By Lethbridge Herald Opinion on May 12, 2021.
Suggestions that the federal government’s controversial Bill C-10 might allow the Canadian Radio-television and telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to impose “discoverability” regulations on individuals who cultivate a large online following has touched off a campaign of protest against the legislation.
Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has now clarified his statement, indicating the CRTC will not be involved in regulating an everyday user’s content, but could have discoverability powers for online content for users who have viewers in the millions, are generating significant revenue through social media, or are “acting like broadcasters.”
Free speech champions, industry and Internet experts and members of Parliament latched on to the legislation over the weekend after Guilbeault had suggested highly-followed accounts generating revenue could be considered broadcasting by the CRTC, and might face regulations.
Criticism of this allusion – which the minister has tried to clarify, although many questions appear to linger – has been swift, with many suggesting establishing any threshold for when an Internet following with uploaded content from an individual becomes a broadcaster will be plagued with pitfalls for individual freedoms, and nearly impossible to determine given the myriad differences that might present themselves with each individual case.
Removed from C-10 was a section that exempted an individual’s online content or programs uploaded by users, and it was this move that originally prompted free speech advocates to cry foul over the legislation. Rather than reinstate the section and end up with political egg on their faces, the Liberals have opted for a new amendment that appears to attempt to mitigate fears that audio or video content will come under the CRTC’s scrutiny, but critics are saying this doesn’t go far enough.
Lost in the mix of this storm of criticism is one of the original intents of Bill C-10, which aims to make web giants like Google and Facebook pay their fair share to content generators – among them media like the Lethbridge Herald – for use of their material on news aggregate sites and other online platforms.
While issues involving potential limits on freedom of speech should never be shuffled under the rug, it’s important to remember that if online giants – which eat up close to 80 per cent of advertising in Canada according to some measurements – are not held to account and forced to pay a share for their use of material, we will only see more struggling media and other content generators crushed under that wheel.
And make no mistake, once that media landscape has been thoroughly decimated – as is happening to so-called “legacy” media in a slow drip-drip for many years past – there will be extremely limited diversity, and few alternatives, to the content of the news that we will receive from these online giants. Would a media monopoly be preferable to a robust and diverse media landscape in Canada?