Skip to contentSkip to navigation
FRIENDS Calls for Rapid Action to Preserve the Values of Canadian Broadcasting

FRIENDS Calls for Rapid Action to Preserve the Values of Canadian Broadcasting

on
January 11th, 2019

In a thorough, well-researched submission, FRIENDS urged the expert panel reviewing the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Acts to bring internet broadcasters like Netflix and Facebook under democratic control – and fast.

Camera shooting person sitting in front of bookshelf

Photo by Sam McGhee via Unsplash

Today, FRIENDS of Canadian Broadcasting delivered a comprehensive submission to the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel that is tasked with bringing these crucial laws into the 21st century.

The current Broadcasting Act was written in 1991. Back then, there was no such thing as the internet, and mobile phones were extremely rare. Today, we stream over 1 billion hours of video every day, half of it to mobile phones.

However, the 1991 Act was cleverly written, using a "technology-agnostic" framework that is flexible enough to incorporate new technologies. FRIENDS believes that the current legislation provides all the tools necessary to regulate internet broadcasters like Netflix. All that's missing is the political will to do so – that, and some courage on the part of the CRTC, which could regulate Netflix but somehow chooses not to. As we say in our submission: "The primary problem is not outdated legislation, but rather a stunning dereliction of the duty to use the considerable powers which existing legislation clearly provides for."

All players in Canada’s media and broadcasting system – no matter how they deliver content – should be subject to equitable rules and responsibilities, including equitable contributions to the creation of Canadian content.

The situation facing Canadian broadcasting is stark. More than 50% of Canadian households subscribe to Netflix, but unlike Canadian broadcasters, Netflix has no legal obligation to produce or present Canadian content. Likewise, services like Facebook, which are increasingly broadcasting video, are not required to comply with the same standards of truth, accuracy, quality, and decency as Canadian broadcasters are. Unless Canada assumes jurisdiction over these companies, there is no way to ensure that they comply with Canada's democratic will.

Our position is simple: "All players in Canada’s media and broadcasting system – no matter how they deliver content – should be subject to equitable rules and responsibilities, including equitable contributions to the creation of Canadian content."

The stakes could not be higher. The words “democracy” and “democratic” do not appear in the current Broadcasting Act. This reflects the zeitgeist of the early 1990s, when liberal democracy was not just ascendant but seemingly unassailable.

No informed person could say that the same is true today. Even in mature democracies like the United States and Canada, "democratic backsliding" is on everyone's lips.

The window for action is closing fast. We sincerely hope that this submission will contribute towards an expedited effort to apply the same laws and regulations to all Canadian broadcasters, even those that broadcast online.

We cannot expect corporations, especially foreign corporations, to prioritize Canada’s cultural policy objectives above their quest for profit.

Time to Act
Key Recommendations
  1. Without delay, and before issuing a report of any kind, clearly identify the powers that the CRTC and the Government already have with respect to the crisis facing the Canadian broadcasting system, and urge them to employ these powers decisively and without further delay.
  2. Should the CRTC require new powers to implement a broader-based equitable contribution framework involving all broadcasters, encourage the government to fast- track their enactment;
  3. Recommend only such legislative changes as are absolutely necessary or advisable for the medium to long term success of Canada’s communications system including its economic, social and cultural facets, while strengthening Section 3 of the Act; and
  4. Do all of this as soon as possible, well before the dissolution of the current Parliament casts the future of this vital endeavour into limbo.
The full submission is available below.