Ian Scott to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage
March 26, 2021
Ian Scott, Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)
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Thank you, Mister Chairman, for inviting us to appear before your Committee.
I am joining you from the CRTC’s offices, which are located on traditional unceded Algonquin territory. I would like to thank the Anishnaabeg people and pay respect to their Elders.
I am joined today by: Scott Hutton, Chief of Consumer, Research and Communications; Scott Shortliffe, Executive Director of Broadcasting; and Rachelle Frenette, General Counsel and Deputy Executive Director of Legal Services.
We welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Committee’s study of Bill C-10. We have been following with interest the debates in the House of Commons. I should warn you, however, that there are number of matters before the Commission and we may not be able to provide detailed responses to all of your questions at this time.
The CRTC is an independent regulatory agency. Our role is to implement the legislation that Parliament adopts and ensure the policy objectives set for the Canadian broadcasting system are achieved.
We recognize that some Parliamentarians have expressed concerns that Bill C-10 proposes to give the CRTC significant latitude with regard to its implementation – what some might think is too much latitude. Mister Chairman, while we can understand such concerns, regulatory independence is not new to us and we are an expert tribunal. The current Broadcasting Act, which we have been implementing since 1991, provides the CRTC with a great deal of flexibility to determine how to achieve Parliament’s policy objectives.
That flexibility has empowered us to adapt to change and to apply different requirements to traditional television and radio services, depending on the nature of a broadcaster’s service and the linguistic market in which they operate. Our regulatory frameworks have evolved in light of changing circumstances to ensure the production and promotion of French and English-language content, content by and for Indigenous peoples, and content that showcases Canada’s diversity.
I would like to point out that the Broadcasting Act specifies that the broadcasting system should take into account the needs and interests of Canada’s diversity. It was left to the CRTC, as an independent regulator, to develop the necessary frameworks to achieve this policy objective, as well as the others that Parliament set out in the Act.
In 2019, television broadcasters, as well as cable and satellite TV providers, contributed $2.9 billion to content creation, which included $736 million on news programming in both official languages. This was the result of requirements the CRTC has set.
Also as a result of our regulations, the large French-language ownership groups must spend at least 75% of their Canadian programming expenditures on original French-language content. In addition, we have set benchmarks for the number of hours of news and local programming that TV stations must air each week in both official-language markets, and we have licensed UNIS, which reflects and serves francophones outside of Quebec.
Radio also plays a key role in reflecting and connecting communities. In 2019, there were over 700 commercial radio stations authorized to broadcast in Canada, offering a vast diversity of content and music. These stations contributed $46 million to the development and promotion of Canadian artists, as well as to the Community Radio Fund.
Our regulatory frameworks have led to the licensing of APTN, the first national Indigenous broadcaster in the world, and OMNI Regional, which provides multi-ethnic programming in 20 different languages. In addition to OMNI, Canadians can subscribe to more than 110 speciality and pay channels offering programming in a variety of languages other than English and French. They can also listen to numerous Indigenous and multi-ethnic radio stations. As the definition of diversity changed, we granted a licence to OUTtv, one of the first channels dedicated to airing content for the LGBTQ2+ community.
We made these decisions because we recognized their important contributions to public policy objectives.
The Broadcasting Act is now 30 years old. Although its drafters had the foresight to make it technology neutral, they could not foresee how modern technology would change the delivery of audio and audiovisual content. The CRTC has been monitoring the evolution of the Internet since its earliest days.
We have held comprehensive proceedings under the current Act to consider the regulatory approach that should be taken regarding online audio and audiovisual content. Each time, we concluded that online content, and its distribution, was complementary to the traditional system. We therefore exempted online broadcasters from the requirement to hold a licence.
A lot has changed in recent years. As more Canadians gained access to high-speed Internet services, they also gained access to a growing number of online libraries of domestic and foreign content. That explosion of choice was to the benefit of audiences and creators. It helped bring Canadian productions and artists—for instance, Schitt’s Creek, Jusqu’au Déclin, Tegan and Sara, Anachnid and Eli Rose—to national and international audiences.
The Broadcasting Act, and the regulations we have implemented to achieve its policy objectives, have fostered a dynamic and diverse broadcasting system. The time has come, however, to adapt to today’s digital environment and to ensure we can continue to adapt in the future.
At the government’s request, we studied what effect this environment may have on the production, distribution and promotion of Canadian content in the coming years.
Our 2018 report, Harnessing Change: The Future of Programming Distribution in Canada, found that Canadians will rely increasingly on the Internet to discover and consume music, entertainment, news and other information in the coming years. We therefore recommended in the report that future policy approaches should:
- focus on the production and promotion of high-quality content made by Canadians that can be discovered by audiences in Canada and abroad,
- ensure that all players benefitting from the Canadian broadcasting system participate in an appropriate and equitable manner, and
- be sufficiently nimble to enable the regulator to adapt rapidly to changes in technology and consumer demand.
We made similar recommendations to the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel.
All of which brings us to Bill C-10. We welcomed the tabling of this bill since, in our view, it does three important things. One, it builds on the existing Broadcasting Act to clarify the CRTC’s jurisdiction regarding online broadcasters. Two, it proposes provisions that specifically addresses our ability to obtain data from online broadcasters to better monitor their evolution. Three, it proposes to modernize the CRTC’s enforcement powers.
Equally important, Bill C-10 proposes to foster a more inclusive broadcasting system and more diversity in content.
Once the legislation has received Royal Assent, and the government has issued its policy direction, we will hold public proceedings to develop a new regulatory framework. There will be an opportunity for Canadians—and all other interested parties—to provide their input and to be heard. Our goal, as always, will be to develop as complete a public record as possible and to make evidenced-based decisions in the public interest.
We are proud that, for more than 50 years, Parliament has entrusted the CRTC with the task of establishing regulatory frameworks to achieve the policy outcomes it has set out for the broadcasting system. We look forward to continuing to evolve in the 21st century and to ensuring that all players in the system, including online broadcasters, contribute in the most appropriate way.
We would be happy to answer your questions and to offer our expertise as an independent regulator.
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