I’m not especially down on Canada these days, even though yesterday I criticized their frequent equation of indigenous knowledge with modern science. But then I read the article below on The Free Press, which describes a new bill—one likely to pass—that prioritizes Canadian content coming from big, commercial social-media sites like YouTube and Amazon. I’m not sure why the government is doing this, and no proponents of the bill would explain to reporter Rupa Subramanya the rationale, but it must have something to do with preserving Canadian “culture” and protecting existing Canadian media from competition.
It’s also a form of censorship, since someone has to decide exactly what “Canadian content” is. Perhaps our many readers from up north can explain more. The article blames this bill—and a related one that requires platforms like Facebook to pay Canadian news organizations for any of their content used (in America we have a doctrine of “fair usage” that stipulates how much you can use)—on Justin Trudeau, characterized as “a man who has, again and again, shown contempt for those who do not share his worldview.” Well, I’m not touching that statement, as I am abysmally (and sadly) ignorant of Canadian politics. All I can do is comment on what this story reports, assuming it’s accurate:
Click below to read:
This link gives you a precis of what the bill, call the “Online Streaming Act”, says. More on that in a second.
Here’s Subramanya’s summary of what the bill says:
Canada’s Online Streaming Act, or Bill C-11—which is now being debated in Parliament and would make online streaming services prioritize Canadian content the same way Canada’s television and radio stations are regulated. . . .
Canada’s Liberals insist the point of Bill C-11 is simply to update the 1991 Broadcasting Act, which regulates broadcasting of telecommunications in the country. The goal of the bill, according to a Ministry of Canadian Heritage statement, is to bring “online broadcasters under similar rules and regulations as our traditional broadcasters.”
In other words, streaming services and social media, like traditional television and radio stations, would have to ensure that at least 35 percent of the content they publish is Canadian content—or, in Canadian government speak, “Cancon.”
That means that if you log onto, say, YouTube or Amazon in Canada, you’d see a lot more “Canadian content” than you would if you logged on south of the US/Canadian border. Yet the U.S. doesn’t mandate “American content”, and it seems that any sort of mandate like this abrogates freedom of these companies to broadcast the content they want.
The bill is inching toward a final vote in the Canadian Senate as soon as next month. It’s expected to pass. If it does, YouTube CEO Neal Mohan said in an October blog post, the same creators the government says it wants to help will, in fact, be hurt.
Bill C-11, Mohan explained, would mean “that when viewers come to the YouTube homepage, they’re served content that a Canadian Government regulator has prioritized, rather than content they are interested in.”
That doesn’t bode well for creators, he said.
Here’s an explanation of the bill’s aims from the Canadian government site:
What are we trying to accomplish?
Once implemented, this Bill is expected to:
- Create more opportunities for Canadian producers, directors, writers, actors, and musicians to create high quality audio and audiovisual content.
- Make it easier for Canadian audiences to access Canadian and Indigenous stories.
- Create one, fair set of rules for all comparable broadcasters—online or on traditional media—such as, requiring those who benefit from Canadian arts and culture to invest in it.
- Make our diverse Canadian voices, music, and stories heard across Canada and globally through a variety of services.
- Create a more inclusive broadcasting system that is reflective of Canadian society and that serves Canadians from all walks of life.
It apears to be like a national DEI provision, increasing the diversity of what one can access online by boosting Canadian content. In other words, it’s trying to “create a media that looks more like us.”
The explanation below of why this bill would hurt Canadian artists or creators like Justin Bieber doesn’t completely make sense to me, but I’m addled with insomnia:
. . . . users often give a thumbs-down to content that the algorithm steers them toward and that they don’t want to watch—and that leads the Search and Discovery systems at YouTube to limit visibility of that content. “[G]lobally,” Mohan said in his post, “Canadian creators will have a harder time breaking through and connecting with the niche audiences who would actually love their content.” (According to Mohan, more than 90 percent of the “watch time” on content produced by Canadian YouTubers comes from outside Canada.)
Bottom line: had Bill C-11 been the law of the land back in early 2007, Justin Bieber would probably have encountered more Canadian viewers who didn’t want to watch him, many would have given him a thumbs-down, and YouTube would have limited the number of viewers who ultimately saw him.
Why do they argue that Bieber would be less popular with Canadians than with other people? And even if YouTube did limit his viewers based on “likes”, wouldn’t the new bill actually help Bieber since YouTube content would now be more Canadian than before? (Bieber presumably counts as “Canadian content”.)
But this is that’s why I think this bill is fundamentally misguided: it tilts the freedom of Internet providers towards Canadian content, which must be at least 35% of the total content, and of course there’s going to be a “Canada censor” who decides what constitutes “Canadian content”.
A bit more about the bill, which makes it clear that it’s meant in part to shield Canadian media from market forces:
As it turns out, Conservative senator Leo Housakos told me, it’s not Canadian creators who need a boost—it’s Canada’s sclerotic legacy media. Bill C-11, he said, is meant to protect the likes of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and conglomerates like Bell Media and Quebecor, all of which can be counted on to toe the Liberal Party line.
That certainly seems to be what the bill’s boosters are indicating. In an April 2022 post, Valerie Creighton, president of the Canada Media Fund, created by Canada’s Ministry of Heritage, appeared to agree with Housakos about the need for shielding legacy media from market forces. Creighton seemed to echo Pablo Rodriguez, who had noted a few weeks earlier that 450 Canadian media outlets had closed over the previous 13 years.
“The entry of the streamers and platforms into the Canadian market has resulted in aggressive competitive pressure on the Canadian broadcast and distribution system,” Creighton said in her post. “Our companies cannot compete with the deep financial resources and wide distribution these platforms offer.”
A few more critics are quoted at the end:
This unwillingness to engage with the opposition—to take part in the messy, cantankerous democratic process, to make room for more voices, to entertain more ideas and arguments and counterarguments—has left many old-fashioned Canadian Liberals dismayed.
In a January 31 speech invoking the Roman thinker Cicero and the Soviet writer Vasily Grossman, Liberal senator and award-winning author David Richards lashed out at Bill C-11: “We have lately become a land of scapegoaters and finger pointers, offering accusations and shame while believing we are a woke society. . . . what George Orwell says we must resist is a prison of self-censorship. This bill goes a long way to construct such a prison.”
Margaret Atwood, the acclaimed author of The Handmaid’s Tale, tweeted her support of Richards’ speech: “Needs a listen.”
Pattie Mallette was similarly put off by the government trying to steer its citizens, the people who were supposedly in charge, in the “correct” direction. Referring to Bill C-11, she said: “I feel like it’s almost an insult. It’s like Canadians don’t make good enough content for people to see, so we have to create a handicap to make sure that people are seeing your content.”
If this bill is characterized correctly, I find it censorious and, indeed, a form of “cultural appropriation”—preventing foreign cultures from intruding too strongly into Canada’s culture.
Weigh in below, especially if you’re from Canada.