Fresh off imposing a five-hour gag order on committee debate on Bill C-10 and rushing through a secretive process in which dozens of amendments were passed without any debate, discussion or even disclosure of the amendments, the government is back for a gag order sequel. Yesterday, the Liberal government introduced another motion, this one designed to limit debate even further: one hour for debate at the report back stage and 75 minutes at third reading. In other words, less than 2 1/2 hours total for debate on the bill in the House of Commons. The motion was introduced before the updated Bill C-10 was even posted online, though it is now available.
The move led to hours of discussion on the motion last night, leading to a consistent drumbeat from Liberal, NDP and Bloc MPs, who kept asking what was in the bill that presented a concern for a freedom of expression. Left unsaid, is that at least part of the answer is what is not the bill:
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Weeks into a high profile debate over Bill C-10, the issue of discoverability of Canadian content has emerged as a policy tug of war between supporters that want the CRTC to intervene by mandating the discoverability of Canadian content on sites such as Youtube and Tiktok and critics that argue the approach would raise significant freedom of expression and net neutrality concerns.
But what exactly is “discoverability” and how would it impact both users and the thousands of Canadian creators that have already found success on digital platforms?
Fenwick McKelvey is a communications professor at Concordia University who has written more about the discoverability and algorithmic media than anyone in Canada. He has regularly participated in CRTC hearings and was the co-author of a leading study on the issue commissioned by Canadian Heritage. He joins the Law Bytes podcast to talk about discoverability, his frustrations with its implementation in Bill C-10, and the potential consequences for Canadian creators.
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Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has cited the need to improve the “discoverability” of Canadian content as a critical reason to support Bill C-10, his Broadcasting Act reform bill. Speaking of his daughter’s use of digital services, Guilbeault told the House of Commons that the bill “will allow her not only to take advantage of an international offering, but also to discover Canadian content.” While few would oppose ensuring that Canadian content is easy to find and well marketed, the Broadcasting Act blunder series continues today with a look at the evidence on the issue of discoverability, finding there is little to support claims that regulatory intervention for streaming services is needed.
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The Broadcast and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel report places considerable emphasis on the need to support the “discoverability” of Canadian content. The term appears repeatedly in the report as discoverability of Canadian content is treated as an equivalent goal to creation and production. Given the panel’s view of its importance, it recommends that all media content undertakings (other than some news organizations) be subject to discoverability requirements:
The CRTC must also be able to impose discoverability measures on media content companies. Consumers now have access to an endless choice of content, making it difficult to find, or simply recognize, Canadian content. In fact, a majority of consumers have said that they have difficulty finding content they want to watch. Further, algorithms and AI-based processes have a major influence on program recommendations with a consequent influence on the discoverability of content.
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