Toronto Star Catches Controversy After Publishing Misleading C-10 Editorial

The Toronto Star’s credibility took another hit after it published an opinion piece supporting Bill C-10 that can’t even get basic facts right.

The firestorm over Bill C-10 is continuing. This time, the Toronto Star is now swept up in the controversy after it published an opinion piece that utterly failed to get basic facts right about the legislation. This has led some to question the organization’s credibility.

What we do know is that Bill C-10 would allow for the regulation of user generated content. This has been a fact since last month when an amendment stripped out an exemption to user generated content. This has been compounded by the fact that the Ministers own officials pointed this out.

If that weren’t enough, the amendment supposedly making it “crystal clear” that user generated content wouldn’t be regulated wound up being the Canadian government doubling down on regulating user generated content. On top of it all, the Canadian Justice department rubberstamped the legislation based solely on an assumption that the CRTC would totally not regulate user generated content even though the law allows it.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen opinion pieces cropping up at various publications trying to rescue the C-10 sinking ship. All of them, however, were wrapped behind pay walls. Honestly, who could blame them for hiding from scrutiny. I’d be embarrassed if I was tasked with defending something so indefensible. Of course, that is also part of the problem. Those that support the legislation have yet to have a viable response to the criticism. It’s not a surprise because it would be their word against the letter of the law.

Recently, though, one organization was brave enough to take a crack at this impossible task of defending Bill C-10. As it turns out, it is from the Toronto Star – an organization that took a huge credibility hit back in February when it took part in the notorious disappearing headline campaign.

This latest effort to try and prop up efforts by the Liberal party isn’t really working that well either, as it turns out. In a piece vaguely written by the “editorial board”, the Star argues that this legislation should pass. For what reason? Well…

In the past week, one of these issues — updating the Broadcasting Act to take into account 21st-century digital realities — has taken front and centre.

The government’s Bill C-10 essentially aims to make sure foreign-based streaming services like Netflix and Spotify, which make lots of money in Canada, do their part in contributing to Canadian culture. But it’s turned into a battle royal over free speech, with the Conservatives accusing the government of an assault on the rights of ordinary Canadians.

This is basically nonsense (more about that in a bit). But it’s sucking up so much political airtime that there’s a danger the government will lose momentum on Guilbeault’s other two initiatives — his planned law to curb online harms from social media, and his proposal to make Google and Facebook share revenues from content provided by news publishers.

Generally, this issue of ensuring that large tech giants pay their “fair share” has always originated from a situation of a solution looking for a problem. For instance, Netflix has already invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Canadian content. What’s more is that the Internet has allowed Canadian creators to seek an audience in ways that discoverability requirements on traditional media has never been able to do.

Further, requiring Canadian content to pass the test of its Canadianness will actually hamstring creators abilities to produce content. As a result, it actually stands to reduce the creation of Canadian content as a result.

For the next point, it’s not exactly a fair thing to say that opposition comes from the Conservatives. As far as we can tell, it was after digital rights advocates and digital rights news organizations such as us have been raising concerns about the legislation. In fact, this article of ours dates back to February of last year highlighting concerns about the legislation long before it mutated into a threat to free speech online. We weren’t aware of Conservative opposition until the amendment in which user generate content protections was stripped from the legislation.

To the last point, both of those initiatives are also attacks on the open Internet. The reference about Google sharing revenue with publishers is actually a vague reference to the notorious link tax proposal. That idea is that platforms and aggregators must pay a tax for the privilege of linking to sources. It was a bad idea then and is a bad idea today as it directly harms smaller players. The online harms has been slammed by critics as outright censorship of speech online as well.

With Bill C-10, which is now before the Commons heritage committee, the government’s stated goal is to force streaming services (Netflix and Spotify, most prominently) to adjust their algorithms to make Canadian content more visible (what’s known as “discoverability”). And it wants them to contribute a share of their Canadian revenue to creating more Canadian content, as traditional broadcasters have done for decades.

Some oppose even that on principle, but it’s a reasonable goal, one that’s especially popular in Quebec where cultural issues resonate strongly with voters. The problem arose when the Liberals removed a section of their bill that they feared would exempt YouTube as a company (not individuals who upload videos to the platform) from the law.

Cue the outrage. Suddenly those who oppose all regulation of the internet spotted a threat to free speech and the Conservatives, sensing Liberal weakness, piled on. Guilbeault himself scored a couple of own goals by fumbling his defence of the bill.

So, in other words, this piece argues that removing the exemption for user generated content because, uh, it’s somehow popular in Quebec. Oh, and anyone who opposes it is just doing so out of principal. Obviously, that doesn’t address the core concern that user generated content will still get regulated. It’s basically a deflection of the concerns and utterly fails to address them.

The piece tries to muddy the waters by suggesting that the exemption was more about ensuring YouTube is regulated. This might have been the opinion of some of the Liberals, but that’s not what the exemption did. It explicitly exempted user generated content, you know, the people who upload the content. The section that was removed is known as section 4.1. That section states:

This Act does not apply in respect of

(a) programs that are uploaded to an online undertaking that provides a social media service by a user of the service – who is not the provider of the service or the provider’s affiliate, or the agent or mandatary of either of them – for transmission over the Internet and reception by other users of the service; and
(b) online undertakings whose broadcasting consists only of such programs.

Honestly ask yourself: if this piece is removed, what happens to the legislation? It means that user generated content will be included in this regulation. Further, we’ve read this section many times and have yet to figure out how people can determine that this is just about exempting YouTube. The section is pretty clear that users who are not affiliated with the service is what is subject to this exemption. If you are a YouTube employee, then this section clearly does not apply to you. This is pretty cut and dry with the part that says “who is not the provider of the service or the provider’s affiliate”.

Even if there was some way of somehow rearranging the words in such a way that exempts YouTube, a simple adjustment of the language would easily be sufficient. Otherwise, why strip the whole section out of the legislation? At that point, you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

At any rate, the idea that 4.1 was just going to exempt YouTube is little more than a myth that we thoroughly debunked here.

With respect to the final point, the idea that this is just opposed by those who oppose all regulation is not only misinformation, but also laughably bad to boot. It appears to be a riff on the Heritage Ministers recent comments that network neutrality means no regulation. As we pointed out in the article in response, network neutrality actually is government regulation. Generally, the outrage comes from supporters of free speech and, now, the Conservative party. So, another argument that fails.

This week the Liberals offered another amendment to C-10 in an effort to counter fears about free speech. The CRTC’s new regulatory powers over digital services, it says, will not apply to programs uploaded to a social media service by a regular user of that service (i.e., an ordinary person).

The piece doesn’t appear to go into detail about what happened with that amendment. It’s probably with good reason because the end result of that amendment, as we pointed out at the beginning, wound up doubling down on regulating user generated content. So, that wound up being a fail.

On Thursday, the justice department provided a second review of the proposed, amended law to see if it would violate anyone’s Charter rights. The answer from that review is no, it won’t. That should be enough; the NDP, which had been on the fence pending the second Charter review, should join with the government and get C-10 through.

As we covered previously, the Justice Department utterly failed to address the concerns surrounding free speech. Instead, it simply said that it was putting all it’s faith into the idea that the CRTC totally won’t exercise that new power to regulate user generated content even though it would actually have that new power in the first place. For obvious reasons, experts and critics slammed the statement as well as the ensuing controversy of the Justice Minister being completely missing in action when asked to answer for the statement.

The rest of the piece supports the concept of 24 hour time windows to take down content that is deemed “harmful”. After that, it was a propaganda piece supporting the proposed link tax law.

So, with another Toronto Star piece being thoroughly debunked, what remains is a vacuum for those trying to support the legislation. Even now, there has yet to be a viable defense for this legislation that we’ve seen. It probably comes as no surprise that no one was brave enough to attach their name to that piece. I’d be embarrassed if my name was associated with something so badly written myself. It also raises another point, if misinformation is the only defense to this legislation, what does that say for those who support it? At the very least, it’s not a good look.

In response, Michael Geist tweeted the story pointing out that the piece got even the most basic facts of this legislation wrong.

gets the most basic aspect of Bill C-10 *completely wrong*:
“CRTC’s new regulatory powers over digital services, it says, will not apply to programs uploaded to a social media service by a regular user of that service (ie, ordinary person).”

In response, several Twitter users joined in and accused the Star of political bias and corruption among other things.

In many ways, the response the Star got is understandable. If you’re going to try and take a position that goes against the grain of what everyone else sees, you better have a good solid foundation for your arguments. The piece in question simply didn’t have it and relied on misinformation to push an agenda. It should come as no surprise that the house of cards came crashing down as a result.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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