On June 21st, the House of Commons passed Bill C-10 to update Canada’s Broadcasting Act. It’s been 30 years since the Broadcasting Act was last updated. The media landscape has changed dramatically since that time, so this legislation was long overdue.
The amount of fear and anger that has been whipped up by disinformation about Bill C-10 concerns me. These “Trump-style” tactics are dangerous and divisive. They make our communities less safe, both online and offline.
In particular, I have heard many fears about C-10 and the free speech (“freedom of expression”) of Canadians on social media. I agree that our rights to freedom of expression must be upheld and protected. C-10 in its current form does not infringe on these rights.
Freedom of expression is guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part of our Constitution. The Constitution is the supreme law of Canada. All Canadian laws must be constitutional, otherwise they can be thrown out by the courts.
The Broadcasting Act already protected freedom of expression and C-10 does not change that. Many third party lawyers have concluded that C-10 does not infringe on freedom of expression. Non-partisan Department of Justice lawyers came to the same conclusion, both when the bill was first introduced and after significant amendments were made by parliamentarians.
Other protections have been added into the bill since then. C-10 clearly states that CRTC orders must not infringe on the freedom of expression of social media users. It also limits the CRTC’s ability to regulate social media content to a few specific areas. I have provided more information about these protections below.
I have decades of experience in the music, film and the television industries, so I had a keen interest in seeing this update to the Broadcasting Act done right. I submitted 29 amendments to Bill C-10. My focus was on ensuring that the act does more than cater to the interests of big media stakeholders. Two of my amendments passed outright, and two more passed with sub-amendments.
Unfortunately, Liberal and Conservative committee members opposed my amendments to provide more protection for independent producers. Small independent production companies produce most of the programs we watch on TV or streaming services. These companies employ large numbers of Canadians in well-paying jobs. They negotiate contracts with the big media conglomerates to produce content. There is a huge power imbalance in that working relationship that needs to be addressed.
Many important amendments to C-10 were never debated by MPs due to filibustering, and then the fast tracking of the bill through the House of Commons. The bill is now at the Senate where it is slated to be studied further. It has not yet passed into law.
In its current form, the updated Canadian Broadcasting Act remains flawed. Some improvements were made that address the role of digital and streaming services in the media landscape. Much more could be done to ensure the long term health and viability of Canada's film and television industry. Free speech has always been protected in the Broadcasting Act, and it still is. Don't believe the hype.
Protections for freedom of expression in C-10:
Freedom of expression is a right protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter is part of the Constitution—the supreme law of Canada. All Canadian laws must be constitutional, otherwise they can be thrown out by the courts. The CRTC must abide by the Charter.
The Broadcasting Act already states that freedom of expression must be protected and C-10 does not change or remove this section: "This Act shall be construed and applied in a manner that is consistent with the freedom of expression and journalistic, creative and programming independence enjoyed by broadcasting undertakings."
C-10 specifies that the Broadcasting Act does not apply to individuals who use social media. The CRTC is not legally allowed to regulate individuals who use social media for their own purposes. Further, C-10 explicitly states that CRTC orders must be consistent with the freedom of expression of social media users.
The CRTC would not be able to put regulations on broadcasters that are too small to make a significant contribution to Canada’s broadcasting policy.
The CRTC would not be able to regulate social media content about the amount or type of programs that can be broadcast, or what counts as Canadian. Its ability to regulate social media content would be limited to:
Requiring social media companies to make financial contributions towards Canadian programming and creators, and to recover regulatory costs;
Requiring social media companies to put ‘discoverability’ in place to promote Canadian creators;
Requiring social media companies to register with and provide information to the CRTC about about things like programming, finances, and audience measures;
The power to audit social media companies.
Every order and general regulation that the CRTC is considering making would have to be published online for public feedback.