There is no risk to freedom of expression with Bill C-10

Bill C-10 aims to modernize broadcast legislation in order to ensure fair treatment of all players in the media system.

The center grants new powers to the CRTC to regulate companies that participate, even on the Internet, in the broadcasting activities of audio or audiovisual programs.

In some quarters, this law is the subject of a disinformation campaign. This is thanks to the desire to create a “censorship” of content shared by individuals on the Internet. However, as amended by Bill C-10, the broadcasting law does not authorize actions against individuals. Above all, the law already clearly states that all procedures put in place to regulate broadcasting activities must respect freedom of expression.

The full text of the Broadcasting Act does not deal with specific content. Never target specific content. Every CRTC practice over the past 50 years attests to this.

Broadcast law is better than that. It states that the CRTC must refrain from organizing in a manner that violates freedom of expression. It provides for a general exclusion by prohibiting interpretation of the law that infringes freedom of expression and by stipulating to refrain from organizing any activity that has no demonstrable consequences for achieving Canadian broadcasting policy.

Among the goals set by the law for the broadcasting system as a whole, there is the goal of “promoting the development of Canadian expression by offering very broad programs that reflect Canadian attitudes, opinions, ideas, values ​​and artistic creativity, that display entertainment involving Canadian artists and provide information and analysis on Canada and abroad from a Canadian perspective”. The law indicates that “broadcasts in French and English, despite some common points, differ in terms of operating conditions, and perhaps in terms of their needs.” Bill C-10 proposes to add to the law the need for the broadcasting system to reflect the realities of indigenous people and the realities of people suffering from racism.

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Bill C-10 proposes to include broadcast policy goals the need to ensure that the actions of our creators are “discoverable” in these online worlds governed by algorithms that, to this day, are not subject to any accountability. To do so, Bill C-10 proposes to state clearly that all companies that carry software, even on the Internet, will be required in advance to comply with the law and requirements that will be set by the CRTC. In its first version, Bill C-10 included a provision excluding from the scope of the law “broadcasts uploaded to an online company providing a social media service, by a user of the service”.

During the Public Heritage Committee hearings, this provision was criticized by several stakeholders in cultural circles because it confused the issue of target companies. In fact, music content uploaded by record companies, directors, music publishers and artists can be considered user-generated content by social media platforms. With the ruling on the formatted, YouTube, Canada’s first online music service, could have been exempt from the law, but not Spotify, Apple Music and Qub Music, although you can listen to the same song on these platforms. This flaw, caused by a poorly worded provision, had to be corrected in the first version of Bill C-10. This is what the parliamentary committee charged with studying Bill C-10 did.

It was this incident that was used to try to convince that Bill C-10 opened the door to censorship of content that users put on the Internet, for example on YouTube or Facebook. However, the Broadcasting Act (even as amended as proposed by Bill C-10) does not apply to individuals who, in the context of their personal activities, upload video clips. It applies to business. What broadcast law is all about is running a business. Running a business is basically engaging in a profitable, structured and organized activity. Individuals who share content online do not run a company within the meaning of broadcast law. It is therefore misleading to claim that the law will make it possible to “monitor” the content that Internet users post on the Internet.

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Bill C-10 would allow CRTC to regulate companies operating platforms that broadcast programs, which include music or video clips. Other provisions of the law require CRTC to publish organizational strategies appropriate to the different nature and operation of businesses. You do not regulate YouTube by allocating quotas applicable to a radio station. But the broadcast policy objectives set out in law may require CRTC to pay attention to the algorithms that govern the display of content.

Bill C-10 poses no risk that the CRTC will one day regulate videos made by individuals “proud of their new cat.” On the one hand, as long as we delay the implementation of this legislation that is so important to the survival of our culture, the major internet platforms retain to this day their exclusive authority to do whatever they see fit, including censoring the content produced by individuals. Is this what the current campaign against the C-10 bill aims to protect?

* The authors were part of the Federal Commission to Review Broadcast Laws. Pierre Trudel is not speaking here as a newspaper columnist Task.

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