Pushing forward with efforts to update the Broadcasting Act to hold media streaming services and social media platforms to the same CRTC requirements of “traditional broadcasters” the House of Commons passed the controversial Bill C-10 on Tuesday. Taking issue with both the way in which the bill was passed and its actual content, Canadian non-profit OpenMedia has since leveled their own criticism – calling the bill a “trampling of democracy” while raising concerns to the implications it could have for user generated digital content on popular online platforms.
Laura Tribe is the Executive Director of OpenMedia and spoke to those concerns as a recent guest on Kitchener Today with Brian Bourke. Arguing that C-10 aims to treat the internet “more like cable TV” rather than assisting “legacy content producers” in keeping up with the modern era, though more significant issues were raised in a perceived lack of credence lent to criticism of the bill.
“There has been a real stifling of debate, a lack of representation from any critics of the bill – the government is actively attempting to dismiss any critics as unfounded or unreasonable without actually engaging in the substance.” said Tribe. “In a democracy, it really raises a lot of questions when your government is unwilling to listen to the concerns of its own citizens and adjust legislation accordingly.”
Calling the rhetoric around bill C-10 “difficult to stomach”, Tribe said the federal Liberals have been dismissing critics as “free expression extremists” and reassuring a commitment to protecting free speech while “quite literally silencing debate in the House of Commons”. While that bill still needs to receive approval in the senate, Tribe encouraged Canadians to reach out to the committee that will be studying the bill to ask for a thorough review of not just the bill, but also the “lack of attention and process it was given”.
According to Tribe, user generated content had previously been exempted from the scope of C-10 – though those protections were removed, ultimately placing that independent material under the mandate of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. Tribe argues that, in removing those protections, the federal government is looking to draw funding to support Canadian content “off the backs of digital creators” – a move that is likely to silence those unable to find a home for their content in traditional media.
“This bill is trying to do two things – it’s looking to fund arts and culture, which is great, and it’s looking to promote it. It’s really trying to do two things at once and conflating the two. Taking money from digital creators to fund legacy media is really difficult for people who’ve had their funding mechanisms turned on them. Making sure there’s a clear distinction between who it applies to and who it doesn’t is what’s needed.”
Drawing attention to the Canadian media ecosystem’s domination by a handful of “vertically integrated companies”, Tribe argued the government needs to seriously question the sort of ecosystem it’d like to see rather than chasing the “biggest fish” in order to receive the most funding possible for Canadian content.
“I think right now so much of the focus is on who has money, and how do we get it. You look at companies like Facebook and Google, they’re bigger and they have the money – but they’re getting it at the expense of the individual user.” said Tribe. “This is the 90 per cent of people who are getting side money to pay their bills from their YouTube channel, and they’re going to end up paying the price to keep supporting the content we see on cable TV. It feels like the scales are really being tipped in the wrong way.”
Calling the bill “close minded” in its approach, Tribe insisted that the government should instead look to ways to encourage and support Canadian digital content and user generated content, as she said that many are already finding success with global audiences, drawing money from an international market.
“It’s trying to go back to that idea of ‘if we can block American TV stations or sub in Canadian content and ads, maybe that’s good enough’ instead of recognizing it’s going to get in one way or another.” said Tribe. “How do we make sure we’re just as good – and that we can keep up?”
“We need to put money in the system, make sure it's going to support the right people - and I think if the government had been transparent from the start that that was their goal, I think they would have had much cleaner justifications for what they're doing, and they would have missed a lot of the ripple effect they've put into place by this overreaching, murky legislation they've put forward.”