Wrong Direction by Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/2g4TPYt

Wrong Direction by Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/2g4TPYt

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Wrong Direction: Months After Bill C-10 is Tabled, Canadian Heritage Releases Draft Policy Direction Still Short on Details

Months after its introduction, it is fair to say that Bill C-10, the broadcasting reform bill, has not been the government’s finest performance. Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has made claims about the economic benefits that his own department is unable to support, made inaccurate statements about the inclusion of economic thresholds and news in the bill in the House of Commons, and misleadingly compared his plans to the policies in Europe.

From a substantive perspective, even supporters have acknowledged that the bill eliminates the policy objective of Canadian ownership of the broadcasting system (Canadian Heritage officials have offered easily debunked talking points about the issue), drops the prioritization of Canadian performers, fails to address concerns about intellectual property ownership, and punts so many issues to the CRTC that it will take years for any new money to enter the system. If that were not enough, there is the failed process, including fast-tracking the bill to committee before completing second reading and the prospect of a constitutional challenge. Not to be forgotten is the astonishing secrecy: decreased Parliamentary oversight of policy directions and the need for MPs to demand access to basic documents such as costing estimates and draft policy directions that were withheld by Guilbeault and his department.

The lack of transparency associated with the policy direction has been a concern for months given that the bill is short on details. Back in December, I wrote about the missing policy direction:

The degree of uncertainty is staggering with the government alternately claiming a firm position on issues that are actually left to the CRTC or leaving important issues open for future determination. The net effect is that the policy direction functions as the missing half of Bill C-10, potentially covering issued not included in the bill or supplementing provisions woefully lacking in detail.

It turns out I was wrong. Yesterday, the government released the draft policy direction to the Heritage Committee and it is not the missing half of Bill C-10. In fact, it isn’t much of anything at all. The draft was approved last summer, yet it barely provides any further detail on how the law is to be interpreted or applied. There are no firm thresholds, no rules on intellectual property, no exclusion of news, and nothing on Canadian ownership. In fact, even the powerpoint slide on the policy the government provided when the bill was released was misleading. In short, the promised guidance isn’t there. Instead, the government throws everything at the CRTC, setting up the Commission to establish the payment requirements, registration rules, and just about anything else associated with the law, much of which it wants completed within nine months.

Anyone who has done anything involving the CRTC knows this is a completely unrealistic time frame. But Guilbeault and the government clearly aren’t interested in actual results. The amateurish release of the bill, the steady stream of blunders, and the absence of details all speak to a Minister and department that want a George W. Bush-like “Mission Accomplished” moment and then to quickly move onto the other issues, leaving the CRTC to clean up the mess. The opposition parties know this bill hurts consumers, competition, and the little money it might generate for creators years from now requires eliminating Canada from Canadian broadcast policy. It is time to take stand and demand a re-write.

20 Comments

  1. With Michael Sabia in Finance, the department that controls everything else in government (because what is more important than money, after all), I’m sure no decision on telecom will go against the interests of BCE.
    The CRTC is on his speed dial list, I am sure.

  2. We all know that the CRTC takes it’s direction from bell rogers and telus so this will be a disaster for consumers, we are going back to the eighties! ,Ban Ban Ban and rake in the cash folks!

    • Bell and the rest of them want Canadian consumers to go back to watching TV and listening to Radio. If they could ban internet streaming services like a Netflix and Disney + they would but this is then next best option for them.

      • Absolutely, then they could pull their apps that have purposely never worked properly and bleed people for their old school cable packages even more than they do now… the good old days return for them!

  3. The main reason for Bill C-10 isn’t really about cultural sovereignty or the promotion of Canadian content. That is misleading propaganda told to the public by our government officials, particularly the heritage minister Steven Guilbeault and the Canadian Media. It’s really about extinguishing undesired competition and wanting things to go back to how they were before the internet became such a big part of our lives.

    Bell and other Canadian industry stakeholders who lobbied hard and influenced the Bill for their benefit want Canadians to go back to watching TV and listening to the radio again. They are trying desperately to keep the status quo by legislation regardless of it hurts consumers or, worse, even negatively affects people’s freedom of speech and expression.

    • Well said Daniel, I wish I could articulate my thoughts like this. I truly believe and so many others I’m sure, that this is exactly what is happening.

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  5. Fortinbras says:

    The problem with the draft policy direction is not a lack of details. In fact, the direction provides considerable information on how the law is to be interpreted and applied – and the news is not good. Fortunately, there are no firm thresholds, no rules on intellectual property, no exclusion of news, and nothing on Canadian ownership – because none of these have their place in a law of general application or in this particular policy direction. What the draft policy direction does is to set the tone of the government’s apparent deregulatory agenda for which Bill C-10 has established the groundwork. Not content to give the CRTC what is necessary to create a regulatory regime that would require equitable contributions to Canadian broadcasting from online broadcasting programming undertakings such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+, Bill C-10 also provides a basis for the deregulation of existing licensed services. This is the regulatory trade-off suggested in the draft legislation and confirmed in the draft policy direction.

    Why do I say this? The draft policy direction instructs the CRTC “not to impose regulatory requirements in respect of broadcasting services that do not have a material effect on Canada’s economy, national identity, or cultural fabric.” (We’ll let the double negative pass.) Nowhere in the current Broadcasting Act is there any reference to “Canada’s economy”. The Act mentions the economic significance of broadcasting only once, obliquely amongst its 20 policy objectives. But the draft policy direction goes on to instruct the CRTC to regulate and supervise in a manner that “streamlines” regulatory obligations so that all broadcasting undertakings are in a position to “compete” in the “modern” broadcasting environment. The CRTC is also directed to be “flexible”, to consider how to use “flexible, dynamic, and incentive-based regulatory tools,” to ensure that “greater weight be afforded to supporting objectives that would not otherwise be met by the market,” to consider “incentivizing” diversity in key creative positions, to consider how “incentive based tools” could be used to support and promote remuneration for music creators in the “modern” broadcasting system, and to address “unjustified regulatory asymmetries” in the Canadian broadcasting system which may arise or persist, including between online undertakings and licensed broadcasting undertakings.”

    All of these code words which I have highlighted above are intended to send a clear message to the CRTC. No more requirements in regard to screen time, “incentives” are to replace defined objectives. Unfortunately for Bill C-10 and the draft policy direction, the history of Canadian broadcast regulation demonstrates that defined objectives in terms of screen time and expenditures are effective. “Incentives” are not.

    So what are the practical implications of the policy direction that the government wishes to give to Bill C-10? If the passage of the bill implies giving up the known advantages of the current regulatory regime for licensed services (circumscribed as it is) simply to bring a few online services into a new, deregulated regime for all services, then the trade-off is not worth it. There is a real likelihood that Canadian broadcasting program creators and producers will disengage from Bill C-10 and the draft policy direction – unless substantial amendments are introduced to turn the ship away from the deregulated environment the government is contemplating.

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