CRTC can regulate the internet and protect free speech, says its president

Critics still say Bill C-11 would give the CRTC too much power to regulate online streaming

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CRTC Chairman Ian Scott says the CRTC can do the job of implementing the Liberal government’s controversial online broadcasting legislation, including the protection of free speech.

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Speaking at Ryerson University in Toronto, Scott ignored critics’ concerns about giving the broadcasting and telecommunications regulator responsibility for determining how to put Bill C-11 into practice. .

“Users of online services and social media expect freedom of expression, and they will continue to enjoy it under the new Broadcasting Act,” Scott said in his speech Friday, according to a transcript. made available by the CRTC on Monday.

“In other words, the CRTC makes approximately 250 broadcasting decisions annually. Not a single one has ever been successfully challenged on the grounds that it somehow infringes on the freedom of expression of Canadians.

Bill C-11 is the government’s second attempt to update the Broadcasting Act, with the aim of setting up the CRTC to regulate online streaming companies such as Netflix as it does broadcasters. traditional. The previous version, Bill C-10, died on the order paper when the federal election was called. It sparked outrage after the government removed an exemption for user-generated content, placing Canadians’ social media posts under the regulatory authority of the CRTC.

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When Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez reintroduced it as Bill C-11, this provision was back – but critics pointed to additional exemptions to this exemption that they say still give the CRTC too much power. to interpret and implement legislation.

Scott argued that it makes sense to give the CRTC that kind of leeway, instead of being specific in legislation that could be outdated long before the government has a chance to update it. He noted that the Broadcasting Act is 30 years old.

“Some have warned that the bill, in its current form, leaves too much room for the CRTC to determine,” such as the definition of an online broadcaster or content that makes a “significant contribution” to Canadian culture, a said Scott.

The danger of being too specific in legislation is that it becomes a static document once passed, he said. “As we have seen, it may be several decades before parliament has a chance to review legislation, and in the meantime circumstances on the ground may change significantly.”

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On the other hand, a regulator “can act quickly to update its regulatory policies” by launching a public procedure and then issuing a decision.

It is “clear to use that the intention of the bill is to exclude individual users from regulation

Ian Scott

Scott said it was “clear to us that the intent of the bill is to exclude individual users from regulation.”

Others expressed concerns that Bill C-11 could affect digital creators. Industry group Digital First Canada told the government in an open letter in late March that the bill’s wording did not match Rodriguez’s promise that digital creators would be excluded.

“As currently drafted, the bill will still allow the CRTC to regulate content from digital creators and control how platforms present content to Canadians,” the group said. “Bill C-11 gives the CRTC new powers, including the power to regulate ‘professional’ social media content – which is defined so broadly that it could include all content posted by Canadians on their favorite platforms. »

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In his speech, Scott said the “CRTC’s intent was not to do anything that would harm, restrict or impede” the ability of digital creators to “create and share their content.”

“We understand that Canada’s digitally-focused creators are innovators who have used their creativity and the freedom of the internet to attract audiences and subscribers, many of whom are outside of Canada,” he said. -he declares.

Scott also addressed some of the criticisms regarding the CRTC’s ability to implement Bill C-11. Concerns have also been raised about a separate Liberal government bill – due to be introduced as soon as Tuesday – that will require Google and Facebook to share their revenue with news publishers. A number of stakeholders expect the CRTC to also be the regulator implementing this legislation, the National Post reported.

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“People ask if we have the expertise to regulate online streaming in Canada,” Scott acknowledged. He responded that the CRTC “has a long history and solid track record of implementing effective policies and adapting its approaches over time to meet the changing needs of Canadians and the broadcasting system.”

He said the CRTC has always strived to maintain a “flexible approach to regulation”, noting that the commission has chosen for years not to regulate online platforms, but only to monitor their effects on the system of communication. Canadian broadcasting.

Scott said the CRTC will follow the same approach it has always taken to policy development, holding public consultations to gather evidence. “We will need everyone’s help to design the new regulatory framework that will be needed to implement Bill C-11,” he said, “because we cannot simply apply our traditional approaches of regulation in the online world.

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