The furor over Bell Media President Kevin Crull’s banning of CRTC Chair Jean Pierre Blais from CTV news coverage following the pick-and-pay decision made for a remarkable news day yesterday. From the initial Globe report to the unprecedented response from Blais to the Crull apology, it was a head-spinning day. While Bell presumably hopes that the apology brings the matter to a close, that seems unlikely to be the case as there are bigger implications for Crull, CTV News, and Bell more broadly.
Crull’s future has been the subject of much talk, with some calling for his resignation, particularly since there is evidence that this is not the first instance of the editorial interference. Assuming it has occurred before (the reference to “re-learning” in the Crull apology is telling), CEO George Cope was undoubtedly aware of the practice and must surely have condoned it, suggesting that Crull will survive. However, Crull’s bigger problem may be that his ability to represent Bell Media before the CRTC has been irreparably damaged. Bell could have Cope represent the company rather than Crull (indicating the seriousness of the issues), but Crull will struggle as the public face of the company before the regulator for as long as Blais remains chair.
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The Globe and Mail’s James Bradshaw reports that Bell Media President Kevin Crull banned CTV media properties from including CRTC Chair Jean Pierre Blais in coverage of the recent TalkTV decisions. The report indicates that Crull ordered the head of CTV News to stop including Blais in coverage following an interview on BNN, which led to the cancellation of an interview with Don Martin and dropping him from local news stories (he was included in the national newscast as Robert Fife defied the order). Bell Media has still not publicly commented on the pick-and-pay decision. Crull is the same Bell executive who earlier this month called for the blocking of U.S. channels and for new measures to make it more difficult for Canadians to access U.S. Netflix.
I would say the story is shocking, but this is not the first time of reports that Crull has meddled in news coverage related to his company. In August 2013, Dwayne Winseck reported that Crull intervened on coverage of the wireless sector when Verizon was considering entry into the Canadian market. Winseck posted emails from Crull to news executives throughout CBC urging certain coverage of a wireless report throughout Bell Media’s television and radio stations. I wrote about Winseck’s story here.
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Yesterday, I had the honour of participating in a terrific panel at the University of Ottawa on Bill C-51 alongside colleagues Dean Nathalie Des Rosiers and Joanne St. Lewis (the panel was moderated by the Toronto Star’s Tonda MacCharles and organized by Carissima Mathen). My remarks focused on the privacy implications of Bill C-51, drawing on a recent column on the issue (Toronto Star version, homepage version). My opening comments are posted below.
A Conversation About Bill C-51
Thanks to Carissima Mathen for organizing this panel. It’s a great idea and given that this week looks like the final week for committee hearings, very timely.
It is hard to know where to start with Bill C-51. So I’m not going to start with the bill at all. In fact, I’d like to share my context for reviewing the bill and provide a far more personal take than is typical. There is good reason for doing so – if you have followed the rather limited committee hearings to date, you know that government MPs have made deeply personal comments, raising questions about the loyalty to Canada of some witnesses and whether critics of the bill believe terrorism is a threat.
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The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission last week announced much-anticipated plans to require cable and satellite companies to offer consumers basic television packages for an affordable $25 per month alongside the option of picking the television channels they want without requiring them to purchase expensive bundles.
Despite some hand wringing that the changes will lead to reduced revenues for broadcasters, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that it is readily apparent that the CRTC is committed to reducing or eliminating outdated regulations in the hope of fostering a more competitive broadcast environment. Consumer choice for television channels, greater flexibility for broadcaster programming, adjustments to Canadian content requirements, and the enforcement of net neutrality rules all fall within the same broader strategy of exercising its regulatory muscle to enable a level playing field and encourage the development of globally competitive content.
What makes the latest CRTC decision particularly notable is that it identifies a new threat to a competitive broadcast environment. Much to the chagrin of many within the Canadian system, it isn’t Netflix. In recent months, seemingly everyone has had a turn taking shots at the enormously popular online video service: the Government of Ontario has called for a Netflix tax, Bell Media has asked for measures to block access to the U.S. service, and many creator groups have urged the CRTC to adopt new regulations for online media.
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