Senate Hearings on Bill C-11 – A Look at the Fifth Hearing (Second Segment)

We continue our special coverage of the Bill C-11 hearings. We continue with part two of hearing five.

Yesterday, we covered the first half of Senate hearing number five. The anticipation was that we were going to have both halves, however, there was so many ridiculously bad arguments defending the legislation, we had to split this whole thing in two instead.

As a reminder of our previous hearing coverage, here is the rest of our coverage of the actual 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
Hearing 4 – Lobby groups (3) and lobby groups (4)

So, the video we are watching is here. Although we are happy to provide context and a rather thorough summary, nothing will beat the original video and transcript of this hearing in terms of thoroughness of what was said. With that said, here is our coverage of this particular hearing.

Opening Remarks

Madeline Ziniak of the Canadian Ethnic Media Association Canadian Ethnocultural Media Coalition opened with her remarks. Sitting next to her is Aldo Di Felice of the TLN Media Group Inc. Canadian Ethnocultural Media Coalition. They said that they agree with comments made in the previous section by their similar members of the broadcasting sector. They support the amendments to ‘ensure the distribution of Canadian services in an online world’.

Joan Jenkinson of the Black Screen Office then opened with her remarks. She says that she agrees with her broadcasting partners that those who operate in Canada should contribute as well. She also calls for a “level playing field” so that as people move to the online world, access to “high quality” Canadian content is “maintained”. After discussing some of her calls for amendments, she says that black Canadians have access to American black content, but this content does not reflect the Canadian black experience. She then references a couple of traditional broadcast TV shows as examples.

From there, she says that people have commented how sites like YouTube and TikTok offer a place for creators to post their content with fewer barriers to entry. She says that some creators will say that these platforms are their training and proving grounds for their content. However, they often migrate to other streaming services to grow their audiences with more predictable revenue outcomes. She says that the CRTC should have the power to ensure that Canadians can see Canadians of all backgrounds share their Canadian experiences. She then offered six proposed amendments.

Lisa Valencia-Svensson of the Racial Equity Media Collective then opened with her remarks. She called for more requirements to maximize Canadian talent so that it will be included in all sectors.

Questioning the Witnesses

Senator David M. Wells started off questions talking about the collection of racial data. He then asked if they are concerned with the privacy implications of such mandatory data collection. He also asked if they are confident that broadcasters can use such data while still maintaining privacy.

Valencia-Svensson responded that she is concerned about the privacy implications of such data collection. However, she says, they don’t not collect data because they are very effective at collecting data in a way that data can remain very private. She says that privacy is built into the system already. She says that research is under way to collect data on a national scale while still having adequate privacy safeguards.

Senator Rene Cormier discussed requirements for requirements for use of independent producers with the witnesses.

Felice, at one point, commented that many see this bill as protecting Canada’s biggest media players from competition of the biggest global players, however, smaller independent players such as smaller television broadcasters are feeling the squeeze of consolidation in the broadcasting sector. He calls for a system that protects the diversity of voices which includes ensuring that all voices aren’t simply owned by three entities.

(This is a very fair point and I’d argue that this actually understates the situation given that big established corporations in Canada are increasingly owning large companies in multiple sectors as well which is a huge problem in many respects. What is unfortunate in these remarks, however, is the lack of acknowledgement of digital first creators who also make up a huge portion of cultural export and creation of Canadian content. Many digital first creators often feel ignored in these debates and this is obviously not helping those trying to obtain even a sliver of inclusion in these debates.)

Senator Paula Simons then asked about whether witnesses support simple mandatory not mandatory carriage of content as opposed to algorithmic “twiddling” as explained by the CRTC (which is actually part of the bill currently).

Felice responded that it’s very simple in that they are just wanting the CRTC to have the same authority over online aggregators over traditional broadcasters (So much for ‘this is only about ‘premium’ streaming services’). So, this is about ensuring that channels are carried on “fair terms”. How they exercise that authority is “up to them”. Over the last decade, he claims, the CRTC has exercised that authority fairly responsibly (like the rate hike/MVNO decision, the Rogers Shaw merger decision, the CBC N-Word decision– hey wait a minute…)

He then notes that he agrees with other lobbyist organizations perspective over the “simple concept” that the CRTC should have the power to regulate the internet just like traditional broadcasters.

Ziniak added “level the playing field”! (which is essentially a meaningless call yet again.)

Senator Simons then said that there is concern that if Bill C-11 is passed as-is, it will inhibit smaller international online streaming that serve ethno-cultural communities from entering the Canadian market. Is there a concern that Bill C-11 discriminates against this minority groups in that respect?

Felice responded that the problem is that these streaming services are just pirate services.

Senator Simons responded, saying that she is not talking about about pirate services, but legitimate services.

Ziniak responded by more or less dodging the question and saying that it’s about services that offer a Canadian reflection. (Yeah, let’s just cut off a few more people’s ethnic ties to other countries. We don’t give a s*** about them.)

Senator Donna Dasko discussed impacts of an approved amendment in Bill C-11 with two of the witnesses. She then asked about where the money is going to come from for smaller players.

Felice responded, saying that the Act will provide a “levelling of the playingfield” where online services pay for it through the Canadian production funds. He then talked about the allocation of funds after.

Senator Miville-Dechene asked if the witnesses if they see any issues with what is on the table – mainly the CRTC being granted the authority to force carriage terms and impose listening quotas for Canadian content. Not only imposing listening quotes, but also sub-quota’s for all ethnic groups. It’s a very complicated system and she’s wondering if that is what Canadian’s want. (… and here supporters are denying that Canadians are going to get force-fed content they may not want to watch. So much for that talking point.)

Jenkinson responded that Canadian’s want to see content reflective of who they are. She said that small YouTube platforms like TikTok (Uh, YouTube doesn’t own TikTok) are good training grounds for small creators, but they don’t want to be relegated to just those platforms.

Valencia-Svensson chimed in saying that the CRTC was founded to support ethnic voices in Canada and the CRTC needs to continue to provide that role or else their voices will be drowned. (Yeah, better to drown out the voices of those jerks on TikTok instead. They should never have dared to tread in their territory in the first place.) Bill C-11 is about protecting people and not just bottom lines. (… and by people, they mean themselves, not those stupid little people making Twitch streams of course.)

Felice chimed in, saying that the CRTC has never imposed quota’s on consumers and compulsory listening and compulsory watching is not what is being asked for. The CRTC is able to support Canadian content by making them available (that task is on those who own the rights, not the CRTC), making them discoverable and by making them affordable. he thinks that’s what consumers want, they want choice.

He then says that consumers want choice and choice is being limited right now. (Really doubt that is true.)

(Judging by the Senator trying to chime in again, I think she realized she screwed up with her comments talking about mandatory listening and watching quota’s, though it was telling that only the last witness at least had a ‘wait a second…’ moment during that whole exchange given how prominent that featured in the question in the first place.)

Senator Tony Loffreda asked another question. Felice, towards the end, commented that Broadcasting Act provisions from 1991 are no longer relevant today. According to him, there were no online services in 1999 (Hate to nitpick, but technically, this is wrong as Napster was founded in 1999, but that only marginally takes away from the point he was trying to make). He then discussed traditional broadcasting at length.

Senator Leo Housakos noted that Canadian creators are among the worlds top cultural exports. This is particularly through YouTube. This includes several ethnic groups like indigenous and other marginalized voices. These artists are not being silenced by the internet, they are being exposed thanks to tens of millions of people around the world. So, the question is, is there concern that Bill C-11 that is trying to protect legacy broadcasters might limit these voices. Additionally, what would happen if other jurisdictions follow the lead of C-11 and what impact would that have on artists that have millions of audience members at their finger tips?

Jenkinsons responded that they do export a lot of digital content on small platforms. However, the percentage of those who have large audiences is very small. She says that we should not look at those voices as the only voices and, instead, talk about those who create content that people want to watch. She then says that all countries have some limitations of what comes in to their country. Canada is not unique in that respect (actually, Canada is unique in this respect with regards to regulating speech online).

She says she wants a system that provides an equal opportunity to make content.

Valencia-Svensson chimed in saying that she finds it interesting that it is only now that large platforms are now professing that they care about underrepresented Canadian voices because normally they have no concern for such things (so I guess all that elevation of different voices before the legislation was even tabled doesn’t count.) She comments that she doesn’t believe that these comments are a true representation.

From there, she says that she doesn’t believe that Bill C-11 is going to have a detrimental effect. For her, big streamers “whipped up” this messaging in an effort to protect their bottom line and that they don’t want to contribute financially. They don’t want to say this outright, so they want to say this instead. (pretty sure those comments are technically defamation as I doubt she has evidence to support those wild claims.)

Senator Housakos comments that he hasn’t been hearing from big streamers that are losing money, but rather, it’s the artist themselves that want to have the independent capacity to put their productions out there through the various platforms that are out there.

Valencia-Svensson responded saying that they will (no they won’t), but the big streaming services have been lining up those artists up to speak (doesn’t even address their concerns). However, she says, there are “many many many” creators that support the bill (ironic that they line themselves up to say these things while at the same time saying that artists who dare disagree don’t deserve a voice and don’t deserve a say in these matters.)

Senator Bernadette Clement discussed with a witness about what they got and what they didn’t.

The meeting was then adjourned.

Concluding Thoughts

I think what stood out to me throughout all of this is that the witnesses make these long speeches and statements about how they are so supportive of elevating voices in racialized communities, yet at the same time, when it comes to content that is not specifically under their control or not owned by their member organizations, such content, in their minds, don’t really exist. At most, there was a passive recognition that those of minority backgrounds do use platforms to promote their work, but you get the impression that those works, unless they are brought into their fold, is second class and ghettoized content. I found that aspect of all of this incredibly ironic.

What’s more is the commentary that platforms only began caring about racialized communities only after the legislation was brought forward. I honestly don’t buy that for a second because I’ve seen numerous platforms promote those of racialized backgrounds long before these bills became a thing. To just blanket say that they don’t care about such creators is completely insane. Moreover, the suggestion that the traditional broadcasters are the only ones that promote such content and are the only games in town is extremely presumptive at best.

Further, ending on the conspiracy theory that platforms are the ones lining up artists to speak against the bill is both extremely hypocritical given how many lobbying groups have been lined up for these hearings so far. In fact, up to this point, we have not heard from one single digital only artist. To insult these creators as mere pawns for large platforms is incredibly disrespectful to everyone who joined platforms to find another way to distribute content.

There are a lot of unique and different voices who are making their way on platforms in their own way. They are independent and are often marginalized by the very broadcasters that profess to be guardians of marginalized voices. You can easily lose count how many of these voices talk about how they made it big online after they were turned down by these broadcasters or told to go the United States and seek an audience there. You very quickly run out of “I can’t even”s with such an incredibly terrible comment.

I think the overarching message I got from these witnesses is “my voice counts more than your voice.” This was especially prominent when witnesses were asked about smaller streaming services that offer various ethnic-based content outside of the country being unable to even be in the marketplace. We’ve heard from numerous sources that such sources offer a way for a number of people to reconnect with some of the culture they would otherwise be cut off from while residing in Canada. The witnesses seemingly didn’t care about these cultural connections and were all too content with severing those connections in the name of their own self-interest.

Indeed, you get that messaging over and over again as you went along in this hearing and it should be looked at with, at minimum, an elevated level of concern. They did try and cover this up by saying that this is about the Canadian experience, though there wasn’t really an argument presented saying that their content should replace these other streaming services. It’s ultimately disappointing seeing this kind of thinking with these specific kinds of witnesses, really.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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