The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is being accused of parroting government talking points, after it published a document on its website that rebuts “myths” about the federal government’s new online streaming law.
The CRTC, Canada’s broadcasting regulator, will be in charge of implementing the new law, which covers streaming platforms. Its myth-busting document addresses criticisms of the new rules, including that they will lead to the regulation of digital creators.
Scott Benzie, executive director of Digital First, an organization that represents people who post videos on streaming platforms, including YouTube and TikTok, said the CRTC’s document reads like a product of the federal Heritage Department, and not an independent regulatory body.
“The myth and fact sheet might as well have been written by the minister,” Mr. Benzie said, referring to Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez. “It’s downright weird.”
Mr. Rodriguez is planning to send a ministerial direction to the CRTC within weeks, setting out his priorities for the implementation of the bill.
Mr. Benzie said he is unsure why the CRTC has published details about what it will regulate before receiving that direction and carrying out consultations.
“They are supposed to wait for the policy direction. They haven’t done that, which makes me feel that decisions have been made. They haven’t heard any evidence, and they have already made up their mind,” he said.
The legislation, known as Bill C-11, became law on April 27, after extensive debate and close scrutiny in both the Commons and Senate.
Mr. Rodriguez has said that user-generated content will not be covered by the new online streaming act. He and other Liberal MPs have rebutted accusations from Conservatives – including Tory Leader Pierre Poilievre – that the law could lead to the CRTC censoring what people watch.
The CRTC document, entitled “Myths and Facts about Bill C-11,″ says it is a myth that the CRTC will regulate digital creators. It says it is a fact that the regulator will only regulate broadcasters, and not YouTubers, influencers or people making content on social media platforms.
Another “myth” it addresses is the idea that the CRTC will regulate the algorithms of online streaming services, such as YouTube. The document says “we will not regulate algorithms. We want to encourage innovation to make Canadian and Indigenous content easier to find.”
The document says it is also a myth that “the CRTC will censor what you watch, read or listen to online.”
“We will not censor the content Canadians listen to and watch online,” it says.
Valérie Lavallée, a CRTC spokesperson, said the regulator had taken note “that a lot of information and opinions have been publicly shared about Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act.”
“Our web information is intended to address some of the concerns that have been raised,” she said.
Conservative MPs, including Mr. Poilievre and Rachael Thomas, the party’s heritage critic, previously argued in Parliament that C-11 was a censorship bill. Liberal MPs said this was untrue and accused them of scaremongering.
Ms. Thomas also raised concerns in the Commons that Bill C-11 could lead to the manipulation of YouTube’s algorithms, for the purpose of promoting Canadian content. In addition, she argued that the legislation would lead to the regulation of videos made by digital creators.
She said in an interview that the CRTC has a responsibility to remain neutral.
“The CRTC, which is supposed to be an independent arm’s-length body, for purely regulatory purposes, is touting the exact same talking points that the Minister of Heritage and the Prime Minister are touting,” Ms. Thomas said. “That’s concerning for me.“
The CRTC will hold extensive consultations this year and next on its plans to build a regulatory framework for broadcasters and streaming platforms based on the new law.
Alongside the myth-busting document, the CRTC published a timetable. The regulator says it plans to implement the new framework late next year.
The Canadian Association of Broadcasters is among the bodies watching the implementation of the bill closely. “This is when the rubber really hits the road,” said Kevin Desjardins, the association’s president.
He added that he wants to ensure Canadian broadcasters don’t bear a heavier regulatory burden than online streaming platforms such as Netflix.