Canada’s broadcasting regulatory authority, the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), has issued a news release outlining its new regulations for podcast providers, social media platforms, and online streaming services, aiming to modernize Canada’s broadcasting framework and enhance contributions to Canadian and Indigenous content.
CRTC Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer Vicky Eatrides emphasized the importance of engaging various perspectives in this initiative, stating, “We are developing a modern broadcasting framework that can adapt to changing circumstances. To do that, we need broad engagement and robust public records. We appreciate the significant participation during this first phase and look forward to hearing a diversity of perspectives at our contributions proceeding in November.”
The CRTC’s plan includes two key components:
- Mandatory Registration for Podcast Providers: The CRTC will require all podcast providers operating in Canada with annual earnings exceeding $10 million to register with the commission. This registration will help gather essential information and is a one-time requirement, easily completed in a few steps. The deadline for registration is November 28, 2023.
- Conditions for Online Streaming Services: New conditions for online streaming services operating in Canada have been established. These conditions, effective immediately, mandate certain online streaming services to provide information about their content and subscribership to the CRTC. Furthermore, these services are required to offer their content without being tied to specific mobile or Internet providers.
The CRTC’s new powers, granted through Bill C-11, have generated confusion regarding their scope. Content creators earning less than $10 million annually who host content on their personal websites remain unaffected. However, social media platforms hosting such creators’ content will be required to register with the CRTC, including individual podcast creators who meet the specified earnings threshold.
The Bill C-11, or Online Streaming Act after it was passed, amended the Broadcasting Act to account for the increased prominence of internet video and digital media, giving CRTC the regulatory scope over the internet. With much criticisms on the bill, it got its royal assent in April 2023 and is seen by Conservatives as the piece that solidifies Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government as the most “anti-internet government in Canadian history.”
The move to regulate podcasts has sparked criticism online, with some viewing it as an infringement on free speech.
Michael Geist, a Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, raised questions about the discrepancy, stating, “Given the government’s regular insistence that ‘platforms are in and users are out,’ it begs the question why some users are, by the Commission’s own admission, now in.”
Geist highlighted that while the CRTC’s new requirements may not constitute a censorship regime, they do indicate the establishment of an extensive regulatory framework. He pointed out that the issue originates from the government’s initial claim that Bill C-11 primarily targeted web giants, omitting everyday audio and visual services like podcasts, news, and adult sites from consideration.
He also raised concerns about the CRTC’s exemption threshold of $10 million in Canadian revenue and the rejection of exemptions for podcasts, social media, adult sites, news services, and thematic services.
“That isn’t trivial, but additional exemptions for podcasts, social media, adult sites, news services, thematic services were all rejected,” he added.
Geist also expressed concerns about the requirement for podcasters and news outlets generating a certain level of revenue to register with the government, as it potentially infringes upon freedom of expression rights.
Finally, he underscored the CRTC’s indication that more regulation is forthcoming, particularly for adult sites and social media services, suggesting that this marks the beginning of a broader internet regulatory system.
Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre vowed to repeal Trudeau’s “censorship, and restore freedom of expression online for all.”
“We warned that Justin Trudeau’s online censorship law was coming to censor what people can see and say online. Liberals denied it. Now, it is exactly what they’re doing,” Poilievre posted.
Meanwhile, online services providing platforms exclusively for video games or audio books are exempt from registration requirements.
The CRTC intends to maintain a public registry of all online services that have registered with them, applying this requirement not only to Canadian entities but also to foreign online streaming services accessible to Canadian users.
These regulatory decisions stem from extensive public consultations initiated in May. An ongoing consultation seeks input on contributions to be made by legacy media broadcasters and online streaming services to support Canadian and Indigenous content.
Additionally, the CRTC has announced a three-week public proceeding for the ongoing consultation, scheduled to commence on November 20, 2023, with participation expected from 129 intervenors representing diverse interests.
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