CBC President Catherine Tait appeared on a panel of Canadian media leaders earlier today at the Prime Time in Ottawa conference devoted to “a look ahead.” After cutting off the Netflix representative at one point and complaining that his comments were running too long, Tait concluded with a stunning and wholly inappropriate analogy to characterize the impact of Netflix in Canada:
I was thinking of the British Empire and how if you were there and you were the Vice-Roy of India you would feel that you were doing only good for the people of India. Or similarly, if you were in French Africa, you would think I’m educating them, I’m bringing their resources to the world, and I’m helping them. There was a time where cultural imperialism was absolutely accepted and, in fact, if you were a history student you would be proud of the contribution that these great empires gave.
I would say we are at the beginning of a new empire and just as it is probably the most exciting time in terms of screened entertainment, that I certainly in my career that I’ve ever experienced in terms of quality. When I watched “My Brilliant Friend” I was so moved to see a fantastic Italian language show with an Italian dialect. So unbelievable to be able to experience this cultural sharing. So for this we are very grateful to Netflix. However, fast forward, to what happens after imperialism and the damage that can do to local communities. So all I would say is let us be mindful of how it is we as Canadians respond to global companies coming into our country.
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The call for Internet and Netflix taxes are not the only demands raised by Canadian cultural groups regarding online video services. Many groups argue that the services should be required to make Canadian content more prominent, citing the challenge of “discoverability” of Canadian content in a world of seemingly unlimited choice. While the ACTRA call for government sanctions against search engines that refuse to prioritize Cancon in search results is an extreme example, many have asked the Broadcast and Telecommunications Legislative Review panel to either mandate that a certain percentage of the Netflix library consist of Canadian content or that it more actively promote Cancon on the service.
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The escalating battle being waged for new Internet taxes to fund Canadian content does not stop with proposals for new fees on Internet access and online video services. Cultural groups also want to increase the “discoverability” of Canadian content by mandating its inclusion in search results. According to the ACTRA submission to the broadcast and telecom legislative review panel, it has been calling for search engine regulation for the past 20 years:
ACTRA stated during the 1999 CRTC process that Internet search engines would become the gateway for consumers to access the vast array of entertainment and information now available from around the world. We argued then the CRTC should regulate them.
It now argues for mandated inclusion of Canadian content in search results for cultural content under threat of economic sanction:
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The battle over the future of Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications is quickly emerging as a hot-button policy issue, with a government-mandated review of the law recently garnering thousands of public responses. My Globe and Mail op-ed notes that while recommendations from an expert panel are not expected for months, Canada’s broadcast regulator, the CBC, and several high-profile cultural groups are lining up behind a view that Canadian culture is facing an existential crisis. Among the ideas being proposed are new taxes on internet and wireless services, mandated Cancon requirements for Netflix and the prioritization of Canadian content in search results from online services to enhance its “discoverability.”
There are unquestionably real communications policy issues in Canada for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains and Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez to grapple with: Some of the world’s highest wireless prices hamper adoption and usage, privacy safeguards have failed to keep pace with online threats and public-interest voices say they don’t feel heard at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) under chair Ian Scott.
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Last year, Bell and its supporters denied that its “Fairplay” site blocking plan would apply to virtual private networks (VPNs). Yet as first reported by the Wire Report (sub required), Bell asked the Canadian government to target some VPNs in its submission on the NAFTA re-negotiations. Throughout the site blocking debate, many cited concerns that the Bell coalition plan would expand beyond certain websites to VPNs. For example, I posted:
Once the list of piracy sites (whatever the standard) is addressed, it is very likely that the Bell coalition will turn its attention to other sites and services such as virtual private networks (VPNs). This is not mere speculation. Rather, it is taking Bell and its allies at their word on how they believe certain services and sites constitute theft. The use of VPNs, which enhance privacy but also allow users to access out-of-market content, has been sore spot for the companies for many years.
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