Revised Broadcast Bill Excludes Social Media From CRTC Regulation

The Trudeau government’s Bill C-10 died a slow death last spring, as federal lawmakers went on summer break ahead of the election, but not before stirring up controversy over possible infringement of Canadian free speech rights.

Bill C-10 was originally proposed in the fall of 2020 as an amendment to the Broadcasting Act, designed to essentially push taxes and Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) regulation on all streaming services on the internet to ensure they contribute to Canadian content like traditional broadcasters.

However, the legislation was met with massive pushback after the Liberals sneakily removed an exception that would exclude social media video uploads from CRTC regulation. At one point, there was even talk of putting mobile apps under the CRTC’s purview.

According to The National Post, the federal government has now re-tabled the polarizing broadcasting bill, this time with the stipulation excluding user-generated social media content from CRTC governance added back in.

The new revision of the proposed amendment, dubbed the Online Streaming Act or Bill C-11, will distinguish between commercial social media use and Canadians’ everyday social media use, treating each differently.

The government “listened, especially to the concerns around social media, and we’ve fixed it,” Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez told the press after the bill was tabled on Wednesday.

Critics of the previous version of the bill praised the government for heeding public concerns, but they are far from entirely satisfied with the new bill as it is still too broad.

“They appear to have made an effort to acknowledge that things they said were not of concern last year were in fact legitimately of concern,” said former CRTC Vice-Chair Peter Menzies.

“However, it’s really troubling that they are still granting the CRTC, which is not equipped for this task, the same broad powers to define the details.”

If passed, Bill C-11 would put commercial use of social media services under the CRTC’s regulatory domain but would not apply to amateur or everyday use of social media by Canadians.

The legislation, like its predecessor, is primarily designed to give the CRTC the authority to regulate online streaming platforms. However, the bill’s language is still pretty broad and does not clearly identify the bounds of the CRTC’s oversight. Instead, the government will give policy direction to the commission on streaming platform regulation.

Briefing materials for the legislation specify it “will not apply to social media services except for certain commercial programs,” and will “never” apply to programs that don’t generate revenues.

The bill specifies that the “CRTC cannot regulate Canadians’ everyday uses of social media, including posting amateur programs to these services.” According to briefing materials, social media influencers and content creators will also be exempt from CRTC regulation as the government has “no intention to regulate those that make a living from content creation and streaming.”

That said, Bill C-11 leaves the definition of “commercial” content up to the CRTC, only requiring that the commission takes into account the degree to which specific content is monetized, whether it is carried by a broadcaster already regulated by the CRTC, and “whether it has an assigned identifier (e.g., ISO number).”

For a deeper look into Bill C-11, check out Michael Geist’s post on the matter here.