Removal of RT by Canadian BDUs exposes power dynamic

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The laudable removal of the Russian government’s propaganda service, RT, from the channel lineups in Canada exposed more than just the ease with which foreign disinformation services enter Canada.

It also exposed where the real power lies in the current Canadian system; how our major, vertically integrated companies (“BDUs”) determine the success and failure of the services Canadians see.

It is not that RT was available that should be a surprise, but how broadly packaged it was on some BDUs, often better than many Canadian services. For example, Bell has offered RT in its most budget-friendly package and it was widely available to subscribers until its recent removal. Market penetration is said to be connected to consumer choice, but this is nonsense. Instead, we have BDU choice based primarily on financial consideration. Foreign services are able to pay for carriage or offer the service for nothing and let the BDU charge the customer. A 2017 Globe and Mail report, citing sources, found Canada’s biggest TV providers were accepting payments from the state-sponsored channel. The details of such agreements are not disclosed to the CRTC, or made public.

Soon, Canadians will be receiving most of their content through online streaming platforms. None of the current global streaming players, those that decide what content or services are carried, are Canadian. The proposed amendments to the Broadcasting Act in Bill C-11 will extend the jurisdiction of the CRTC to include these platforms. Without C-11, a future RT or other disinformation services would not have to seek approval for coming into Canada.

Meanwhile, OUTtv is on the front lines of the disinformation war. Russia has been killing and brutalizing the LGBTQ2+ community in Russia for years. Recently, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church stated that the war with Ukraine is about “which side of God humanity will be on in the divide between the supporters of gay pride events – or the Western governments that allow them – and their opponents in Russian-backed eastern Ukraine”.

This is why many Conservative groups in the U.S. have openly embraced Putin. RT was playing clips of Fox News hosts supporting Putin in the early days of this war, and in Florida and Texas, new laws have recently been passed targeting the LGBTQ2+ community. In OUTtv’s most recent CRTC license renewal application in 2019, we made a plea for better terms for carriage in the Canadian system.

For a world-leading LGBTQ2+ programming service, we receive abysmally low distribution in Canada. Our public application received considerable support across the industry except from our two largest companies: Bell and Rogers. OUTtv is a global leader in the LGBTQ2+ content space. We were the world’s first LGBTQ2+ channel and are now the leading global streamer for the community. However, the situation in Canada is increasingly dire. Our service is poorly supported by our broadcasting system that overwhelmingly favours the largest players.

When will we realize that we are being complicit in this disinformation war by not supporting Canadian services within our own system? When will we start amplifying Canadian values and voices as an example to the rest of the world? Isn’t this core to being a Canadian?

The Government’s Bill C-11 could not be more timely. We need to ensure the CRTC has the power to regulate these types of services and to ensure that our own services are properly supported. We need to protect our cultural values at home and project them abroad. We need to understand that the cost of not doing so will be the loss of our values and once our values are gone our democracy is on the line.

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Since 2016, Brad Danks has been the CEO of OUTtv Media Global Inc. (OMG), the world's largest producer and aggregator of original LGBTQ+ film and television content. Brad began his career as an entertainment lawyer with a distinguished practice that included working for many U.S. and international studios, broadcasters and financiers. He joined OUTtv as COO in 2006 where he worked to grow the business in Canada until becoming CEO in 2016. He was instrumental in initiating OMG's international expansion, developing platform partnerships with Amazon, Apple, Roku, Tubi, Fuse, Showmax, 7plus and TVNZ. Headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, OMG owns the brands OUTtv and FROOTtv, serving many territories around the world including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and across Europe. Brad is an adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Victoria, frequent speaker, writer and guest lecturer at conferences and academic institutions on the evolving media landscape.