“The press, either online or traditional, do not need permission to operate in Canada and our Government intends to keep it that way.”
Asked if this means the Liberal government will not impose licensing requirements on news organizations or take any step to regulate news content, a Heritage Canada spokesperson clarified: “We can indeed confirm that that is our position.”
The source of confusion traces back to an independent panel report on the future of the CRTC released last month that did, in fact, issue a recommendation calling on the government to require Internet news websites to register for licenses.
The recommendation, which was criticized as anti-democratic and potentially unconstitutional, was “unequivocally” rejected by both the Prime Minister and the Heritage Minister following an initial backlash earlier this month.
However, Blacklock’s Reporter publisher Holly Doan suggested Guilbeault’s remark this week that he’s “looking at every single recommendation” in the report could be interpreted literally to mean everything is back on the table again.
Guilbeault, a former environmental activist turned star Liberal candidate during the 2019 federal election, has faced hiccups early on in his role as Heritage Minister.
In an interview with CTV’s Question Period, Guilbeault suggested he didn’t see the “big deal” in regulating journalism like other industries. A few days later, the minister scrambled to walk back the remark.
Despite Guilbeault’s gaffe, University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist, an expert in Internet and copyright law, warns the CRTC report makes a number of “extreme” recommendations that still appear to be on the table.
A more serious problem than made-up fears about journalists being thrown in jail for practicing without a license is a recommendation to regulate big platforms that distribute news content — everything from streaming services like Netflix or Crave to news aggregators like Google or Apple News to “sharing platforms” like YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.
The report calls on the CRTC to regulate platforms to ensure they provide “links to the websites of Canadian sources of accurate, trusted, and reliable sources of news” and have “rules to ensure the visibility and access to such sources of news.”
While that might sound like a nice idea, things get problematic when it comes down to deciding who is an “accurate, trusted and reliable” source of news — and what’s to stop future governments from abusing that power to suppress critical news?
“It would mean establishing the most extensive speech regulation Canada has ever seen,” Geist notes. “That is a big deal.”
© Press Progress