Ian Scott to the “Exponential potential: Media growth and innovation” class at Ryerson University
April 1, 2022
Ian Scott, Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)
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Good afternoon, everyone.
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. It’s a pleasure to be with you today.
I would like to acknowledge that that I am joining you today from the CRTC's offices, which are located on traditional unceded Algonquin territory. I thank the Anishnaabeg people and pay respect to their Elders.
Dr. Berkowitz has asked me to say a few words about the work of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and how it might change were the federal government’s proposed Bill C-11, The Online Streaming Act, to become law.
That’s a lot of information to cover in just a few minutes, but bear with me as I set the stage for why this bill is being proposed, and how it could impact Canada’s broadcasting system, online streaming services and digital content creators.
The Broadcasting Act and the digital-first world
As it stands right now, Canada’s Broadcasting Act is a 30-year-old piece of legislation – it’s probably older than some of you. Although it does not mention any particular technologies, it is very much of a specific time and age. The Internet was still in its infancy in the early 1990s, and the idea of delivering mainstream media content over wireless data was perhaps at most a gleam in some aspiring entrepreneur’s eye.
You see where I’m going with this. The legislation gave us – the regulator of Canada’s broadcasting system – the right tools to achieve its policy objectives through the 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium. However, the walled garden it encouraged to support the telling of Canadian stories and Canadian music became more outdated with each passing year as broadband technology penetrated deeper and deeper into the homes, and onto the phones and tablets, of Canadians across the country.
We have evolved from an era of scarcity – one in which there was only room for finite number of TV channels and radio stations – to one of abundance. This has been a positive development for Canadians, as they now have access to a plethora of content, ranging from the niche to the mainstream, from professionally produced to TikTok videos.
We at the CRTC kept a close eye on this change. We watched as Canadians’ viewing and listening habits gradually shifted away from conventional to digital media platforms. In response, we held a series of comprehensive proceedings to consider what regulatory approach, if any, should be taken to govern online audio and audiovisual content.
On each of those occasions, we judged that digital media was complementary to the traditional system, and therefore online broadcasters should remain exempt from holding broadcasting licences. We don’t put in place regulations for the sake of regulating. There is always a clear purpose, whether to achieve a policy objective or because doing so will benefit Canadians.
Was there a tipping point that led to the need for a comprehensive review of the Broadcasting Act? There wasn’t a precise moment, per se, but it has become more and more evident in recent years that the current toolkit wasn’t equipped to address the challenges and opportunities inherent in today’s digital-first environment.
We produced our report, Harnessing Change: The Future of Programming Distribution in Canada at the request of government in 2018. In it, we recommended three things:
- that future policy approaches focus on the production and promotion of high-quality content made by Canadians that can be discovered by audiences in Canada and abroad;
- that they ensure that all players benefitting from the Canadian broadcasting system participate in an appropriate and equitable manner, and
- that they should be sufficiently nimble to enable the regulator – the CRTC, in other words – to adapt rapidly to changes in technology and consumer demand.
We made similar recommendations to the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel – the group tasked with recommending changes to the Broadcasting Act.
Bill C-11 and the potential for change
All this brings us to today, and Bill C-11. As you probably know, the Bill was introduced in the House of Commons in February. It is currently at the second reading stage.
We at the CRTC are supportive of the overall approach taken by the Bill. In our view, it proposes three important things.
First, it clarifies the CRTC’s jurisdiction regarding online broadcasters. Second, it gives us a more flexible approach to regulation in several important respects. And third, it modernizes the CRTC’s enforcement powers.
All these changes combined would give us the flexibility, the speed and the tools to respond to changing industry trends.
Bill C-11 and the CRTC
So, to circle back to the message I promised to deliver at the outset of my remarks, how would the new Bill change the way we at the CRTC work?
Some have warned that the Bill, in its current form, leaves too much up to the CRTC to figure out. For instance, how do we define an online broadcaster? Or content that makes a meaningful contribution to Canadian culture? Or how should services such as Spotify or Netflix support Canadian French-language content and artists?
The danger with being too specific in the legislation is that it becomes a static document once it receives Royal Assent. As we have seen, it can take several decades before Parliament has an opportunity to review legislation, and in the meantime circumstances on the ground can shift significantly.
A regulator, on the other hand, can move quickly to update its regulatory policies. All it requires is the launch of a public proceeding, the gathering of views and evidence, and the time to deliberate and draft a decision.
Some have also said that Bill C-11 would give the CRTC the authority to regulate user-generated content on social media. That someone who uploads an original song on YouTube or a video on TikTok could be subject to registration, contribution or discoverability requirements.
That’s just not true.
As it’s drafted at the moment, the Bill draws a distinction between the users of social media, and the platforms themselves. It’s clear to us that the Bill’s intent is to exclude individual users from regulation.
Even our powers to regulate social media platforms would be limited by Bill C-11. However, they would include requiring that these platforms support the development of Canadian programs, make content discoverable, or accessible to persons with disabilities.
We understand that Canadian digital-first creators are innovators who have leveraged their creativity and the freedom of the Internet to garner audiences and followers, many of whom are located outside of Canada. It is not our intention to do anything that would harm, restrict or impede their ability to create and share their content.
The CRTC must exercise its powers under the rule of law and in a manner that is consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Users of online and social media services expect freedom of expression, and they will continue to enjoy this under the new Broadcasting Act.
Put another way, the CRTC issues about 250 broadcasting decisions annually. Not a single one has ever been successfully challenged on the basis that it somehow infringed Canadians’ freedom of expression.
If any of you has studied the work of the CRTC over the years, you’ll see a clear and simple truth about our work. We have always strived to adopt a light-handed approach to regulation, even as online broadcasters have become increasingly prevalent, and important, in Canada’s broadcasting system.
I’ll give you an example of why this light-handed approach is so important, and how it has benefitted the broadcasting industry. Years ago, we issued exemption orders for digital media services and video-on-demand services that are offered over the Internet.
Why do so? Because those services enable innovative broadcasting services like CBC Gem, tou.tv and Crave to connect with Canadians, and give them access to abundant content. At the same time, the exemption allowed us at the CRTC to monitor the effects of these services on – and the contributions they made to – the Canadian broadcasting system.
That brings me to another point that some are raising about the new powers granted to us under Bill C-11. People are asking whether we have the expertise needed to regulate online streaming in Canada.
Here’s how I’d respond to that question.
The CRTC has a long history and a strong track record of implementing effective policies and adapting its approaches over time to meet the evolving needs of Canadians and of the broadcasting system. We’ve been doing it for more than 50 years. And we will continue to do so under the new Broadcasting Act regardless of the platform, and only when regulation materially contributes to the objectives of the Act.
Gathering views and evidence
The last point I’ll leave you with is this, and it again ties into the question of how our work will change if Bill C-11 is passed. Because for all the Bill proposes new tools to help us regulate a broadcasting system that is much changed from 30 years ago, there is one thing it won’t change: the process we follow to serve the public interest.
The CRTC is an independent and expert administrative tribunal that sets policies and takes decisions that are based on evidence that is gathered via public consultations. We will need everyone’s help to design the new regulatory framework that will be needed to implement Bill C-11. Because we cannot simply apply our traditional approaches to regulation to the online world.
The consultations we hold are open to everyone, and we are constantly refining them to ensure that the broadest possible diversity of perspectives is considered, which include those of Indigenous peoples, racially diverse communities, Canadians with disabilities and the LGBTQ2+ community. Their perspectives will be key to establishing a regulatory framework that is inclusive and forward-looking.
And while I cannot predict what will happen in the future vis-à-vis the influence of the online world on traditional broadcasting – or any other digital media trends you care to name – I can tell you that we at the CRTC will look to those tools that have served us so well in the past for guidance.
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