CBC advocates for 'online harm' prevention, denies collaboration with 'censorship czar' Guilbeault

Shaun Poulter, CBC executive director of public affairs, denied coordinating the "advocacy" survey with Guilbeault's department.

Alex Anas Ahmed Calgary AB

According to a network statement, the CBC and five subsidized press associations pledged to "advocate for initiatives to reduce if not prevent online harm," according to a network statement. The advocacy comes ahead of internet censorship bills by Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, including a proposal to block websites and appoint a chief censor called the Digital Safety Commissioner.

"We think industry-wide data will help us to advocate for initiatives to reduce if not prevent online harm," Claude Galipeau, CBC executive vice-president, wrote in a statement. The network said it was commissioning a complaint-driven survey to document allegations of hurtful internet content.

"At the moment, there is little Canadian data on the problem," wrote Galipeau. He encouraged press associations to distribute the questionnaire "as broadly as possible in the industry."

Questions included, "How often have you experienced any of the following as a result of the work you do in the field of journalism or media: threats or harassment online; threats of harassment by phone; threats of harassment in person; physically attacked."

The survey also asked, "Do you feel the frequency of harassment has changed over the past two years?" and "Who should be held responsible for protecting journalists from online harm: social media platforms; employers; journalism associations; government."

In a July 29 Technical Paper and Discussion Guide, Guilbeault's department proposed appointing a federal internet censor to curb legal but hurtful comments deemed a threat to "democratic institutions." The Digital Safety Commissioner would have sweeping powers to issue compliance orders for "content moderation" at Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other service providers under the threat of $25 million fines.

Censored content was not defined, reported Blacklocks. However, anonymous complainants could trigger an investigation over websites deemed to "distort the free exchange of ideas by discrediting or silencing targeted voices" or "threaten national security, the rule of law and democratic institutions," wrote staff. The Safety Commissioner would be empowered to block websites or "make the content inaccessible" in Canada.

Shaun Poulter, CBC executive director of public affairs, denied coordinating the "advocacy" survey with Guilbeault's department. "It is not coordinated in any way with Canadian Heritage," said Poulter.

"There are a lot of anecdotal examples of some pretty disturbing online harassment against journalists and media professionals but no comprehensive data on the scope of the problem in Canada," said Poulter. "The goal of this survey is to gather data to help us all better understand this problem."

The CBC's leading source of revenue is a $1.3 billion annual parliamentary grant. Co-sponsors of the survey include the Canadian Association of Journalists, Fedération Professionnelle des Journalistes du Québec and the National Ethnic Press and Media Council. All three were previously appointed by cabinet in 2019 to draft terms of a $595 million press bailout.

News Media Canada in 2019 successfully lobbied Parliament for amendments to the Income Tax Act that created the press bailout fund.

Other co-sponsors are Journalists for Human Rights, recipient of a $1,479,856 federal grant on July 14, 2020, and News Media Canada, a subsidized lobbyist for newspaper publishers.

In a September 17 submission to the heritage department, News Media Canada endorsed federal censorship of the internet. "As a business, the news publishing industry remains under threat from the unregulated and unchecked social media and other online communications service providers," it wrote.

News Media Canada president and CEO Paul Deegan proposed the Department of Canadian Heritage extends censorship to critics who use legal but hurtful words against media. The organization deemed itself the nation's "most precious guardian" of free speech.


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