For the better part of two decades, Canadian cultural groups have been pressing Canada’s telecom and broadcast regulator, the CRTC, to regulate and tax the Internet. The CRTC and successive governments consistently rejected the Internet regulation drumbeat, citing obvious differences with broadcast, competing public policy objectives such as affordable access, and the benefits of competition. That changed last year when the CRTC released Harnessing Change: The Future of Programming Distribution in Canada, in which it dramatically reversed its approach. Peter Menzies, a former CRTC commissioner and Vice-Chair of Telecommunications, joins this week’s LawBytes podcast to help sort through Cancon funding, Internet regulation, and the CRTC.
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The LawBytes Podcast, Episode 6: Former CRTC Vice-Chair Speaks Out on the Plan to Regulate and Tax the Internet – “Dangerous Game to Play”
A Netflix Crisis?: Foreign Funding Now By Far the Largest Source of Financing for Canadian Fictional English Language TV Production
The Canadian Media Producers Association has just released the latest data on film and television production in Canada which confirms that foreign sources are now by far the biggest contributor to Canadian English language television production. Despite warnings of cultural imperialism and repeated calls from some in the industry for Netflix taxes to fund production, the data suggests that it already does since foreign investment in Cancon now larger than the primary Canadian sources. In fact, when it comes to Canadian English-language fictional programming, foreign financing is now larger than private broadcaster licence fees, public broadcaster licence fees, and Canada Media Fund contributions combined.
Flawed Arguments and Inappropriate Analogies: Why Netflix Taxes and Cancon Requirements Should be Rejected
CBC President Catherine Tait recently sparked a firestorm with comments to an industry conference that likened Netflix, the popular online video service, to the British Raj in India and French in Africa, warning about “imperialism and the damage that it can do to local communities.” The comments were rightly criticized as shockingly inappropriate, as if any video service can be reasonably compared to the subjugation of millions.
My Hill Times op-ed notes that some in the Canadian creator community rushed to defend Tait, however, viewing the comments as a strong assertion for Netflix regulation, the creation of a “level playing field”, and the need for all stakeholders to contribute to the broadcast system. Supporters of Netflix taxes and content requirements – who were joined in the Hill Times last week by Sheila Copps – present a vision of Canadian content at risk without regulatory intervention, leading to the loss of Canada’s “authorial voice” from film and television production.
The Real Over-the-Top: CBC President Likens Netflix to Cultural Imperialism Such As the British in India or French in Africa
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.
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.