Senate Hearings on Bill C-11 – A Look at Hearing 15 (First Segment)

The special coverage of the Bill C-11 Senate hearings continues. This is the first segment of hearing 15.

It is kind of hard to believe that we have reached hearing number 15. However, we have made it this far, why not continue this coverage?

For those who are curious, here is the coverage of the previous hearings:

Hearing 1 – Privacy Commissioner and Global Affairs/Justice Department
Hearing 2 – Digital rights organizations and lobby groups (1)
Hearing 3 – Lobby groups (2) and platforms (1)
Hearing 4 – Lobby groups (3) and lobby groups (4)
Hearing 5 – Lobby groups (5) and lobby groups (6)
Hearing 6 – Music Canada / platforms (2) and lobby groups (7)
Hearing 7 – Scholars/researchers (1) and digital first creators (1)
Hearing 8 – Digital first creators (2) / lobby groups (8)
Hearing 9 – Digital first creator (3) / lobby group (9) / platform (3) / Lobby group (10)
Hearing 10 – Record Label / Lobby Groups (11) and Scholars/Researchers (2)
Hearing 11 – Scholars/Researchers (3) and Lobby Groups (12)
Hearing 12 – Scholars/Researchers (3) / Digital First Creators (4)
Hearing 13 – Statistician / Lobbyist (13) / Canada Media Fund / Lobby Groups (14)
Hearing 14 – CNIB / H264 / Lobbyist (15) and Lobby Groups (16)

As usual, the video we are following can be found on ParlVu. As always, in terms of thoroughness, nothing will beat the actual video or official transcript. Still, we will do what we can to summarize what was said and thrown in some analysis while we are at it.

Opening Statements

John Welsman of the Screen Composers Guild of Canada opened with his statement. He says that they support the objectives of Bill C-11 and urges its swift passage into law. He went into ownership and identifying Canadian content.

Randy Kitt of Unifor then had his opening statement. He said strengthening community and building democracy has never been more important. Social media has proven to divide us, pitting neighbour against neighbour (that’s a blanket statement that is not always true). We are more polarized than ever, but a strong Canadian media can build can build community (major media outlets have stopped doing this a long time ago. Many of the larger outlets have been more focused on the political parties that they support. Nice thought, but rarely happens in traditional broadcasting).

He then decried the loss of a funding program in 2014 and said that this resulted in American media dominating living rooms while local news declined. He called for an amendment to ensure that local media has a revenue stream. He then said that Unifor supports the passage of Bill C-11, but offers recommendations for reforming Section 11. He then goes into losses for local news and revenues. He then said he wants Canadians to have access to local Canadian programming that couldn’t happen if they let internet giants control the media (How the heck is YouTube controlling Canadian local news?) He then said he wanted us to not get side-tracked by noise and pass Bill C-11 with the small amendment (you’re not going to win over friends if you think your concern is the only one that matters).

He ended by suggesting people imagine a world without news and imagine if you can do something about it (well, I’m trying, but you and C-11 are getting in the way and trying to put a stop to that.)

Neal McDougall of the Policy Writers Guild of Canada then opened with his statement. He said that we need this regulation and we need it now. It is time to act.

Alex Levine continued with the opening statement. He said that their jobs are disappearing and they are in an existential crisis. He claimed that scripted television is the dominant source of entertainment for our time (Is that the reason why almost no one I know watches it?).

He then said that they support Bill C-11. He says that it brings the large tech platforms like Netflix into the fold and gives the CRTC the tools they need to regulate them and ensure that they appropriately contribute to the domestic industry. This is what Bill C-11 is supposed to do and this is what it does.

McDougall said that they support two amendments to the bill, however. He proposes amending Section 3.1 (f) as well as an amendment about collective bargaining.

Questioning the Witnesses

Senator Leo Housakos noted that McDougall/Levine has strongly supported Bill C-11 and accused those opposed to Bill C-11 as being opposed to corporate transparency. He has argued that the critics don’t proposed alternatives. He then quoted Konrad von Finckenstein, a former CRTC Chair saying that a more targeted approach would have been a better approach rather than encompassing all transmission of music and video over the internet. After that, he quoted University Law Professor, Michael Geist talking about how criticism of the bill is not criticism against culture. He asked if it is not possible to strike a balance by ensuring that streamers pay their fair share without giving the CRTC vast unchecked powers.

He then followed that up by saying that it’s easy to demonize foreign streaming platforms, however, witnesses have spoken to them about the lack of transparency within the CRTC decision making process. He noted that Peter Menzies (reference to hearing 12, segment 1) gives the CRTC too much unchecked power. Should we just ignore the advice of these individuals.

McDougall responded that there is a balance to be struck, however, the bill comes close, if not, hits that balance well. There is professional content on social media. You can go to YouTube and watch a Holleywood movie or listen to professional music. He says that 5.2 H directs the CRTC to strike that balance to avoid imposing regulatory measures where it is not necessary. So, that balance is already in that bill. (looked it up. Unless I misheard, that doesn’t exist in the bill? Legitimately confused on that one.)

Senator Housakos noted the tonnes of witnesses that have come before them saying that the CRTC has historically not been very transparent and that they are not necessarily the ideal body to put in place a regulatory process that is fair and balanced. Senators have heard that from multiple former CRTC chairpersons themselves.

McDougall responded that he’s not sure that the standard is ideal. He thinks the standard works best under the circumstances and we need to compare that with what would happen without regulation (as in people will be freely able to upload to platforms without being terrified that the CRTC is going to meddle and mess with their potential success? That sounds fantastic to me) in this area which is corporate control over these platforms (that’s ironic since it’s corporations making all of these demands in the first place).

He said that if there are amendments proposed that would improve the transparency of the CRTC, absolutely, let’s look sat those. There’s a process that is already there. There is open and public hearings. Those things don’t exist for YouTube. Those things don’t exist for TikTok. So, he thinks that we need to compare the transparency between the CRTC and the current situation which is the corporate control and lack of transparency that we have now. (uh, that’s an apples and oranges comparison. You are talking about transparency of a private company vs transparency of a government regulator – both of which operates very differently. If you don’t like YouTube, you can move to another platform. If you don’t like a CRTC decision, you are screwed. So, bad argument is bad.)

Levine claims that the CRTC has a track record of protecting and supporting the Canadian cultural sector. So, it’s unfortunate that these former CRTC chairs are negative about their own track record (I’d sooner believe them than a lobbyist trying to turn back the hands of time.) He talked about how he has faith in the CRTC.

Senator Paula Simons commented that she has boundless sympathy with her 30 years as a journalist. However, won’t the problem be dealt with by Bill C-18 (Canada’s terrible link tax law)? Her second question is that we have seen a major disruption of Canada’s media paradigm. People don’t watch the news on television anymore. She gets her news on digital platforms. So, even with all the money in the world, does the witness think that we’d go back into a practice and a habit of watching the Supper Hour or watching the 11:00 news on a television set?

(Senator Simons is brushing up on an important aspect of this legislation. A lot of lobbyists, at the end of the day, are advocating a regime where innovation pays the establishment not to innovate. By shovelling money to these establishment players, we are incentivizing them further to ignore the internet, not innovate, and just do what they want to do without consequence. As older audiences begin to die out, there is going to eventually be a major drop in viewership and advertisers are going to ask “what’s the point?” Eventually, you get to the point of funding something nobody wants while the establishment players continue to operate like it’s 1991. Times have changed in the last 30 years.)

Kitt responded that we don’t do things the same way we’ve always done. The Broadcasting Act has been set up in a platform agnostic way so we can move with the times. When the Broadcasting Act came along, it didn’t contemplate the internet or even satellite TV, yet the CRTC took it into their powers to regulate those technologies. In 1999, they chose not to regulate the internet. In 2009, they chose again not to regulate the internet. (Isn’t that a sign that maybe we shouldn’t be asking the CRTC to forcefully regulate the internet?)

He then moved on to the other question. He said that the CRTC has always had the power to regulate the internet and they have chosen not to. That’s why the legislation is needed (to forcibly change the CRTC’s mind, got it). People’s viewing habits change and that’s why we need this update to the Broadcasting Act to include these technologies. Canadian’s can’t afford Canadian news if the model has been drastically changed.

He then went to the question of Bill C-18. He says that C-18 addresses some of the issues with regards to local news. Bill C-18 was initially designed for print media (doubt that) but it’s platform agnostic which they cheered the government for doing because it includes podcasting and broadcasting. However, C-18 is not the one size fits all approach that’s going to solve all of the problems. It’s a piece of the puzzle (basically, shutting down all online competition because they can’t compete against all that talent they told “no” to for the last two decades). C-18 deals with Facebook and Google who have dramatically changed the advertising model and two huge advertising monopolies have cornered the market on internet advertising and snuffed out one piece of the puzzle for local news (only an idiot would think that the solution is to make local news more dependent on these platforms in that situation).

However, he continues, the CRTC has not allowed American broadcasters into the Canadian broadcasting realm. After a series of half sentences, he said something about allowing broadcasters to fund local news. He said it’s a shame she doesn’t watch TV news, but the local news is going to land on the Internet and we need a funding and regulation model for that.

Senator Simons then turned to Levine and said that CTV, Rogers, and Global are not commissioning as many shows any more because people are not watching television anymore (have you seen the line-up? It’s unwatchable 99% of the time. I have zero interest in watching CSI:Anything or Chicago:Anything and that seems to be all that airs. What few Canadian offerings there are, they are either bad knock-offs to American programming like Family Feud Canada or programming that makes staring at paint drying exciting. It’s seriously bad.) When she’s consuming Canadian media content, she will tell you that she’s getting it through a third party. So, she is wondering if what he’s proposing isn’t based on a paradigm that we can mourn it all we want, but the days of Canadians making appointments to sit down and watch Canadian content on a Canadian TV station are going going gone. So, instead of trying to recreate something that is not going to return, shouldn’t the answer be a nimble way to make sure that Canadian’s are watching Canadian content in the places that they are watching it?

Levine responded that all of the broadcasters are already on the internet. They all have their own streaming. After saying that people are watching CBC Gem (lol!), he says the question is how are we funding that television? There is not enough money in the kitty to fund these programs. If we all the media giants to take all of our eyeballs without contributing any money into making Canadian production, we can’t compete. We can’t tell our own stories. (Maybe produce content people actually want to watch in the first place instead of figuring out the cheapest way to produce content. I dunno. Here’s another idea: maybe take out an ad or two? Pro tip: If you can afford to send teams of lobbyists to Ottawa to lobby for a bill that abolishes free speech, you are not helpless.)

McDougall chimed in saying that Levine is right and the entire point of the regulation is to move the regulation to where the eyeballs are going which is online. (Not to mention killing off the careers of those who are successful online in Canada and ensuring that competition has been burned away before moving online and forcing people to watch your content.)

Senator Rene Cormier asked Kitt about his amendment. He asked why Netflix and Spotify should contribute. Further, he asked Levine and Welsman asked about the exemption to the Artist Act.

Kitt responded to the question. He said that Apple, Amazon, and NEtflix have been allowed to bypass the system for over 20 years. That’s why we are in this mess.

Levine passed it to McDougall. McDougall spoke about the maximum use of Canadian resources provision.

Welsman also focused on the Status of the Artist Act.

Senator Cormier commented that when we think about platforms, we typically think about foreign platforms. There are also Canadian platforms, so does that reality get taken into account?

Welsman said that they regard online undertakings ad online undertakings whether that is foreign or domestic.

Senator Fabian Manning asked about Section 11.

Kitt responded to that question, talking about losing local print news to the internet. He said it needs to be done because local news is in crisis.

Senator Manning said that they’ve heard this morning that there isn’t sufficient dollars being spent on Canadian programming. Canadian’s are losing their jobs or are not working at the present time. From other witnesses, they’ve heard the contrary. Others have said that the money is there, but it’s not being diverted to the Canadian Media Fund. Between those who say that the money is not there and those that say that the money is there, he’s trying to get a clear answer on that.

McDougall responded that there are so many different elements in the system, but he’s not sure what he’s referring to.

Senator Pamela Wallin notes that they talk about being worried about money being able to fund Canadian content – especially local news. She wanted to ask about how they respond to another example. The CBC gets $1.4 or $1.6 billion a year – she’s not exactly sure of the number is right – now directly from taxpayers. It competes with the private sector for ad dollars in all of these markets including local newscasts. They also use taxpayers funding to set up their own streaming services to compete there. The numbers – very very low viewership on those CBC funded services, but still cutting into the revenue of the private sector. Do they agree that should continue?

Kitt responded that Unifor takes no position on whether that should continue. Advertising has been dropping and that it’s really an argument that doesn’t matter anymore. Bill C-18 is one piece of the puzzle. Bill C-11 is another piece of the puzzle. This isn’t public money they are asking for. This is industry money.

Senator Wallin said that if the CBC is using public money to compete with private operations that are providing local news services that he says need to be protected, is that the right way to do it? They are competing for the same ad dollars, so they are reducing the access to funds.

Kitt responded that he’s not sure that Bill C-11 has anything to do with competing for ad dollars (That’s… one way to defeat Bill C-11 supporter’s core argument for this legislation. You know, them screaming about how big platforms are taking over the whole sector by hoovering up ad dollars and whatnot).

Senator Wallin commented that it has to do with funding this. The government is already funding all these mainstream legacy broadcast and print outlets in some way or another. So, it comes down to the money.

Kitt responded that it does come down to the money. The CBC could be better funded by the government if they need those ad dollars to create the news that they are creating. If we take those ad dollars away, then the government is going to have to fund them more.

Senator Wallin responded that so they just want a combination of private public money funding those operations that, it appears, that fewer and fewer and fewer people are watching and consuming.

Kitt responded that he thinks that’s not necessarily true. It’s moving to a different space.

Senator Wallin then asked if they are comfortable with government subsidizing news reporters and news operations that covers the activities of that government.

(This is definitely drifting into Bill C-18 debates, but that is a major fundamental problem where the government is directly or indirectly paying the bills of reporters supposedly holding them accountable. Canadian’s should absolutely be worried about such a system being set up because it means all major news organizations end up being state funded.)

McDougall responded that they are not a journalistic organization and don’t have detailed positions on that. He then commented that the BBC is given $6 billion and only has to operate in one language, so the CBC is underfunded by global standard.

Senator Julie Miville-Dechene said she agreed that Canadian culture is an existential question. She asked about service production and jobs in those operations.

Welsman answered the question saying that he thinks that his members to rather well.

Senator Miville-Dechene then asked McDougall to also offer his answer to that.

McDougall responded that it’s a separate issue from what they are studying under Bill C-11.

Senator Miville-Dechene said that she was having a hard time following the logic of Kitt’s answer because it seems to largely fall under Bill C-18 which is currently being studied at the House of Commons (You’d have to have a very liberal interpretation of the word “studied” to describe what’s going on at those disastrous hearings). However, under Bill C-18, the major networks will have the lions share of subsidies through that bill. Is it not reassuring to his members to hear that?

Kitt responded that it’s reassuring to his members that we are talking about local news. The data that says that big broadcasters would receive the lions share of the revenues might be inaccurate because C-18 is a negotiation legislation. If we are going to be saying what the values of those deals would be before the negotiation processes is putting carts before horses (If Rupert Murdoch smoking $100 bills is any indication, it would actually be history repeating itself.) Those numbers were based on Australian dollars and he’s not sure that is accurate.

Senator Donna Dasko noted that a lot of discussion focused on television and where all of the eyeballs are going, but what about radio? She said that she hasn’t seen the data, but thought that radio is still an important source for local news and wondered if there needs to be distinction between the two.

Kitt responded that, traditionally, radio doesn’t spend as much as television for local news. Radio and podcasting are both important sources for local news. Journalism is expensive. Bill C-18 is platform agnostic, which is great. Bill C-11 needs to focus on streamers paying their fair share.

senator Dasko said that if people are no longer watching television, then why not focus on where people are getting the news? Why would people look at local television if people are not watching it anymore?

Kitt responded that they are following the eyeballs. The local journalism folks are doing podcasts, they are putting their local newscasts on Twitter, putting them on YouTube, they are putting them on TikTok, and they are following the eyeballs. What we have to do in this committee here is follow the money. The money has to go from the streamers and go into their industries.

With that, the hearing concluded.

Concluding Thoughts

It was extremely odd hearing witnesses try and put the square peg of journalism and Bill C-18 into the round hole that is Bill C-11. This concept, rightfully, even confused some of the senators in the process. The argument that Bill C-11 and Bill C-18 being different pieces of the puzzle never really held. If anything, both bills wind up being pots of money that the media outlets are trying to draw funding from at most.

It was rather rich hearing some of the witnesses talk about how they are trying to produce Canadian content and get that Canadian content to audiences, but that darned funding isn’t what it used to be. I mean, I’ve personally worked in television and know full well what went into those prime time slots after the 5:00 newscasts were over: American programming being rebroadcast with Canadian ads. You might get the odd Canadian program here and there on a rare occasion, but most of the time, that programming got crammed onto early morning weekends when no one is watching. Seriously, who wakes up at 8AM in Saturday to watch Meet the Family? I’ve seen a lot of different people at that job and no one I spoke to had even heard of most of those programs, let alone watch them. That’s not even getting in to Joel Olsteen where you could smell the hair spray through the TV screen.

Another observation about this question is that when I see advertisements for telecom companies, I don’t even see them advertise TV drama’s anymore. I’m far more likely to hear them advertise, for TV, reality TV (American mostly), sports (last bastion of TV and even that is starting to struggle), and news (which the witnesses admit is dying). Beyond that, it’s all about the internet connection and cell phones. So, for me, I find it to be an incredibly difficult sell to say that broadcasters are producing all these great scripted TV shows that tell Canadian stories when so much of it is American programming getting rebroadcasts. Saying that it’s all the platforms fault for these lack of Canadian stories is kind of laughable when so many of the problems is the broadcasters own doing.

Since we wandered into the topic of news broadcasting, I can say from personal experience that every traditional news organization I have ever worked for, or tried working for, is really badly run. There’s been no exception to this that I’ve seen. When I tried to get a job at a number of them, I was told that no one was interested in the topics that I cover as a journalist. So, they didn’t even give me the time of day to further develop my skills and shooed me out the door.

So, in response, I continued working at another news website (ZeroPaid) where the traffic completely dominated any of the outlets I tried to get hired on with. Even after further building up my reputation as a reporter, the outlets still refused to hire me. When I started Freezenet, no one believed me that it would really succeed in any way simply because no one was supposedly interested in the topics I covered. Over the years, the traffic ranking grew and it started to rival that of these outlets. I was still told that my skills didn’t have any value to them.

So, I continued to work hard and build up the website. The rankings eventually exceeded all but one large news monopoly (others were a monopoly too in their own right). Despite outclassing entire news rooms by myself, I was told that my skills have no value. The opinion also changed after overtaking some of them to, and I quote “you cheated” and they still wouldn’t hire me. Since then, one of those news organizations went bankrupt and the others are speculated to be on the verge. I mean, seriously, get a clue, I clearly figured something out.

Of course, it wasn’t just my personal experience that I witnessed pure incompetence in management. I actually got hired in a completely different capacity and got inside knowledge of how one of them is run. I saw numerous people be brought in from different parts of the country (never local) to be part of the news team. The new hires were generally treated rather poorly, being judged far more harshly than their old boys club counterparts. It got to the point where even other departments had to adjust learning strategies because they knew that if management caught wind of what was going on, they could get reprimanded or disciplined for the most trivial of issues.

I saw plenty of people who contributed a lot to the organization and just get badly treated. Some, great people, were driven to tears about how their hard work was seemingly becoming meaningless. I’ve lost count how many people I had to console and tell them that their contributions did add value and that people do notice their hard work. This is simply because they didn’t deserve some of the awful treatment they got and if I was one day in their position, I’d hope that someone like me would be there too (not that this ever happened, mind you).

At the same time, I’ve seen people in that organization continue to insist that anything related to the internet is just some silly little thing that is more trouble than it was worth. Corporate even went to the trouble of literally forcing us to open a position for a web journalist and developer – someone that is actually paid to maintain and manage content on their website. When I approached management about the position with the ludicrous amount of experience I had with such things and plenty of avenues to further develop and refine my skill, I was told no because they were not looking for someone who knows “techy stuff”, they were looking for an additional reporter. So, even when there was a once in a blue moon effort to add some sense or business progression, there is fierce opposition to it. For them, it was an excuse to get another body into the ranks of their reporters, not something that was meant to boost their web presence.

So, trying to sell the story that journalism was doing fine and was operating fine until the mean platforms came in and took all that ad money away is a laughably bad story in my view. The industry runs fine as lone as we are frozen in time in 1991. Once change happens, there is an exasperatingly bad level of judgment and mismanagement where clueless people are at the helm pretending to be the grandfather of all knowledge of what people want. It’s where ego cannot accept that change is needed for survival and when it all invariably hits the fan, it winds up being a case of “we tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas”.

If you don’t believe me, you can ask Jennifer Valentyne or Lisa LaFlamme how bad things can get in the media sector. I’m sure that they can tell you it isn’t exactly a bed of roses.

So, whenever I hear executive types try and say that news organizations adapt to modern technology and they are flexible and they are all of this and all of that, I have a hard time believing it based on my own personal experience. From what I’ve seen, it is quite the opposite.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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