Ian Scott to the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications
November 16, 2022
Ian Scott, Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)
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Thank you for inviting us to appear before your Committee today.
With me today are Scott Shortliffe, Executive Director of Broadcasting, and Rachelle Frenette, General Deputy Counsel and Executive Director of Legal Services.
When we last appeared before you in June 2022, we spoke about the importance of Bill C-11. Our opinion has not changed since. Bill C-11 and the changes it proposes are needed to modernize Canada’s broadcasting legislation and to give us the tools we need for the broadcasting system to adapt to the digital environment.
I would like to commend the Committee on the depth and breadth of witnesses that have appeared to discuss this important topic. You have heard a number of different views. I would like to focus my remarks on some of the concerns that have been raised: user-generated content, algorithms and official-language minority communities.
I’ll start with the issue of user-generated content. Our view on the matter has not changed since we last appeared before the Committee. Bill C-11 draws a distinction between the users of social media on one hand, and the platforms themselves on the other. Its intent is to exclude individual users from regulation.
The powers granted to the CRTC under the Bill are focused and necessary. For example, they would allow us to require that social media platforms support the development of Canadian programs, and make content discoverable and accessible to persons with disabilities. The CRTC is not being given the power to regulate individual users in relation to the content they create.
I want to assure you – and Canadians – that the CRTC has no intention of regulating individual YouTubers, TikTokers and other digital content creators.
I understand the Committee has also heard a great deal about discoverability and algorithms, and how Bill C-11 would provide the CRTC with the power to impose conditions to enhance the discoverability of Canadian content.
Unfortunately, my previous remarks have been taken out of context by some of the witnesses that have appeared before you. To be clear, the CRTC’s objective is to ensure that Canadians are made aware of Canadian content and that they can find it. It is not about manipulating algorithms; it is about encouraging innovation.
Among the new objectives proposed by Bill C-11, online broadcasters should ensure the promotion and discoverability of Canadian content in both official languages, as well as Indigenous content. The CRTC will have tools at its disposal to achieve this objective. For example, online broadcasters could commit to promoting Canadian content through online or offline marketing and advertising, curated music lists or promotions reels. The CRTC could request that online broadcasters report on the measures taken to promote Canadian and Indigenous content.
However, Bill C-11 will not allow the CRTC to mandate the use of specific algorithms or source code to achieve the objective of promotion and discoverability. The CRTC has no issue with this limitation.
In addition, let me assure you that prior to putting in place any regulatory obligation that affects online broadcasters, we will hold public consultations. Online broadcasters, consumers and other interested parties will have their say. The views of everyone that participates in our public proceedings will be considered by the CRTC when putting in place measures to promote and make discoverable Canadian and Indigenous content.
I would note that discoverability is not a new issue for the CRTC. In 2016, we co-hosted a summit on the issue at which experts from conventional and digital media – including YouTube – as well as government gathered to exchange ideas about how content is created and discovered online.
The final issue I’d like to discuss is the provision in Bill C-11 to afford unique consultation rights to official-language minority communities (OLMCs) when the CRTC makes decisions that could affect these groups.
Let me be clear, the CRTC is subject to the Official Languages Act and takes its obligations seriously. We meet regularly with these communities in our dedicated working groups to discuss the issues they are facing and make them aware of upcoming proceedings. We also have internal checks and balances to ensure that their views are fully considered in our decision-making. These are not new measures, they have been in place for years.
In fact, the Commissioner of Official Languages has found in a report that through several of these measures, the CRTC fulfills its duty to take positive measures to enhance the vitality and development of official-language minority communities.
Moreover, our position has never been that we do not wish to consult with OLMCs. Quite the contrary, consultation is in the CRTC’s DNA, it’s what we do. We ensure that everyone, including OLMCs, have every opportunity to participate in our proceedings and contribute their views to the public record.
We consult, we listen and we deliberate, with the ultimate objective of making decisions that are evidence-based and reflective of the views and opinions of those who participated in our proceedings.
Bill C-11, however, sets out far-reaching and rigid consultation requirements in subsection 5.2(2), which in our view are legally problematic and would have unintended consequences. We would be pleased to address the specifics during out testimony today.
There is another aspect of Bill C-11 that would have similar unintended consequences, and that is section 34.01. This section would require that the CRTC conduct a review of all orders and regulations made every seven years. It’s important to understand that the CRTC issues hundreds of decisions annually, amounting to well over a thousand decisions every seven years.
This new requirement would divert our resources away from the important task of conducting efficient proceedings and issuing timely decisions. Moreover, it is unnecessary, seeing as the CRTC already conducts reviews of its regulatory frameworks on a consistent basis, either as a result of its own initiative or because of a request made by one of our stakeholders. Finally, the CRTC is required to hold hearings and issue reports on request by the Governor-in-Council. In our view, the existing Broadcasting Act provides for sufficient oversight and review. We would therefore ask that this amendment be removed.
Thank you once again for inviting us to appear before your Committee. We hope that the legislation will be finalized rapidly, since it is desperately needed. We would now be pleased to answer any further questions you have about Bill C-11.
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