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:
Regulating search engines would be difficult, but ACTRA recommends the government approach search engines like Google, Bing and others, and request they ensure Canadians are offered some Canadian choices in their search results. While it is neither possible nor appropriate to interfere in the final selection made by individuals, Canadian consumers should have a real choice, including Canadian films, television programs and music. We expect companies would concur with the government’s reasonable request to be seen as good corporate citizens. If a particular search engine does not agree to this request, the government should impose an appropriate regulatory constraint or burden, such as amending the Income Tax Act to discourage Canadians from advertising on search engines that fail to comply.
In other words, ACTRA wants the government to threaten search engines with regulatory constraints it they refuse to tinker with their algorithms to ensure that Canadian content appears when Canadian search for cultural or artistic content.
There is no doubt that search engines would refuse the government’s “request”, noting that governments should have no role in determining search results of lawful content in a free and democratic society. Indeed, ACTRA would rightly reject a government policy to condition grants or other public support for Canadian creators on the inclusion of approved messages within the content of a show. Yet it thinks that it is acceptable for the Canadian government to dictate search results to advance a government cultural policy under threat of economic penalties. It isn’t and the proposal should be firmly rejected.