[00:00:00] Jordan Heath-Rawlings: I’ve got a question for you. Do you post enough Canadian content on your social media accounts to meet CRTC regulations?
I checked my own Twitter feed and I’m pretty sure I qualify at the moment, thanks mostly to the Toronto Blue Jays. But if you had asked me last October in the midst of an American election, I don’t know. I am being snarky, but only a little bit and snarky with a purpose, because if you have heard anything about Bill C-10 that hasn’t come from a federal Liberal MP, you’ve probably heard that this bill is a confusing mess.
How big of a mess? Let’s put it this way. This week, the government had to officially state that it plans to amend the bill so that it doesn’t apply to my personal Twitter feed, because otherwise there really was nothing in there [00:01:00] preventing the CRTC from auditing my posts to make sure that there are more Blue Jays tweets than Trump tweets.
I could go on, but our guest today will do that. What you need to know as we begin is that this bill is a gigantic overhaul to the Broadcasting Act that aims to make that act cover the internet, the entire internet. And it’s already been met with public outcry from basically everyone. I mean, a government writing broad legislation that attempts to apply to digital media, the rules that have governed analog media for decades, what could possibly go wrong? Today, we’ll find out.
I’m Jordan Heath-Rawlings, this is The Big Story. Jesse Hirsh is a researcher, a futurist. He is the author of the newsletter metaviews. He’s the person [00:02:00] that we call when digital stories get complicated. Hey Jesse.
Jesse Hirsh: Hey Jordan.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: It’s nice to talk to you again.
Jesse Hirsh: Always a pleasure.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: As we do, um, there is a bill that could change the way our digital world works on the table. Um, so we called you to tell us, what is Bill C-10.
Jesse Hirsh: It’s an attempt to upgrade Canadian broadcasting laws to include the internet, which on the one hand is a bit of a trick because in calling the internet “broadcasting”, you’re kind of trying to fit a circle into a square peg. But on the other hand, it’s an extension of our Canadian cultural policies. The idea that the Canadian identity depends upon Canadian culture, and that our government has been subsidizing or funding and encouraging Canadian content. And this is a way of ensuring that digital companies are also contributing to that policy environment in [00:03:00] addition to our traditional broadcasters, cable companies, and wireless companies.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: We’re going to get into the details of that, especially, uh, why it’s a square peg in a round hole. But, but first, if we could zoom out a bit, um, if you asked the government what the stated purpose of this bill is, what would they say?
Jesse Hirsh: I think their biggest spin is battling the big tech giants. I think they’re trying to frame this proposed legislation as a response against the power that social media companies wield in our society. A way of trying to make those companies give back both in a tax sense, but also in a culture or a cultural funding sense, and a way of preserving Canadian culture. Now, this is a big sweeping bill that seeks to update quite a number of, of acts of legislation and in particular, the CRTC as a regulatory body.
And I think it’s in the [00:04:00] details of all that, that both the government is trying to rush or kind of push through, but that’s also, I think why people are getting so upset because it’s not just about battling the big tech giants. I mean, if that’s the spin, it’s kind of only half true in terms of the larger impact of this proposed legislation.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: So what would it require? Um, first of all, maybe from those big tech giants, uh, you know, Netflix and Amazon Prime, et cetera, but also just in general, uh, what does it actually do?
Jesse Hirsh: Well, part of it’s about money. So part of it is about these big tech giants having to basically pay more money either to Canadian culture, so to intermediary agencies like the Canadian Media Fund, or even potentially the way in which they pay taxes and the way in which they’re regulated in terms of say the types of ads that they take. But also the content that they would have. I mean, you know, our radio and our television system has requirements on the amount of Canadian [00:05:00] content that has to be broadcast. It’s why, when you listen to the radio, you’re more likely to hear songs by Canadian artists. And so this in theory could subject Netflix, could subject YouTube and Spotify to similar Canadian content elements. So they also have to make sure that they’re featuring or giving equal airtime, even though that again feels like an inappropriate metaphor, but the idea that they give special status to Canadian content so that we’re not lost in the sea of global content.
But the other side to this, which you sort of alluded to is, is the CRTC, which I mentioned before that this is about kind of giving the CRTC and upgrade, right? It’s the Canadian radio and tele- television and telecommunications commission. And so now theory, we’re adding a D for digital or an I for internet-
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Right.
Jesse Hirsh: -’cause it, it would radically expand their mandate and their ability to go after these big tech [00:06:00] firms or any other internet company that is basically broadcasting online.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: So it’s the “any other internet company” that I know has a lot of people freaked out, and also that’s just incredibly confusing to me. I understand that you can make Spotify feature Canadian content and make them pay more for, uh, existing in Canada, et cetera. But is there a line anywhere in this bill between, like. YouTube and Spotify, or like, I don’t know, Frequency Podcast Network, for instance.
Jesse Hirsh: As it currently stands, no. And that’s part of the reason why there’s been such an alarm and there’s been such a concern because as you noted in the air of the internet, everybody and anybody is a broadcaster. So does that mean that we all have to go and get licenses for the CRTC? And we all have to comply with, you know, regulatory overhead, that means half or a third of all the things we say are specifically Canadian?
[00:07:00] I mean, the government has already come back and said, no, that’s not what they want. And they will table an amendment that differentiates between, let’s say, large companies and individuals. Obviously the details of that will be crucial and important, but it does suggest that in the government’s attempt to go after big tech, not only might they miss big tech completely, but in their attempt to do so, actually ensnare the rest of us in unnecessary regulations and bureaucracy. And I think that’s the primary concern that, that critics of this bill currently have in addition to it just being opaque and a product of a very little consultation. So it’s, it has people alarmed.
But at the same time, you know, the government is trying to demonstrate that people want big tech to be tamed.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Right.
Jesse Hirsh: You know, you and I have often talked about [00:08:00] the outsized power that these companies wield. So the question is whether this is an effective measure or not. And that’s where I think many people are saying it’s not, it needs to go back to the drawing board. And we’ll see, uh, based on the proposed amendments as to whether the government is listening.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: You said a minute ago that it could even miss big tech entirely. How, how would it do that?
Jesse Hirsh: Well, part of the issue is, you know, who are these big tech companies.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Right.
Jesse Hirsh: And I think it’s easy to think of them as media companies, as publishers. And that’s really what this legislation tries to address. It tries to look at the content on these platforms, the way in which algorithms sort that content, the premise being that those algorithms should be modified to give greater visibility to Canadians.
But what if these companies are more than just media companies? I mean, uh, Dwayne Winseck, who’s a scholar, uh, at Carlton University, he argues that we should think of them as banks [00:09:00] because they store information. And it’s their data that’s really valuable almost as if we’ve given it to them to hold as a deposit. And so therefore it’s more than just media. It’s artificial intelligence, it’s analytics, it’s the predictive possibilities that come from having all of that data.
And if we just look at this within the frame, say of Canadian culture, then we’re only dealing with one tiny arm of this many armed monster or one tiny head of this many headed Hydra. And, and that’s where I think there’s a lot of people who are thinking or who feel that this, this policy is just, uh, just theater. It’s just posturing. That it makes the government look as if they’re doing something against big tech, but really what they’re doing is expanding the role of the CRTC, which I’m not sure anyone has actually asked for. And so are we creating unnecessary bureaucracy without limiting the power of the big tech [00:10:00] giants? And I think that’s one of the genuine concerns so far in terms of this process.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: When you read the bill, um, and when you talk to other folks, um, who get deep into the legislation on this stuff, and I’m thinking of, you know, folks like Michael Geist and people who are experts on, uh, data in the internet age, does this bill read like it’s been written in consultation with people with that body of knowledge?
Jesse Hirsh: No, not at all. And I think that’s the other concern. I mean, on the one hand, you know, the, the. There was fear that the government was basically making the legal authority to regulate everybody and everything. And what’s comical is it’s not clear that the government has any competence whatsoever, either to write responsive legislation that acknowledges the dynamism of technology in our lives, or even just distribute vaccines to the people who need them.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Right.
Jesse Hirsh: Right? So the idea [00:11:00] that the government would embark on a new era of internet regulation is fraught with peril. The government wants to convince everybody that they’re doing something and something needs to be done, but the people who actually understand this, like Professor Geist, they look at this and they go, this makes no sense at all. You guys have no idea what you’re talking about and you haven’t consulted either the people who study this stuff, or the people who will be most impacted like Canadian creators and Canadian artists who are themselves saying, we’re happy to talk. We would love to tell you about our problems and our stresses, but they’re not being consulted.
And so it all just feels as if it’s, it’s a disaster. It’s a policy disaster that’s built on the best of intentions because I actually kind of agree with the sentiment that the government is trying to express or articulate. I just disagree with the way they’re going about it. And I think as Professor Geist has pointed out, it not only [00:12:00] speaks to their incompetence, but to their heavy handedness, which in the end is just going to hurt users. It’s just going to hurt Canada as, as a marketplace, as a cultural environment, rather than do what we suppose is the intention, which is hold big tech accountable and curtail the power that they have over us.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Okay, so, I’m going to give you a case study about us. As Frequency Podcast Network, we’re owned by Rogers Sports & Media, I hope everybody knows that. So owned by a big Canadian corporation. But we still tell proudly Canadian stories. We focus our podcasts on Canada. I don’t know how much you know about the podcast industry in Canada, Jesse, but it’s dominated by the big American shows. And I would love, selfishly for sure, but also just because I care about this stuff, for Canadians to hear more Canadian stories in their podcasts. And when I look [00:13:00] at what this bill does, I don’t see anything that really pushes for more Canadian storytelling in digital audio. The only thing I see maybe is requiring Apple and others to put some Canadian podcasts on their front page, which they already kind of do. But, but I don’t see anything in there, either for big networks like us, and nobody’s going to feel sorry for us because we’re Rogers, but also for the independent Canadian podcasters telling Canadian stories. I don’t see anything there that would help those people make a living doing it in order for them to do more of it.
Jesse Hirsh: Well, and, and that’s the paradox, that on the one hand, the Canadian cultural industries have traditionally been very strong because of the support that they receive from the Canadian government. And we’re now in an opportunity where cultural production is more accessible. Like, anybody can make media in Canada. And we [00:14:00] should see that as a commercial opportunity.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Right!
Jesse Hirsh: We should see that as a cultural opportunity to continue the conversation of what it means to be Canadian and what role Canada has in the world.
But unfortunately that, as you said, that that’s not really part of the substance of this legislation. And, and that is the kind of thing Canadians can get behind, right? Canadians do champion Canadian content. And I think there’s an opportunity to export Canadian content, not for protection as policies that say, “Hey, we need to be protected from these big American media outlets,” but how do we support the Frequency Podcast Network. How do we support creators across the country so that they can reach American audiences, that they can reach international audiences by leveraging these platforms.
And the other myth amidst all of this is the idea that the platforms are neutral, that they don’t pick winners, that they don’t have [00:15:00] product placement the way that any publisher or any media company would, because research is actually demonstrating the opposite. I mean, for example, TikTok, y’know TikTok, as, as one of the real power players, both in the cultural industry and in social media, they’re not entirely run by an algorithm, right. It’s starting to be revealed and uncovered that they, as a company, as staff make editorial decisions all the time.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Right.
Jesse Hirsh: Choose which songs the algorithm is going to promote, choose which users, which stars, TikTok stars, are going to be promoted on the platform.
And so it makes sense that Canada would say, well, in Canada, we want you to prioritize Canadians, and we want you to support and fund Canadian creators. You know, right now it’s on the level of platitudes when instead, what we should see is very clear policy, very clear funding, so that we can have a [00:16:00] vibrant cultural industry that’s export-focused, so it’s not just about Canadian identity. It’s also about the Canadian economy and Canadian jobs.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Can you give me an example of what a better approach might look like?
Jesse Hirsh: Well I think there’s two obvious examples. One is profile, right? That when you log in to YouTube, when you log into TikTok, it automatically shows you Canadian creators and says, “Hey, these are people, your peers, your neighbours who are making content”.
So part of that is just that kind of special status. And we already know that these platforms do this on a tactical level, right? TikTok serves up content based geographically. YouTube has trending topics that are based on Canadian activity. So this is just one step forward that says, “Hey, why don’t you highlight Canadian creators.” now as to the basis by which who they choose, you know, that should be up to each company. But it’s also something that I think the public, i.e. their users, should have [00:17:00] input on.
But then the other issue is money, right? The other issue is where you could easily, you know, the, to your point, the legislation I would write is that if you are in Canada and if you have a platform that makes more than $10 million in revenue per year, then a tiny percentage of your revenues has to either be spent internally on Canadian creators, or you can give it to a Canadian creator fund, which will give you a tax receipt, which will give you a tax rebate to encourage you to spend even more to do so.
So it, on the one hand, puts the emphasis on larger companies, but on the other creates a clear path for their money that they’re collecting from Canadian users goes back to Canadian creators, so that we are creating jobs, so that we are funding the industry, which then benefits everybody in terms of the way in which that money starts to [00:18:00] cross-pollinate.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: You mentioned already that the government is planning, uh, an amendment to this bill to make it clear exactly who they’re referring to. Do you think the blow back to this has been such that we will see further amendments and further tweaks of this bill? I know the government has not done a great job publicly explaining it, so I wonder if, how far back to the drawing board they might go?
Jesse Hirsh: I, I certainly would not rule out the possibility that the bill is dead.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Really?
Jesse Hirsh: That the blow back that’s come from this has, yeah. And I’m not saying that’ll happen, I’m saying that’s at one extreme. But quite frankly, if I was in the prime minister’s office, that would be the advice I’d be giving, right? You screwed this up. Everybody knows that this bill is, is empty, that it’s superficial. Why don’t you go back and come up with a real one and, oh, by the way, look there’s C-11, the privacy and artificial intelligence bill. If you would take that seriously, that might help with your credibility.
But okay, maybe that won’t happen, then yes, for sure, this is going back to [00:19:00] the drawing board. The question is how much, cause we are in a minority government, and I think this is an opportunity both for the Conservatives and the NDP to articulate their own cultural policy, their own strategy for dealing with the tech titans.
So I think there is interest for all parties, given the attention that this policy debate is received, to, to debate it further, to find some substance, to demonstrate to Canadians that they have blew as to what the internet is and how it works. ‘Cause I’m not sure any of the parties have done that, I think Canadians have seen that quite clearly.
However, if the federal government tries to and push through this legislation, as it currently stands, or with only modest amendments, then it just makes them look incompetent. It makes them look clueless when it comes to both the future of the internet and the future of cultural industries. And granted, they might be able to get away with that, ’cause the other parties are [00:20:00] probably clueless too.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Right.
Jesse Hirsh: But I think the Canadian public is watching and I think it will have an impact moving forward.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Jesse, thank you so much as always, uh, for explaining something beyond my comprehension in a way I can understand.
Jesse Hirsh: Thanks Jordan.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Jesse Hirsh. You can read and subscribe to his newsletter at metaviews.ca. That was The Big Story, and for more from us, you can head to thebigstorypodcast.ca. I promise you that meets all CanCon requirements. You can also talk to us on Twitter at @TheBigStoryFPN. You can find us via email, thebigstorypodcast, all one word, all lowercase, @rci.rogers.com [click here!]. And we’re in all of your podcast players, Apple, Google, Stitcher, Spotify. They might bury us behind the American podcasts, but we’re there just waiting for a new rules. Okay, I made that up. Just go find us.
Thanks for [00:21:00] listening. I’m Jordan Heath-Rawlings, we’ll talk tomorrow.
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