Janet Yale, the chair of the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel, appeared earlier this week before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to provide an update on the report. Her opening remarks directly addressed concerns regarding the regulation of news, claiming that there has been some confusion on the issue. Yet far from clearing up any “confusion”, Yale proceeded to inaccurately describe the state of news regulation in Canada and advocate for an expansive regulatory framework for Internet-based news aggregators:
We believe it’s not beyond the reach of policy-makers to bring the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon into some sort of rules-based construct. Already in Canada we licence news organizations like CBC, CTV, Postmedia and others, while wholly protecting editorial independence. Why should we not register the largest media companies in the world in the same way, and with the same editorial protections and exemption when it comes to news functions online. Why shouldn’t we insist they pay their fair share for leveraging the work of our journalists and news organizations. Let me be clear, nowhere does our report recommend or suggest that government should play a role in determining who is and is not a journalist. Nor do we advocate for regulation of news content, editorial practices or any interference whatsoever with the independence of news media.
This comment raises several issues. First, it is simply incorrect that Canada licenses news organizations such as Postmedia. The newspaper sector is not licensed in Canada nor should it be. The suggestion from the chair of the BTLR that we already do so is inaccurate.
Second, the ease with which Yale references licensing news organizations brings to mind the comments from Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault when he was initially asked about the issue and he responded by saying “what’s the big deal”? There are mounting fears that both the panel and Canadian Heritage envision a massive licensing and regulatory system for the Internet overseen by the CRTC that will capture the dissemination of news. The comments from both the Minister and the BTLR chair that downplay the significance of such an approach only heightens the concerns.
Third, the suggestion that the panel’s recommendations do not interfere with the independence of news media is inaccurate. News aggregators include services that curate the news (ie. make editorial choices about the content that appears on their sites) such as Google News, Yahoo News, National Newswatch or Drudge Report as well as sites and services that permit sharing of news stories such as Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook are all covered by the report with registration or licensing, mandated levies, and discoverability requirements.
The discoverability requirements would mean the CRTC would require these sites and services to include “links to the websites of Canadian sources of accurate, trusted, and reliable sources of news” and meet “prominence rules to ensure visibility and access to such sources of news.” The CRTC would determine which Canadian sources are trusted and how links would appear on these sites. In addition to discoverability, the CRTC would be empowered to require these organizations to disclose financial information, consumption data, and algorithmic information. It would also be empowered to regulate commercial negotiations between news providers and these sites and services.
The panel recommends the government and regulator determine trusted news sources, mandate links, and require registration and reader data. It is self-evident that this is not a hands-off, no-regulation approach. Rather, it is a heavy-handed, net neutrality violating, regulatory one. Contrary to the chair’s comments, Canada does not license news organizations like Postmedia and efforts to bring licensing and registration to other organizations engaged in the news industry should be rejected.
What could go wrong with the CRTC deciding which news organizations are trustworthy? Let see, how about abuse of power, corruption and political interference. What happens when the CRTC says a news organization that is critical of it or the current government is not trusted? How many political groups will lobby the CRTC to have news organizations they don’t like declared not trustworthy?
I can see opponents of the CBC arguing that the CBC is not trustworthy because:
1) it had to pay one of the largest settlements in Canadian history when the judge said its report was “devastatingly defamatory”
2) 3 of its producers were charged with criminal libel
3) the Fifth Estate ran a report supporting JFK conspiracy theories
4) it filed a frivolous lawsuit against the Conservatives during the last election
5) Rosemary Barton posted selfies taken with Trudeau
The government has imposed a values test for applicants for a summer job grant program. What’s to stop them from imposing a values test on news organizations.
Most news organizations report facts, analysis, and opinion on a wide variety of topics. Will it base its determination of trustworthiness only on the facts reported or will it include analysis and opinion in its review? Will the CRTC review only apply to political and current events or will sports, entertainment, business, and science also be considered?
This proposal will infringe on our rights and must not be implemented.
Pretty much my worries about all of this too. What determines “trustworthiness”? The government? There is a reason why some media outlets refer to themselves as the 4th and 5th estates. They are trying to report on stories that holds power accountable (these days, arguably not so much, but that was origin of these titles anyway). So, when we suddenly have a government that can dictate who is “trusted” and who is not, this raises a whole lot of problems over the viability of an independent press. “Report on my corruption and I’ll revoke your “trusted” status” should never be a viable threat.
When the government has the right to determine who is “trustworthy” and who isn´t, that´s always the first step to restrict the free speech. And that´s a really sad and disturbing…
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Brings to mind the ease with which some claim that speech has never been beyond the reach of the law, either, and so encryption, just as news, should be regulated.
And the one about how only signed artists get automated copyright takedowns.
Rule of thumb. Don’t break the Internet.
How do we stop this descent into madness?
And since when do we live in the People’s Republic of Chinada?