Friday's announcement from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) that online streaming services in Canada must register with the government agency has sent a chill throughout independent media.
Critics say it is the beginning of a broad registry of all online news media, even if the CRTC is currently maintaining that a $10 million threshold exists for broadcasters before they must register.
Previous CRTC vice-chairman and former editor of the Calgary Herald posted Monday on X: "Essentially and eventually, @crtceng intends to regulate everything on the Internet pretty much the way it regulates TV, radio and cable. Say g'bye to a free and open internet in Canada."
Noted journalist Glenn Greenwald posted on X: "The Canadian government, armed with one of the world's most repressive online censorship schemes, announces that all "online streaming services that offer podcasts" must formally register with the government to permit regulatory controls."
In a news release, the CRTC announced that it is setting out which online streaming services need to provide information about their activities in Canada. Online streaming services that operate in Canada, offer broadcasting content, and earn $10 million or more in annual revenues will need to complete a registration form by November 28, 2023."
The declaration is part of the Trudeau government's Online Streaming Act, or Bill C-11, which was called a "dangerous first step towards government control of the internet" by Justice Centre for Constitution Freedoms President John Carpay, who wrote that "In the long run, the CRTC could end up regulating much of the content posted on major social media, even where the content is generated or uploaded by religious, political, and charitable non-profits."
However, reading further down in the news release, the CRTC uses ambiguous language and apparently contradicts its own guidelines by stating, "online services that offer podcasts must register; however, individuals who use social media to share podcasts do not."
The CRTC has previously stated that: "individuals that host podcasts on their own websites or make them available on a subscription service platform other than a social media service are not explicitly excluded from the Broadcasting Act under subsection 2(2.1)"
University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist was quick to comprehensively comment on the CRTC announcement in an essay.
Geist suggested the government's plans are "not as bad as critics would suggest, but not nearly as benign as the CRTC would have you believe."
But Geist says the real danger of the CRTC's announcement is that it is "the thin edge of the wedge with the registration requirement being the first step toward a far broader regulatory framework."
"In fact, the rationale for the CRTC to include many of the services is that without such information it is not well positioned to regulate. This creates an obvious contradiction: the Commission claims that the registration requirement is de minimis requiring the disclosure of only limited information but then also argues that such information is important to future decision making on compliance with the Broadcasting Act objectives," he writes.
The CRTC hints that a broad registry is in the works: that "exempting online undertakings that provide news services from the requirement to register would prevent the Commission from having an adequate understanding of the players providing such services. Without information about the online broadcasting undertakings involved in the Canadian broadcasting system, it would be much harder for the Commission to develop policies aimed at implementing the above-noted policy objectives of the Broadcasting Act and conform to the proposed direction."
The CRTC says "[a] third consultation is ongoing. It considers contributions traditional broadcasters and online streaming services will need to make to support Canadian and Indigenous content. The CRTC will hold a three-week public proceeding starting on November 20, 2023, and will hear from 129 intervenors representing a broad range of interests."
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