The recent dust-up between Twitter and the CBC over a “government funded media” label sparked fiery rhetoric from both sides. Opponents of the CBC invoked the notion of propaganda from the public broadcaster, while supporters responded that such comments amounted to an attack on a Canadian institution. That heated debate obscures the reality that there is a discussion worth having about the CBC’s independence, its transparency, and public reporting. Monica Auer, the executive director of Canada’s Forum on Research and Policy in Communications, recently wrote about that issue and she joins the Law Bytes podcast to assess whether the CBC is as independent as it says it is.
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The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 165: Monica Auer on Whether the CBC Is As Independent As It Says It Is
Why the Twitter – CBC Labelling Battle is a Distraction From the Real Problems with Government Media Policy and the Public Broadcaster
Twitter and the CBC were in the spotlight yesterday with Twitter’s decision to add a “government funded media” label to the CBC Twitter account. The label is defined by Twitter as a media organization “where the government provides some or all of the outlet’s funding and may have varying degrees of government involvement over editorial content.” CBC responded by tweeting it would pause its Twitter activities because suggesting that its journalism was anything other than impartial and independent was untrue. The government funding for CBC is undeniable, but the inclusion of “government involvement over editorial content” is apt to mislead. The Broadcasting Act provides guidance on the kinds of content to be found on CBC, but there is an important difference between general policy objectives and specific involvement over editorial content. In fact, Twitter has another label for “publicly funded media” accounts that appear to be better suited to the CBC since it covers “media organizations that receive funding from license fees, individual contributions, public financing, and commercial financing” but makes no reference to editorial content.
The Twitter-CBC labelling battle offers more heat than light since it does little to address the underlying problems with media independence in Canada and the CBC (much less the tire fire that is Twitter). Instead, it simply provides fodder for CBC critics to point to the Twitter label and argue for “defunding the CBC” (at least the English language part of it) and CBC defenders to proclaim that they will stand up for the public broadcaster against unfair smears. That debate distracts from serious underlying problems with government media policy and the public broadcaster.
Elon Musk’s Twitter Linking Restrictions May Have Been Short-Lived, But Bill C-18 is Based on a Similar Approach to Links
The dismantling of Twitter over the past six weeks has been incredibly distressing for millions of users who have come to rely on the platform. From the mass layoffs to journalist suspensions to this weekend’s seemingly short-lived policy blocking some links to rival services, it has been a head-spinning stretch since Elon Musk assumed ownership of the service in late October. In response, many have established a presence on various alternatives: you can now also find me on Mastodon, Post, and Substack. As Twitter users promote these alternatives, on Sunday the company briefly unveiled a new policy that involved removing “accounts created solely for the purpose of promoting other social platforms and content that contains links or usernames for the following platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Mastodon, Truth Social, Tribel, Nostr and Post.” From an operational perspective, this would have meant blocking some links to rival platforms big (Facebook, IG), growing (Mastodon), and small (Post).
The Bill C-18 Fallout: Liberal MP Lisa Hepfner Equates Linking to News Articles on Facebook to Theft
Last month, Liberal MP Lisa Hepfner shocked Canadian online news outlets by stating that “they’re not news.They’re not gathering news. They’re publishing opinion only.” The comments sparked instant criticism from news outlets across the country, leading Hepfner to issue a quick apology. In the aftermath of the comments, Hepfner said nothing for weeks at Heritage committee studying Bill C-18. That bill passed third reading yesterday – I posted on the embarrassing legislative review – and Hepfner was back at it. Rather than criticizing online news outlets, this time she targeted the Internet platforms, saying the bill would make it “harder for big digital platforms like Facebook and Google to steal local journalists’ articles and repost them without credit.”
Age Verification Requirements for Twitter or Website Blocking for Reddit?: My Appearance on Bill S-210 at the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs
Bill C-11, the government’s online streaming bill, is rightly garnering increasing attention, but there is a private member’s Senate bill that should also be on the radar screen. Bill S-210, a follow-up to S-203, is a bill that purports to restrict underage access to sexually explicit material. Sponsored by Senator Miville-Dechêne, a former CBC journalist appointed to the Senate in 2018, the bill would require age verification requirements for sites (likely backed by face recognition technologies) and mandated website blocking for sites that fail to comply with the verification requirements.