashing.

What was not surprising was how much Conservative supporters like it. What was a little surprising was the traction media-bashing also gets from Liberal voters. The hashtag #CanadianMediaFailed often tunes you in to how grumpy some Grit supporters get about news coverage that doesn’t go their way.

Lest this report be misinterpreted as “whataboutism,” I appreciated the reality check provided by Lawrence Martin in his recent Globe column.

***

The Commons Heritage Committee began study of Bill C-18, the Online News Act, otherwise known as the FaceGoogle-Must-Pay-for-News-Content legislation.

I posted a short synopsis of the key provisions of the Bill and some possible trouble spots.

The timeliness of C-18, and an ominous portent for local news, was revealed this week by a report in the Globe that the co-owners of the Toronto Star have fallen out, quite possibly over job cuts. Nordstar 50/50 partners Paul Rivett and Jordan Bitove are off to court. 

***

The political theatre over Bill C-11 the Online Streaming Act is not as bad as it was last spring during the Conservative filibuster of the Heritage Committee hearings, but the less partisan Senate deliberations are still generating as much heat as light. 

I posted about a sleeper issue in C-11 that got some deserved attention this week at the Senate hearings: the Bill gives federal cabinet sweeping powers to override the CRTC on detailed regulatory matters.

***

Canada’s Journalists for Human Rights held a fund raising gala on Thursday night featuring journalists from Afghanistan (Humaira Habib) , Kenya (Wanja Gatu), and Canada (the Globe’s Mark MacKinnon). Unifor National President Lana Payne, a former journalist, also spoke.

The event was emceed by TV anchor/reporter Lisa LaFlamme and singer/actress/activist Jann Arden who together charmed the crowd with a duet of Arden’s “Steady On.” 

The fundraising campaign can be found here.

C11 TV’s Bread and Circuses: political theatre is distracting us from important stuff

Digital First Canada ED Scott Benzie appeared before the Senate Transportation and Communications Committee on September 28th

September 29, 2022

Last year the federal Liberals assigned Ontario MP Chris Bittle as Parliamentary Secretary to the Heritage Minister to neutralize Conservative MP Rachael Thomas’ disruptive tactics in Committee. 

It worked to an extent. But like Thomas, the combative courtroom lawyer Bittle has no off-switch. 

Last month he engaged in a Twitter spat with Michael Geist over the government’s complicity in hiring Laith Marouf as an anti-racism consultant despite Marouf’s anti-semitic and racist Twitter activity. One of Bittle’s Tweets implied Geist was a racist (of course he’s absolutely not) for criticizing Diversity Minister Ahmed Hussen: Bittle apologized but not before having embarrassed himself.

This week the Globe reported that Bittle and another Liberal MP have filed a complaint with the Lobby Commissioner alleging that Scott Benzie, Executive Director of Digital First Canada (DFC) may have violated federal laws regarding disclosure of his organization’s financial backer, YouTube.

Both DFC and YouTube oppose Bill C-11’s provisions regarding user generated content and online discoverability of Canadian content. 

Bittle first made the accusation public during Heritage Committee hearings last June and the important details are as yet unclear: Benzie may have been non-compliant in registering DFC’s connection to YouTube while lobbying MPs. 

Having made his valid but limited point about DFC’s relationship with YouTube in June, Bittle still filed a formal complaint. Perhaps it was to hold the truculent representatives from YouTube Canada accountable. Benzie and the Conservatives call it witness intimidation. 

The bottom line is that this week this tempest in a teapot is getting more attention than the Bill itself.

***

That wasn’t the only political theatre around C-11 this week. The other was the Senate’s near-exclusive focus on discoverability and the impact on algorithms that drive traffic on hosting platforms TikTok and YouTube.

The Senate is recycling most of the witnesses who already presented on C-11 to the Heritage Committee in June.

The latest slogan from critics is that the CRTC will be “picking winners and losers” among competing YouTube videos if discoverability provisions go forward.

No one explains how of course.

When you keyword search a topic in YouTube you get numerous but limited recommendations ranked in order of responsiveness to the inquiry (or at least we assume so in the absence of YouTube being more transparent about its algorithm). 

If YouTube was to tweak its algorithm to spotlight or rank higher any Canadian videos available on the topic—the Bill says it’s up to them how they do it— you may see a little Canadian flag beside one of the videos in the top recommendations, assuming the YouTubers’ video file metadata has been entered accurately and the algorithm is intelligently programmed. 

The CRTC would have to decide if the Canadian flag on a recommendation that is otherwise responsive to the inquiry is enough to meet discoverability requirements, or whether Canadian videos actually get pushed up a notch or two.

Yes, it’s possible in this scenario that the bottom ranked video gets booted off the list of recommendations or, as Internet Society VP Konrad von Finckenstein suggested, the list simply gets longer.

The Internet will remain unbroken.

Critics did raise a couple of troubling points to be considered. The first is that YouTube might just mess it all up and alienate audiences who might blame individual YouTubers.

Another is that other countries (especially the U.S.) might respond with matching preferences for their own YouTubers and our Canadian creators will be net losers. 

The latter point is worth the CRTC studying in depth before taking any action on discoverability. The Commission may well end up making limited use of its new powers and/or granting exemptions to YouTubers who are not conventional broadcasters.

***

I have buried the lede about important stuff by giving so much attention to C-11 TV’s bread and circuses. 

At Tuesday’s Senate hearing you could visibly observe Senators pick up on the in-depth expertise being offered to them by witness Monica Auer who is Executive Director of the Forum On Research and Policy in Communications, specializing in CRTC regulatory issues.

Auer has spotlighted a serious threat in C-11 to the Commission’s independence from government.

Section 7(7) of the Bill amends the Act’s long standing provisions that permit the government of the day to issue broad policy directives to the Commission. 

For example in 2013 the Harper government directed the Commission to expand consumer choice in television, including the option for subscribers to buy channels on the stand-alone basis of “pick and pay.” The Commission went on to issue a very lengthy and detailed ruling on that as part of its “Let’s Talk TV” review of broadcasting policy in 2015. 

That ruling followed a year of public consultation, detailed evidence, and thoughtful contemplation by Commissioners with far more non-partisan expertise than their government masters.

But section 7(7) in C-11 would allow the government to write detailed regulatory outcomes into the policy direction itself ——more than likely penned by a political staffer in the office of the Heritage Minister of the day——and direct the Commission to rubber stamp them. 

This section 7(7) power arrogated to the federal government would apply not only to regulatory matters (like pick and pay) but to the “orders” that will become the de facto licences for online undertakings like Netflix, Disney Plus, or Bell Crave. 

As “licensed” linear broadcasting platforms are displaced by “ordered” online undertakings, the federal cabinet will accrue the power to dictate the minutia of individual broadcasters’ terms of operations.

Here are the provisions in the Bill, both the expanded cabinet powers and the Commission responsibilities they can be substituted for, including the definition of Canadian content:

***

7 (1) Subject to subsection (2) and section 8, the Governor in Council may, by order, issue to the Commission directions of general application on broad policy matters with respect to

(a) any of the objectives of the broadcasting policy set out in subsection 3(1); or

(b) any of the objectives of the regulatory policy set out in subsection 5(2).

(7) For greater certainty, an order may be made under subsection (1) with respect to orders made under subsection 9.‍1(1) or 11.‍1(2) or regulations made under subsection 10(1) or 11.‍1(1).

Conditions

9.‍1 (1) The Commission may, in furtherance of its objects, make orders imposing conditions on the carrying on of broadcasting undertakings that the Commission considers appropriate for the implementation of the broadcasting policy set out in subsection 3(1), including conditions respecting

(a) the proportion of programs to be broadcast that shall be Canadian programs and the proportion of time that shall be devoted to the broadcasting of Canadian programs;

(b) the proportion of Canadian programs to be broadcast that shall be original French language programs, including first-run programs;

(c) the proportion of programs to be broadcast that shall be original French language programs;

(d) the proportion of programs to be broadcast that shall be devoted to specific genres, in order to ensure the diversity of programming;

(e) the presentation of programs and programming services for selection by the public, including the showcasing and the discoverability of Canadian programs and programming services, such as original French language programs;

(f) a requirement for a person carrying on a broadcasting undertaking, other than an online undertaking, to obtain the approval of the Commission before entering into any contract with a telecommunications common carrier, as defined in the Telecommunications Act, for the distribution of programming directly to the public;

(g) a requirement for a person carrying on a distribution undertaking to give priority to the carriage of broadcasting;

(h) a requirement for a person carrying on a distribution undertaking to carry, on the terms and conditions that the Commission considers appropriate, programming services, specified by the Commission, that are provided by a broadcasting undertaking;

(i) a requirement, without terms or conditions, for a person carrying on an online undertaking that provides the programming services of other broadcasting undertakings in a manner that is similar to a distribution undertaking to carry programming services, specified by the Commission, that are provided by a broadcasting undertaking;

(j) terms and conditions of service in contracts between distribution undertakings and their subscribers;

(k) access by persons with disabilities to programming, including the identification, prevention and removal of barriers to such access;

(l) the carriage of emergency messages;

(m) any change in the ownership or control of a broadcasting undertaking that is required to be carried on under a licence;

(n) the provision to the Commission, by licensees or persons exempt from the requirement to hold a licence under an order made under subsection 9(4), of information related to

(i) the ownership, governance and control of those licensees or exempt persons, and

(ii) the affiliation of those licensees or exempt persons with any affiliates carrying on broadcasting undertakings;

(o) the provision to the Commission, by persons carrying on broadcasting undertakings, of any other information that the Commission considers necessary for the administration of this Act, including

(i) financial or commercial information,

(ii) information related to programming,

(iii) information related to expenditures made under section 11.‍1, and

(iv) information related to audience measurement, other than information that could identify any individual audience member; and

(p) continued ownership and control by Canadians of Canadian broadcasting undertakings.

Regulations generally

10 (1) The Commission may, in furtherance of its objects, make regulations…

(b) prescribing what constitutes a Canadian program for the purposes of this Act;

Regulations — Canadian programs

(1.‍1) In making regulations under paragraph (1)‍(b), the Commission shall consider the following matters:

(a) whether Canadian producers, including independent producers, have a right or interest in relation to a program, including copyright or any other right or interest, that allows them to control and benefit in a fair and equitable manner from the exploitation of the program;

(b) whether key creative positions in the production of a program are primarily held by Canadians;

(c) whether a program furthers Canadian artistic and cultural expression;

(d) the extent to which persons carrying on online undertakings or programming undertakings collaborate with independent Canadian producers, with persons carrying on Canadian broadcasting undertakings producing their own programs, with producers associated with Canadian broadcasting undertakings or with any other person involved in the Canadian program production industry, including Canadian owners of copyright in musical works or in sound recordings made in Canada; and

(e) any other matter that may be prescribed by regulation.

Regulations — expenditures

11.‍1 (1) The Commission may make regulations respecting expenditures to be made by persons carrying on broadcasting undertakings for the purposes of

(a) developing, financing, producing or promoting Canadian audio or audio-visual programs, including independent productions, for broadcasting by broadcasting undertakings;

(b) supporting, promoting or training Canadian creators of audio or audio-visual programs for broadcasting by broadcasting undertakings; or

(c) supporting participation by persons, groups of persons or organizations representing the public interest in proceedings before the Commission under this Act.

Order — particular broadcasting undertaking

(2) The Commission may make an order respecting expenditures to be made by a particular person carrying on a broadcasting undertaking for any of the purposes set out in paragraphs (1)‍(a) to (c).

Heritage Committee begins debate on #C18 the Online News Act.

Former TV journalist and Heritage Committee MP Kevin Waugh (CPC) says Bill C-18 doesn’t help rural news outlets.

September 27, 2022

Members of the Commons Heritage Committee are back on Parliament Hill following summer break —possibly still numb from the filibuster and closure on Bill C-11 the Online Streaming Act— and ready to study the Liberal government’s next media bill, the Online News Act C-18: sometimes known as “FaceGoogle pay-for-news” legislation.

In two days of Committee hearings including today, MPs invited a number of witnesses who sparred over whether the Bill is a good or bad thing.

I’ve written in support of the Bill several times here, here, here and here. For the opposing view, you can read Michael Geist here, or former Calgary Herald Editor Peter Menzies here. There is also an article by Internet Society Vice President Konrad Von Finckenstein that identifies the problems he sees in an Act that he clearly doesn’t like.

If I may be as helpful as I am opinionated, what follows is a synopsis of the Bill’s provisions with select bullet points on what some say are trouble spots.

Sections 3 and 4 describe the overall objective of the Bill (“enhancing fairness in the Canadian digital news marketplace”) as well as principles favouring freedom of expression and journalistic independence when the CRTC or the courts are asked to interpret the Bill. Section 2 includes some key definitions.

  • Section 2 of the Bill says the scope of bargaining for fair compensation includes news content that is accessed or indexed through links or partial text, likely the legislative draftspersons’ anticipation of regulatory avoidance strategies by Google and Facebook. Michael Geist says this is overreach.

Sections 6 to 10 establish which digital platforms are subject to the Act as “Digital News Intermediaries.” (DNIs) At the moment, it’s anticipated the only DNIs will be Google and Facebook as they were in Australia.

Sections 11-17 describe the exemption option for Google and Facebook should they be able to convince the CRTC they have made enough voluntary deals with Canadian publishers and broadcasters for fair compensation, dispensing with the need for formal designation and arbitration proceedings. This exemption route prevailed in Australia.

  • The key criterion for granting DNIs an exemption is whether the platform can strike voluntary deals with “a significant portion” of news organizations, implying that some news organizations could be left out in the cold without a deal. In Australia, Facebook refused to make a deal with a small public broadcaster and the investigative news site The Conversation but still achieved an exemption under a similar provision in the Australian legislation. Small Canadian news outlets are worried this could happen here. The architect of the Australian legislation, Competition Commissioner Rod Sims, appeared before the Heritage Committee to reassure small news outlets that their counterparts did very well in Australia. Nevertheless expect this to be a focus of future hearings. As well, the “two employed journalists” threshold that small rural papers must pass over to access fair compensation under C-18 is already a point of contention within the Committee.

Sections 18-22 sketch out the process for formal bargaining between DNIs and news organizations (dubbed Eligible News Organizations – ENOs). Sections 27-31 cover how news organizations get certified as ENOs and thereby access bargaining with DNIs over fair compensation. Section 49 refers to a bargaining Code of Conduct that the CRTC is charged to develop to make bargaining go more smoothly.

  • Section 27(1) sets the bar for the kind of news journalism required before a news outlet can be certified as an ENO. There appears to be a loophole where daily newspapers already certified under the federal government’s “QCJO” aid to journalism funding program are required to provide original news, but smaller publishers and any broadcasters are not. Geist is all over this and, forgiving his hyperbole, I agree.

Sections 33-41 describe the final offer binding arbitration that is available for ENOs if they can’t get a fair deal from Facebook or Google. It’s sometimes called “baseball style” arbitration where the arbitrator can only pick one of the two proposals in their entirety, without compromise.

There are a number of technical provisions in the Act dealing with how the bargaining regime intersects with the Copyright Act (sections 23-32) and the Competition Act (Sections 47-48).

  • There are conflicting academic views on the copyright and trade compliance features of this Bill. Compare Geist to the University of Calgary’s Hugh Stephens on this.

There is an important “undue preference” provision in section 51 that limits Google and Facebook’s discretion in ranking news content (it can’t be unjust, undue or unreasonable).

There are several sections on how news organizations and the CRTC can compel information from Google and Facebook so that the bargaining and CRTC proceedings aren’t frustrated by the asymmetrical information gap about the inner workings of their platforms.

Because of this information problem, as well as the public’s and news organizations’ interest in transparency, section 86 speaks to an annual audit and information report about the commercial value of the agreements that are struck under the Act.

  • David Skok, CEO of The Logic, says small news organizations need “real time” access to information on other bargaining outcomes in order not to be shortchanged.

Catching Up on MediaPolicy.ca – More Journalist v. Politician battles on the Hill – Committee hearings in C-11 and C-18 – BeerGate Again

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis’ Facebook page

September 25, 2022

This week’s update begins as last week’s: a story of a moment’s lack of judgment by a Parliament Hill journalist, exploited by the Conservative Party to continue its vilification of the media.

Last week the story was about the confrontation between David Akin of Global News and Pierre Poilievre.

This week the focus was freelance journalist Dale Smith who poked Conservative MP Garnett Genuis’ for his conduct in Question Period:

Smith has solid journalist credentials, but according to some a reputation for “snark.” His Twitter feed has an edge.

You can follow the ensuing series of events here in the CBC account of it.

But to summarize, the Tories alleged a threat of violence by Smith. Genuis said he feared for his own safety. Conservative voice True North equated Smith’s Tweet to other, less ambiguous threats made against politicians.

The Globe’s Andrew Coyne denounced the Conservatives for engaging “in performative bullshit.”

Smith was defiant and refused to apologize.

The Conservatives upped the ante and demanded Smith be booted from the Parliamentary Press Gallery and, effectively, reporting on federal politics.

As expected, the self-governing Press Gallery refused the demand but not without admonishing Smith:

“The Gallery wishes to dissociate itself from the comments made by this journalist … the Press Gallery would like to emphasize that intimidation, in all its forms, is unacceptable … it is important to remember that it is not for politicians to determine who is or isn’t a member of the Gallery.” 

The Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur, who wrote an excellent column on Akin-Poilievre encounter last week, had this to say about Smith-Genuis:

Like l’affaire Akin last week, the problem is a major Canadian political party has decided to demonize the media as a strategy, and acts in bad faith while doing so. This, however, was an escalation, because the Conservatives demanded the press gallery and Parliament intervene over a journalist’s hacky tweet. The gallery operates under the purview — usually and appropriately at arm’s length — from the Speaker of the House. Imagine what mischief a dedicated anti-media Conservative Party in power could get up to. Imagine how bad this could get.

To add my own opinion, the “how-bad” is more than the harassment, vilification, and doxing of reporters, or Conservative attempts to ban unfriendly journalists.

“Bad” is also about turning off audiences and fueling news avoidance.

“Bad” is also the latest feature of media bashing: Internet trolls that counterfeit news posts to “prove” the alleged bias of professional journalists.

Global News’ Rachel Gilmour, a frequent target of the populist troll army’s ugliest harassment, retweeted a couple of these counterfeit posts aimed at her:

***

The Senate hearings on Bill C-11 the Online Streaming Act continue.

Senators are giving critics lots of air time to dwell on the controversy over user generated content and platform algorithms. Commentators like myself accommodate this oxygen-sucking debate by writing about it.

In my latest post, I suggested that the competing claims about the need for, or danger of, discoverability tools to promote Canadian content mostly concern the music industry and ought to be meticulously examined by the CRTC after C-11 passes into law.

Not getting enough public attention are the provisions of Bill C-11 weakening the CRTC’s ability to ensure that Canadian programming services get carried on foreign-owned online platforms operating in Canada. Senators do appear to be paying attention.

I commented on that issue here.

***

The federal cabinet has granted the petition from sixteen industry and advocacy groups to overturn the CRTC’s licence renewal for the CBC, handed down in June.

The CRTC is instructed to re-do its public hearing. As is customary, the cabinet’s directions are somewhat opaque. The Commission is mandated to:

consider how to ensure that, as the national public broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation continue to make a significant contribution to the creation, presentation, and dissemination of local news, children’s programming, original French-language programming, and programming produced by independent producers.

Those instructions explicitly reference some of the worst of the CRTC’s ruling but are less clear about others such as scheduling of Canadian programs during evening prime time hours and the relationship between digital and linear television programming expenditures.

In a previous post I suggested the petition gave cabinet an opportunity to signal a broader consideration of the CBC, slated for review by the Minister’s 2021 Mandate Letter. There’s no sign of that yet, although there is an appetite for it.

***

The House of Commons Heritage Committee (CHPC) began its examination of Bill C-18 the Online News Act. The legislation is intended to rebalance the bargaining power between Canadian news organizations and digital platforms Google and Facebook over the value of the media’s intellectual property (I hesitate to use the loaded term “copyright.”). I previously wrote about C-18 here.

There’s a Globe and Mail report on the first day of Committee hearings here. There is also a helpful account on Cartt.ca.

In US Congress, a slightly different version of C-18 emerged from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s “mark-up” hearing and will go forward to the full Senate after sponsor Amy Klubachar (D-Minnesota) struck a deal with Ted Cruz (R-Texas) over the issue of platform content moderation.

***

I may have already spilled too much ink over the BeerGate controversy involving CRTC Chair Ian Scott, Bell CEO Mirko Bibic, and Tek Savvy’s appeal of the Commission’s Wholesale Internet Broadband pricing decision.

This summer Scott was cleared by federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion of any violation of the Conflict of Interest Act.

In reviewing the legal filings on the Tek Savvy appeal to Federal Court I noticed a reference to the CRTC’s internal Code of Conduct which, the Bell factum correctly points out, contemplates Commissioners engaging with stakeholders at social events.

That got me interested in reading the CRTC Code for myself. When I couldn’t find it online I requested it from the Commission. The Commission responded that it was confidential and refused to release it.

With the assistance of a couple of colleagues I discovered the Code had in fact been posted on the Commission website as late as June. Thanks to the Wayback tool, I got a copy and indeed it verifies what Bell is telling the Federal Court:

The Code also says this:

Here’s the document:

***

If you are interested in the ongoing debate about the wholesale pricing of Internet and mobility services, or the dynamics behind the Rogers-Shaw merger, there is a series of articles in the Globe and Mail that focuses on the capital commitments to building fibre networks.

The articles are based on interviews of the CEOs of Shaw, Bell and Telus.