The federal government has tabled legislation to rewrite the Broadcasting Act. Bill C-10 has a long list of amendments that change wording in the act and it’s a bit confusing to get through. So here’s a list of what’s actually in the bill (based on my Twitter thread from yesterday):
- Creates a new definition of “online undertaking” meaning “an undertaking for the transmission or retransmission of programs over the Internet for reception by the public by means of broadcasting receiving apparatus” — in other words, an online broadcaster, using the same vague wording as for traditional broadcasters but presumably including services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube. Such “undertakings” would not need to be licensed to operate, nor would they pay fees to the CRTC, but the commission can regulate them, impose Canadian content or funding obligations, and demand information including confidential financial information.
- A specific exemption for content posted to a “social media service” that excludes such content from the definition of broadcaster for the purpose of the act.
- Gives the CRTC the power to impose fines on broadcasters. Currently, the commission cannot impose “administrative monetary penalties” on broadcasters like they can on things like spammers. They’ve gotten around this by imposing additional financial contributions as conditions of licence when licenses are renewed. With this change it could impose fines directly, up to $25,000 for a first offence or $50,000 for subsequent ones, for a specific set of reasons.
- Explicitly state that the broadcasting system serves all Canadians, “including Canadians from racialized communities and Canadians of diverse ethnocultural backgrounds, socio-economic statuses, abilities and disabilities, sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and ages.” The CRTC already respects these values, so it probably won’t change anything, but specific reference to things like sexual orientations could be cited in discussions of setting new policies or court challenges to CRTC decisions.
- Explicitly mention news. Right now the act only mentions obligations to news for the CBC specifically. The new act would say that programming provided by the entire system should as a matter of policy “include programs produced by Canadians that cover news and current events — from the local and regional to the international — and that reflect the viewpoints of Canadians, including the viewpoints of Indigenous persons and of Canadians from racialized communities and diverse ethnocultural backgrounds.”
- Eliminate the seven-year maximum length of licenses. The CRTC has already started reducing licence terms, generally five years now for TV licenses. Under the new act, they could set unlimited terms but also wouldn’t have to wait five years to make changes to licenses.
- Codifies how the CRTC deals with confidential information, including explicitly allowing it to share said information with Statistics Canada and the Competition Bureau.
- Give the government more time to overturn CRTC decisions related to awarding, renewing or amending licences or referring them back to the commission for reconsideration. The 90-day deadline would now be 180 days.
And some minor changes:
- Change the procedure for orders from the government. Instead of being referred to a House of Commons committee with a 40-day notice, the orders would need to be published and have a 30-day notice.
- Moves article 9(1)h of the act, which gives the CRTC the power to require distributors carry certain programming, to a new section, requiring several amendments to other laws that reference it.
If that seems like it’s not that much and very unspecific, that’s true. The act only gives general policies and creates legal powers. A lot of the more interesting stuff related to policy will be done through a policy direction to the CRTC, which the minister says will be done once the amendments to the act are passed. There are also other bills to come including amendments to the Copyright Act.
Then, the job of interpreting the new policy and actually setting new regulations will be up to the CRTC.
Among the things we don’t find in this bill:
- Changes to copyright law, or anything that would change how Google and Facebook deal with content
- A better definition of broadcasting that would make it clear what is regulated and what is not
- A definition of social media that would let us answer if, for example, YouTube is a social media platform or if it’s both social media and an online broadcaster depending on content
- Anything new regulating social media
- Any policy direction to the CRTC
- Any substantial changes to how traditional television and radio is regulated
- Any change to the CBC’s structure or mandate
- Any consumer protection measures
- Any measures related to sales taxes for online broadcasters
Compared to what was recommended in the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review panel report in January, it’s not quite as bold, but there are several elements in there, including the most important one giving the CRTC the power to regulate online media (though the commission would have argued that it already had that power).
Now we’ll see what terms the CRTC set for Netflix et al, and if they’ll agree to them.