The Government tabled Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts (Bill C-10), on November 3, 2020. Bill C-10 seeks to clarify that online broadcasting services fall under the Broadcasting Act (the Act) as well as ensure that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is properly equipped to manage a modern and flexible regulatory framework for the sector.
B. Background and Current Status
The last major reform of the Act was 30 years ago, in 1991. Since then, the internet has become widely available in Canada and has influenced how Canadians discover, access and consume content such as television shows, music and movies.
Increasing competition from online broadcasters is leading to diminishing revenues for traditional services. This is jeopardizing the financial stability of traditional Canadian cable and satellite companies, channels and radio stations. Canadian broadcasters are required to contribute a percentage of their annual revenues to supporting Canadian creators; however, similar requirements currently do not apply to online broadcasting services. Over time, the growth of online broadcasting is also expected to lead to a decline in funding for creators and producers. These trends have accelerated during the pandemic.
On January 29, 2020, the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel (the Panel) presented its final report entitled Canada's Communications Future: Time to Act. This report put forward a series of 97 detailed recommendations on the broad subjects of:
Renewing the institutional and legislative framework around telecommunications;
Ensuring affordable access to telecommunications networks for Canadians;
Supporting the production and discoverability of Canadian content; and
Enhancing trust in digital environments for Canadians.
Bill C-10 responds to the Panel report’s urgent call to bring online broadcasters into the regulatory framework. It does not respond to all of the panel’s recommendations for broadcasting. A future phase of reform may address other policy issues, such as the role of the CBC and CRTC governance.
Bill C-10 was tabled and underwent first reading on November 3, 2020. Second reading began November 18, 2020, and the Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage (CHPC) for study on February 16, 2021. CHPC is expected to begin clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill on April 12, 2021.
C. Strategic Considerations
Bill C-10 clarifies that the Broadcasting Act applies to online media services, and gives the CRTC the tools it needs to ensure that they make important and meaningful contributions to supporting Canadian music and storytelling.
The Bill levels the playing field between online and traditional broadcasters by ensuring that both are subject to fair and equitable regulation. It also provides the CRTC with flexible tools to allow it to regulate broadcasting services with different business models and to adapt to technological changes.
Bill C-10 envisions a broadcasting system that serves the interests of Francophones and Anglophones, Indigenous Peoples, Canadians from racialized communities and Canadians of diverse ethnocultural backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, abilities and disabilities, sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions and ages.
The Bill aims to ensure a more accurate reflection of the diversity of Canadian society by providing a more inclusive broadcasting system, notably through its programming and employment opportunities. It would encourage the development of diverse Canadian expression by, for example, allowing the CRTC’s new regulatory regime to incentivize diversity in key creative positions.
If the Bill receives Royal Assent, the Minister of Canadian Heritage intends to bring forward a Policy Direction that instructs the CRTC on how it should use its new tools. As examples, it would direct the CRTC to strengthen requirements around Indigenous and French language production, and instruct the CRTC to examine the use of incentive-based regulatory tools. A draft version of the policy direction has been published online after being requested by CHPC. Further changes to the policy direction will be required to reflect amendments made to Bill C-10, legal and jurilingual reviews, consultations with both the CRTC and the public, and evolving Government priorities.