CRTC chairperson says Bill C-11 provides ‘a more flexible approach to regulation’

Ian Scott praised various aspects of the Online Streaming Act and addressed concerns about social media content regulation to a class at Ryerson University.

Ian Scott, chairperson and CEO of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), has expressed support for Bill C-11 and addressed concerns about it as it makes its way through the House of Commons in an attempt to update the 31-year-old Broadcasting Act.

Scott made his first public comments on the bill, which was tabled in February as the Online Streaming Act, in a virtual speech to the “Exponential potential: Media growth and innovation” class at Ryerson University. The class instructor is Irene S. Berkowitz, a senior policy fellow at the Audience Lab at The Creative School and executive producer/host of The Sessions, a four-part podcast series about Bill C-11 done in partnership with Playback.

Scott said the CRTC feels the bill, which is currently at the second reading stage, clarifies the federal regulatory agency’s jurisdiction regarding online broadcasters. The bill also gives the CRTC “a more flexible approach to regulation in several important respects” and “modernizes the CRTC’s enforcement powers,” he added in his speech, which is outlined in a CRTC news release.

All of the aforementioned changes combined would give the CRTC “the flexibility, the speed and the tools to respond to changing industry trends,” said Scott, whose term as chair ends on Sept. 4, 2022.

Scott addressed worry that the bill, in its current form, puts too much responsibility on the CRTC to figure out factors such as the definition of an online broadcaster. Scott countered that being too specific in the legislation poses a risk of it becoming “a static document once it receives Royal Assent.”

“As we have seen, it can take several decades before Parliament has an opportunity to review legislation, and in the meantime circumstances on the ground can shift significantly,” he said. “A regulator, on the other hand, can move quickly to update its regulatory policies. All it requires is the launch of a public proceeding, the gathering of views and evidence, and the time to deliberate and draft a decision.”

Regarding criticism that Bill C-11 would jeopardize freedom of speech and give the CRTC the authority to regulate user-generated content on social media, Scott said: “That’s just not true.”

“As it’s drafted at the moment, the bill draws a distinction between the users of social media, and the platforms themselves,” he said. “It’s clear to us that the bill’s intent is to exclude individual users from regulation.”

Scott noted that while the CRTC’s powers to regulate social media platforms would be limited by the bill, they would include requiring that such platforms support the development of Canadian programs and make content discoverable or accessible to persons with disabilities.

“We understand that Canadian digital-first creators are innovators who have leveraged their creativity and the freedom of the internet to garner audiences and followers, many of whom are located outside of Canada. It is not our intention to do anything that would harm, restrict or impede their ability to create and share their content,” he said.

“The CRTC must exercise its powers under the rule of law and in a manner that is consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Users of online and social media services expect freedom of expression, and they will continue to enjoy this under the new Broadcasting Act.”

As for questions about the new powers granted to the CRTC under the bill and whether the agency has the expertise needed to regulate online streaming in Canada, Scott pointed to its long history and “strong track record of implementing effective policies and adapting its approaches over time to meet the evolving needs of Canadians and of the broadcasting system.”

The CRTC is an independent and expert administrative tribunal that serves the public interest, setting policies and taking decisions based on evidence gathered via public consultations that are open to everyone, he added.

“We will need everyone’s help to design the new regulatory framework that will be needed to implement Bill C-11. Because we cannot simply apply our traditional approaches to regulation to the online world.”