Canadian lawmakers have passed a controversial bill that seeks to regulate programming distributed by media streaming services and social platforms like Facebook and YouTube, a move that critics say could interfere with individual discourse.
The legislation drafted by Justin Trudeau’s government, known as Bill C-10, aims to subject tech giants to the same demands as traditional broadcasters – effectively forcing companies like Netflix Inc. and TikTok Inc. fund and promote Canadian content. It’s one of the most ambitious plans by governments to regulate the algorithms tech companies use to amplify or recommend content.
And, at a time when everyone is a potential publisher, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act could affect individual expression on social media and other digital platforms that rely on user-generated content.
However, it is not known whether the bill will become law. The bill must be passed by the Senate, a process that could be prevented by an election later this year that would effectively kill the bill. If that happens, a new government will have to go back through the legislative mill if it wants the rules to take effect.
The Trudeau government welcomed his passage. “There are other issues that we must address in terms of dissemination and creation, and we will do so,” Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said during the final debate on Monday evening. “Bill C-10 is a first step in this direction.
Titans of technology
Governments around the world are working to modernize their legal frameworks to accommodate the global reach of the digital economy, reshaping the way policymakers view issues as diverse as monopoly power, taxation and rights. workers.
In Canada, another concern is how to protect national cultural industries as more and more Canadians turn to Internet companies for music and video programming, which is the subject of the new law.
Delaying the influence of American culture, in particular, is a fundamental tenet of modern Canadian media law. For decades, the government has required broadcasters and broadcasters to produce and broadcast local content.
This position angered trading partners, as it means that the media sector is often exempt from agreements designed to give foreigners access to Canadian markets. It also means that global media companies like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. cannot own newspapers or television stations in Canada.
Under the current law, a regulatory body known as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission certifies what is Canadian and what is not. It can also impose fines for infractions starting at CAD $ 250,000 ($ 202,500) or even suspend a broadcaster’s license to operate. The new law would give the CRTC the same kind of power over Internet companies.
The challenge is how to regulate content on the Internet without infringing on individual freedom of expression. The language of the bill is ambiguous on this point, according to its critics. Some of these can be interpreted as indicating that user activity will not be regulated, while others suggest that content produced on user-driven sites will.
“We don’t know at all how this would be implemented. Would Canadians be required to declare that they are Canadians to meet these requirements? asked Michael Geist, professor of Internet law at the University of Ottawa and a leading critic of the law. “It’s quite difficult to identify frankly what constitutes Canadian content for conventional broadcast.
The bill would effectively add three requirements for digital media companies: they must provide information on their sources of income, donate a portion of their profits to a fund to support Canadian content and increase the visibility or “discovery” of the. Canadian content. This would be the first modernization of national broadcasting legislation since 1991.
Discoverability has become the most controversial part of the legislation, with disproportionate effects on YouTube as it relies heavily on user-generated videos. Supporters say the requirement falls well short of censorship, as users could continue to post content freely. This misses the point, critics say, because controlling what content is amplified or drowned out is always government controlling rhetoric.
“From my point of view, this is a pretty clear government regulation of speech, saying that some content is priority and some is no longer priority,” Geist said.
YouTube, a unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc., presents its opposition to the legislation as a defense of independent content producers.
“The rules around what qualifies as Canadian content are complex and it’s very difficult to qualify,” wrote Jeanette Patell, public policy manager at YouTube Canada, in a June 2 blog post. “This may have an impact on all creators, but we are particularly concerned about the impact on new and emerging creators, as they will be facing players who have followed these rules for decades.”
Kevin Chan, Head of Public Policy for Facebook Canada, said via email: “We know that creating rules to govern online speech is complex and important work, and we look forward to being consulted in support of this work. Netflix declined to comment and a TikTok spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
The bill is popular in Quebec, a French-speaking province where cultural protection is essential and often an electoral issue. That is why the Trudeau government was helped by the Bloc Québécois, a party that supports the independence of Quebec, to speed up the legislative process in Parliament.
The main opposition, the Conservatives, spoke publicly against Bill C-10 and its members voted against it. The bill was passed by lawmakers on Tuesday morning at around 1:30 a.m. Ottawa time, by 196 votes to 112.
Canada draws inspiration for its overhaul of broadcasting from allies like the European Union. Under its local content rules, the EU requires platforms to promote European cultural productions, and at least 30% of their catalogs must be made in the bloc. The EU also requires video on demand services to prioritize local content.
Trudeau’s new broadcasting reforms are the first of a multi-pronged plan by the ruling Liberals to regulate and tax digital businesses. They are also planning to require social media platforms to fund Canadian media and crack down on hate speech online.
The Canadian government is also threatening to implement a 3% digital services tax on Canadian revenues from next year.
“We all know that the American cultural invasion is powerful and that it can smash any culture on the planet,” Guilbeault told the Legislative Assembly.