CBC/Radio-Canada calls for digital media to be brought under Broadcasting Act

CBC/Radio-Canada wants digital media brought under the Broadcasting Act and ISPs and wireless providers to contribute a fixed percentage of revenues to fund Canadian programming, among 16 recommendations in its submission to the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel.

Our culture, our democracy: Canada in the digital world presents the public broadcaster’s case for modernizing Canada’s cultural legislation. The submission is underpinned by concerns that the rise of global, digital entertainment “threatens to drown out Canadian stories and perspectives.”

CBC also makes its case for sufficient, predictable funding, pointing to the gap that ranks Canada 16th out of 18 OECD countries in levels of public funding for public broadcasting.

“To provide a sense of the gap, if Canada were to double its $1.2 billion investment in CBC/Radio-Canada, it would move from 16th to 11th, 16 below Belgium. This is one reason why CBC/Radio-Canada relies on commercial revenue on television and on its digital platforms. Without it, we would have to cut the programs and services we are mandated to provide to Canadians. We would like to do more; expand Indigenous services and reflection; showcase the best of Canada and Canadian artists to the world; revitalize local news in communities; and be the home for great, safe, Canadian children’s programming. But, ultimately funding must be sufficient to meet the expectations of Canadians,” states the submission.

The submission additionally makes an appeal for the CBC to have greater financial flexibility over management of its resources, and it seeks clarification in the Broadcasting Act that it be guaranteed editorial independence, so as not to be perceived as operating as a government body.

The report’s 16 recommendations fall under three key initiatives:

A. Strengthen Public Broadcasting as the cornerstone of Canadian culture

1. Strengthen and protect the independence and mandate of CBC/Radio-Canada.

2. Recognize the importance of innovation to the public broadcaster’s role, and ensure it has the flexibility to determine, over time, the most appropriate platform and delivery mechanisms to serve Canadians.

3. Recognize CBC/Radio-Canada’s important role and contribution in reflecting Indigenous people in its programming.

4. Strengthen the mandate of CBC/Radio-Canada by recognizing the role of the public broadcaster in projecting Canada to the world.

5. Strengthen the role of CBC/Radio-Canada in building a life-long relationship with Canadians of all ages, particularly children and youth.

6. Ensure sufficient, predictable levels of funding for the public broadcaster to meet its mandate.

7. Ensure greater financial flexibility for the Corporation in the management of its resources.

8. Strengthen the governance and independence of the Corporation.

B. Strengthen the quality and access to trusted news and information for all Canadians

9. Ensure that the news on digital media undertakings is held to the same standards as that of traditional broadcasters.

10. Provide support for Canadian local news programming that meets Canadian journalistic standards.

11. Identify access to affordable broadband throughout Canada as a policy objective.

12. Identify net neutrality as a policy objective.

13. Strengthen independence by clarifying that when CBC/Radio-Canada is acting as a broadcaster, its rights, obligations and liabilities are the same as other broadcasters, and not those of a government body.

C. Strengthen Canadian culture by ensuring that all companies who benefit from our market contribute to the sustainability of Canadian culture

14. Require Internet service providers (ISPs) and wireless providers to contribute equitably to the funding of Canadian programming.

15. Clarify that domestic and foreign Over-the-Top (OTT) services are captured in broadcasting legislation.

16. Modernize broadcasting regulation to allow the CRTC to determine appropriate obligations by digital media undertakings to:

a. ensure the availability of high-quality content.

b. contribute to the creation of Canadian content.

c. ensure the promotion and discoverability of Canadian content.

d. provide Canadian rights holders with access to aggregate data about how their content is used.

Many of the recommendations are focused on modernizing legislation to address the new digital landscape. The submission calls for all digital media to be brought under the jurisdiction of the Broadcasting Act, arguing that “subjecting them to existing Canadian laws, regulations and codes would help ensure they are held to the same standards as traditional broadcasters with respect to high-quality and accurate news. We believe Canadian journalistic standards should also apply to digital media undertakings.”

It also wants digital OTT services, both domestic and foreign-based, brought under the Act and make an equitable contribution to the production of Canadian content. Pointing to other countries grappling with this same issue, it cites the case of France which has just concluded an agreement requiring Netflix to pay a 2 per cent tax on its annual revenues to be used to create content in that country. The report also points to the European Union’s move to develop new rules requiring global SVODs to dedicate at least 30 per cent of their content to local programs.

The submission additionally addresses what it terms the “artificial separation” between broadcasting which uses spectrum, and telecommunications which uses fixed and wireless IP networks. The CBC is supporting streamlined powers for the CRTC that would allow the regulator to treat the largest ownership groups and broadcasters (Canadian, foreign, traditional, OTT broadcasters) with advertising or subscription revenues at a certain threshold, in the same manner. The report says the current separation is “outdated and risks undermining Canada’s ability to respond to the cultural challenges created by the digital environment. The CRTC can ensure that Telecom companies support Canadian cultural objectives.”

In conclusion, the CBC warns of the challenges of managing the pace of transformation with available resources.

“Digital does not require fewer resources, it requires more; more content, more innovation. Personalization is now key. The better we know Canadians and their interests, the better we can engage with them. Today, it’s through conversational interfaces like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Soon incredible advances in AI could transform the environment again. We need to be flexible and agile to ensure that Canadian content has a place on these new services, as well as the traditional ones.”

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