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The CRTC's social media pages on a cell phone in Ottawa on May 17, 2021.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Ottawa is telling the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission not to regulate personal podcasts as part of the Online Streaming Act, after fears were raised they would be brought within the scope of the legislation.

The Heritage Department posted documents about directions it plans to issue to the CRTC, saying that podcasts, like posts by individual social-media creators, should not be regulated.

Its intervention follows a flurry of criticism after the CRTC said bodies that carry or transmit podcasts qualify as a broadcaster for regulation and would have to register with the commission under the Online Streaming Act, also known as Bill C-11.

The legislation modernizes Canada’s broadcast laws, making platforms such as Netflix, Prime Video, Spotify and YouTube do more to promote Canadian content, including music and film, and contribute financially to its creation.

The CRTC is in charge of regulating the act, and on Thursday, the government posted hundreds of responses to its proposed ministerial direction to the regulator that will instruct it on how the act should be interpreted.

“The Commission is directed not to impose regulatory requirements on online undertakings in respect of the programs of social media creators, including podcasts,” it said. This would include podcasters who upload their podcasts to sites for people to download.

The government has already spelled out that posts by individual social-media creators – for example, videos of cats and dogs – should not be covered by the legislation.

“We have been clear all along that this Act is about platforms – not content uploaded and created by users and creators. The CRTC will be consulting on implementing the Act and will be receiving our final policy direction soon,” said Ariane Joazard-Bélizaire , spokeswoman for Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge.

But Michael Geist, the University of Ottawa’s Canada Research Chair in internet law, said the government had “left the door open” for podcasts to be covered because of the broad wording of the legislation. He said the government should have specified while the bill was passing through Parliament that individual podcasts would not be regulated – rather than issuing a clarification afterward.

In its submission on the proposed ministerial direction, Spotify said it wanted to clarify the scope of the act “as it pertains to podcasts and audiobooks.” It also asked for more safeguards “against overly burdensome and disproportionate regulations.”

Big sites that post podcasts could still be regulated under the act, alongside platforms such as YouTube and Spotify.

The broadcasting industry, in their responses, made a plea for the Online Streaming Act to be implemented as soon as possible, saying that the lack of regulation of online streaming services was making a crisis in the broadcasting industry worse.

Bell Media said an influx of unregulated foreign competitors over the past decade has destabilized the industry and has hit the local media particularly hard.

It stressed the “extreme urgency” of reforming the system, saying Canadian broadcasters need “a new and financially viable place within a new framework if they are to survive and thrive.”

It said while revenue has declined, “foreign online undertakings have been exempt from regulation and have contributed precious little to the Canadian system.”

“For Bell Media, for the last several broadcast years, more than three-quarters of our local stations have not been profitable, and since 2012, these stations have reported an aggregate loss of $583.7 million,” it said.

The Regulatory Impact Assessment, accompanying the government’s proposed policy direction, suggested the long-term viability of Canadian broadcasters is at risk.

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting said the government’s draft direction to the CRTC “should better reflect the urgent need for contributions from foreign online undertakings to flow as quickly as possible.”

The broadcaster SiriusXM said “there needs to be a greater sense of urgency to address the unfair competitive advantage that foreign online streaming services have had over Canada’s broadcasting industry.”

On Thursday, Rogers announced it is closing its CityNews radio operations in Ottawa because of declining revenues and audiences and a restrictive regulatory environment for AM radio.

The CRTC plans next month to begin hearings to get stakeholders’ views on how the bill should be implemented.

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