CRTC Accused of Being Government Puppet Over Online Streaming Law

crtc myths bill c11

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the nation’s broadcasting watchdog, has drawn sharp criticism for allegedly echoing the federal government’s position on its recently enacted online streaming law, Bill C-11. This is despite the CRTC calling itself an “independent public authority”.

Critics claim a document published by the regulator, which seeks to debunk “myths” about the new legislation, aligns too closely with the government’s narrative.

Scott Benzie, executive director of Digital First, an organization representing content creators on streaming platforms, argues that the document appears to be a product of the federal Heritage Department, rather than an independent regulator. “The ‘myths and facts’ sheet could have been authored by the minister himself. It’s outright peculiar,” stated Benzie to The Globe and Mail.

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez is expected to issue ministerial directives to the CRTC in the coming weeks, outlining his priorities for the legislation’s implementation. Benzie, however, questioned the timing of the CRTC’s document, published prior to these directives and any consultation.

Rodriguez previously reassured the public that user-generated content would not fall under the new law’s purview. This assurance was mirrored in the CRTC’s document, which also refuted claims of potential censorship and regulation of digital creators, and interference with streaming service algorithms.

The document’s alignment with government viewpoints has incited concerns from others as well. Rachael Thomas, the Conservative party’s heritage critic, expressed apprehension about the regulator’s perceived lack of neutrality. “The CRTC is echoing the exact same talking points as the Minister of Heritage and the Prime Minister. That raises concerns for me,” she noted.

The regulator plans to conduct comprehensive consultations this year and next, with the aim of establishing a regulatory framework for broadcasters and streaming platforms based on the new law. The CRTC also announced its intention to implement this framework by late next year.

Among those closely monitoring these developments is the Canadian Association of Broadcasters. Its president, Kevin Desjardins, said, “This is when the rubber really hits the road,” emphasizing the need to ensure that traditional Canadian broadcasters are not disproportionately burdened compared to online streaming platforms like Netflix.

Below are the six myths “clarified” by the CRTC in an online document published on May 8, 2023:

  • Myth: The CRTC will regulate content and digital creators.
  • Fact: Only broadcasters, including traditional and online streaming service providers, will be regulated. Content and digital creators such as YouTubers, influencers, podcasters, and producers will not fall under the regulatory purview.
  • Myth: The CRTC will regulate social media users and user content.
  • Fact: The regulation will be limited to broadcasters, broadcasting services, and online streaming services offering programming to the public. Content posted by social media users will remain unregulated.
  • Myth: The CRTC will censor what you watch, read or listen to online.
  • Fact: The availability of online content will not change, and there will be no censorship of content that Canadians listen to or watch online. The aim is to support and promote Canadian and Indigenous content across various platforms.
  • Myth: The CRTC will regulate the algorithms of online streaming services.
  • Fact: Algorithms will not be regulated. Instead, the goal is to encourage innovation that enhances the accessibility of Canadian and Indigenous content.
  • Myth: The CRTC will regulate the prices of online streaming services.
  • Fact: Streaming services will continue to operate on their individual business models and plans. Although the Broadcasting Act mentions affordable rates, pricing decisions will remain with individual streaming services.
  • Myth: The CRTC will regulate online video games.
  • Fact: The proposal is to exempt online games offered by broadcasters from any requirements. Video games are not considered broadcasting content and thus will not be regulated.

A quick Google search of the above “myths” and “facts” and sound just like arguments from Minister Rodriguez that have previously been heard in the news. Will the CRTC hold true to these points made above, or will we slowly see the rules bending toward the government’s favour when it comes to online streaming services and other content creation?