Toronto Star Changes its Tune: Likens Bill C-11 to 1984

The Toronto Star has had a major change in tune over Bill C-11. It’s now likening the bill to 1984.

There’s been a major shakeup among supporters of Bill C-11. The Toronto Star, who has long been a vocal supporter of Bill C-11, has now turned against the legislation.

Many media organizations have long pushed the narrative that Bill C-11 is only about regulating “Big Tech” and even advanced conspiracy theories that digital first creators and Digital First Canada is some sort of organized effort by “Big Tech” for American business to interfere in Canada’s electoral processes. Further, they frequently dismiss concerns as nonsense and “misinformation”.

One of the biggest vocal supports had been the Toronto Star. Last year, their editorial board published propaganda, saying that publishers need revenue from platforms (basically confusing it with link taxes along the way). Here’s part of what they said at the time when the legislation was known as Bill C-10:

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.

That leads us to today. It appears that the Toronto Star is now singing a very different tune. The same editorial board is now calling for changes to Bill C-11:

When you think of a dystopian society in which unelected government officials control what you can say, you probably think of George Orwell’s grim cautionary tale Nineteen Eighty-Four.

But there is another way for the government to shut down freedom of expression: Let people say whatever they want, but control whether anyone hears them. And when you think of that, you should think of Bill C-11, since, if passed by the Senate, it could grant that power to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

Platforms will also be required to make CanCon “discoverable” by including it in the results of searches users conduct to find something to watch or read. That might sound good in principle. But in practice, what constitutes CanCon is governed by arcane rules that frequently exclude what is arguably bona fide Canadian content, while including material that has little to do with Canada.

This means the government will require platforms to prioritize some content while demoting other content.

That is not, however, the only concern with Bill C-11. The feds insist that the bill is intended to bring large platforms like YouTube under the regulations and will not affect the users who upload to these services: “The Online Streaming Act does not apply to individual Canadians, whether they are users, creators, digital influencers or workers.”

Yet the act does apply to what individual Canadians post. While one section of the bill excludes content uploaded to social media, the very next section grants the CRTC the authority to regulate much of that very content.

At first, the feds seemed amenable to making changes. While Bill C-11 originally excluded from regulation user-generated content, the feds removed that protection, then restored it, but with the addition of section 4.2 — which, as Scott said, means the CRTC would have the authority to regulate that content.

Since then, Ottawa has seemed a lot less interested in making any changes to the legislation. In an attempt to ram the bill through, debate on numerous proposed amendments was severely limited, and the bill was passed by the House of Commons in June.

The legislation is now with the Senate. The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications held hearings on the matter this week. They have a chance to rectify the bill’s shortcomings and clarify its reach.

The change in tone between the two pieces could give you whiplash. A year ago, the Toronto Star was completely dismissing all concerns as utter nonsense. Now, they have basically spelled out the problems of the bill and admit that changes are completely necessary. It isn’t really clear what sparked this sudden realization of what was really happening, but something, somehow, made them completely change their tune.

It’s unclear at this time what effect, if any, this will have on the direction the government is going in. Still, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t quite the start change in tone.

(Hat tip: @SwBenzie)

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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