Alicia Barin to the Digital Media at the Crossroads
January 20, 2023
Alicia Barin, Interim Vice-Chair of Broadcasting and Commissioner for Quebec
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)
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I am delighted to join you, and the impressive slate of speakers and moderators, as we explore this crossroads in the evolution of the Canadian media sector.
Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that, being virtually with you but physically in Montreal, I’m on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and Anishinaabeg Nation. I give thanks and pay respect to their Elders.
I understand that for this virtual conference we have a healthy mix of students, industry members, and representatives of regulatory bodies.
Today, I am part of the latter – regulatory bodies – and I will speak to you as a member of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission, or the CRTC.
I am going to assume that most of you are vaguely, if not intimately familiar with the CRTC, Canada’s regulatory agency which oversees the broadcasting and telecommunications sectors, and that implements the Broadcasting Act, the Telecommunications Act, and Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation.
Now I know that you are particularly interested in the work we do in Broadcasting, so let’s delve a little deeper. The Broadcasting Act is 50 years old. It has been updated over time, the last one going back to the mid-nineties.
The Broadcasting Act has served us well, giving us clear authority over traditional broadcasting activities like radio and linear television. However, it has reached the limits of what it can do to address digital media services like online streaming in an increasingly borderless communications space.
This means that we now have clear authority over traditional broadcasting activities like radio and linear television, but we have a limited toolkit for regulating evolving, digital media services like online streaming.
But there is change on the horizon. While I cannot, as a CRTC Commissioner, comment on Bills C-11 or C-18, which are still before the Senate and the House, respectively, I do know that there are panels, this afternoon and tomorrow, where you will have a chance to discuss them. I look forward to listening in.
So I can’t talk about the Bills, but I can dive into the institution that is the CRTC. What is happening, and what may change. What our concerns are, in the media and content space, at this juncture, and what we expect of you as industry stakeholders, media consumers and proud Canadians.
Let me begin by answering this simple, yet not so simple question: what is happening?
Well, as many of you know, the Minister of Canadian Heritage has recently appointed a new Chairperson and two new Vice-Chairs. Vicky Eatrides, the new Chairperson of the Commission, is just two weeks into her 5-year term; Adam Scott, the new Vice-Chair of Telecom, officially came on board this week; and as for myself, my new term as Vice-Chair of Broadcasting will begin in a few weeks.
So today I am still speaking to you as the interim Vice‑Chair of Broadcasting and Quebec Commissioner.
To those industry veterans among you, this Commissioner shuffle is the normal course of business. Every five years or so, the Commission comes under new management, new leadership. Like a tree growing new leaves in the spring, if you will.
Of course, to no one’s surprise, the real strength of the institution stems from its expert staff, which do not follow the 5-years cycle, thank goodness: staff is always there to implement change, and remains at the ready.
There are over 500 individuals, including lawyers, economists, engineers, policy analysts, etc., who have their thumbs on the pulse of the industry, and make it possible for us to track trends, ensure accountability and, most importantly, that we truly understand the issues.
Next question: what may change?
Well, we have a new Chairperson and new Vice-Chairs. A leadership change translates into new decision makers and, perhaps, different areas of focus. Today, I can’t speak to any particular vision for the Commission; I will let our new Chairperson do that in due time.
I can tell you that, as Vice-Chair of Broadcasting, I am approaching my mandate with renewed vigour and excitement, and with a very clear sense of what we, as a Commission, cannot lose sight of.
Let me explain. Before I was brought into a regulatory role, I was both a student of business and administrative law, and then, for a very long time, I worked in the industry.
For more than two decades my playground was television, radio and the cultural content production activities that fed them.
I lived and breathed the outcome of the regulation that was put in place by the CRTC and which had created a lively, dynamic domestic industry for Canadian artists, music creators, content producers and, by extension, a successful television and radio sector.
It wasn’t perfect – it evolved over time – but it was uniquely Canadian. It was, and still is, the CRTC’s homegrown solution on how to best address the cultural, economic and nation building objectives in the current Broadcasting Act.
As I have often heard, the fact that we built successful Canadian broadcasting and production sectors while sharing a border with the United States, the most prolific global producer of cultural content, was a true feat.
We accomplished this by keeping our public policy goals in mind – to have diverse Canadian content and perspectives made available to Canadians in all parts of the country, in both official languages, and in Indigenous and third languages as well.
This approach, prioritizing public policy goals, does not mean the same tools should always be used, or the same outcomes sought, but it does suggest that we discuss what we really want to achieve, then focus on how to achieve it.
To change direction now, following on the heels of Peter Lyman’s portrait of changing consumers and revenue models, and Lisa de Wilde’s panel on the existential dilemma of traditional broadcasters, we all have a good sense of the threats and disruptions in the existing system.
So what, then, is the Commission’s focus at this pivotal, crossroads moment for Canadian media?
Let me put it quite simply: we must not lose sight of the bigger picture.
Now is the time to embrace change and opportunity, to move with the times.
Now is the time to bring all of your brilliant creativity to reimagine a Canadian broadcasting sector that can thrive in a non-linear, online, digital environment, and shape how the CRTC, in our capacity as an industry regulator, can facilitate that.
We all know what the challenges are, what’s at stake. We want to hear about how we can continue to improve the Canadian broadcasting and production sectors, and what that means in terms of inclusivity, of representation of diversity groups and Indigenous Peoples, and of our multicultural Canadian heritage.
We want to hear how that sector can better address accessibility needs, how it can enable discoverability of Canadian content, and how it can make use of local resources, leverage community involvement and ensure local reflection.
Of course, we will be asking you important questions regarding our broadcasting system’s evolution, health, and future. When we, as a Commission, run a public process, we do so in order to gather perspectives from many and all interveners who choose to participate.
Again, no surprise there, many of you have specific issues and concerns you want to tackle.
We hear you, we read your briefs. You inform us and help us build our record. But more importantly, what you absolutely do is help us in our job of balancing all of the competing interests and objectives in order to make an informed decision.
Help us in the work that we have before us, evolving the way we regulate to better align with the transformations taking place in the media world and to better serve Canadians.
That is the job that the Commission has been mandated to do. We are an administrative tribunal that is bound by principles of fairness and process, yes, but first and foremost, the CRTC is an industry regulator that wants to see the success of the Canadian media sector in its quest to serve Canadians well.
I have another request – please remember why we, the CRTC, are here. The CRTC’s goal is to make sure Canada’s public policy objectives are met. The point isn’t the regulation, it’s achieving those outcomes.
We know that it is sometimes hard to separate financial interests and the achievement of the cultural and sovereignty objectives in the Broadcasting Act; these concepts are inextricably intertwined most of the time. Content creation needs funds at the input, and profits at the output – so goes the wheel.
But the CRTC is, first and foremost, a public interest regulator, and while the financial aspects are crucial to help our Canadian artists, actors, companies and industry leaders thrive, we must have Canadian public interest at heart at all times.
I’d like to leave it there. I hope I have left you with some insight into the recent organizational changes and of the Commission’s focus on the broadcasting side.
I am as eager as many of you are to start the reinvention process.
We are poised and ready, our sleeves are rolled up, and we look forward to crossing paths with many of you in upcoming CRTC public processes in the not-too-distant future.
We will listen, we will collaborate, and together we’ll work towards ensuring the sustainability of Canada’s broadcasting system for years to come.
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