Canada’s Online Streaming Law Excludes Social Media Creators and Podcasts from Regulation

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This combination of images shows logos for companies from left, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. THE CANADIAN PRESSS/AP-file

The Canadian Liberal government has finalized its policy direction for the much-discussed Online Streaming Act, setting a clear boundary between digital giants and individual content creators. The Act, initially known as Bill C-11, marks a significant step in modernizing Canada’s broadcasting laws, aiming to include major online streaming services within the national broadcasting framework while exempting social media creators and podcasters from regulation.

Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge emphasized the need for the broadcasting sector to adapt to contemporary Canadian media consumption habits, largely shifting towards online platforms. “The sector needs to adapt to where the Canadian public is today. And we know Canadians look for their news and content online,” St-Onge stated in Montreal. “This is a really important step to modernize this sector and to make sure that our Canadian voices are strong and alive in the online world.”

The final policy direction from the federal government instructs the CRTC to not impose regulations on social media content creators or podcasters.

The finalized policy direction mandates online broadcasters to contribute to the creation, production, and distribution of Canadian content, supporting Indigenous and original French-language programming. However, it explicitly instructs the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to exclude social media content creators and podcasters from its regulatory scope. This delineation addresses concerns regarding potential censorship and overreach into individual creativity and expression.

The CRTC’s role will be pivotal in crafting regulations to implement the Act, including significant public consultations to define or redefine Canadian content. These consultations will involve discussions with Indigenous, ethnocultural groups, and official language minority communities, ensuring a comprehensive and inclusive approach.

Despite the government’s assurances, the Conservative Party remains critical of the Act. Conservative MP Rachael Thomas, the heritage critic for her party, argued against the legislation: “Instead of removing barriers and giving creators and consumers freedom, the Liberal government is telling homegrown talent they will not succeed unless they meet the approval of government bureaucrats in Ottawa.” The Conservatives have vowed to repeal the Act if they come to power, citing concerns of governmental overreach.

Canadian Conservative leader, Pierre Poilievre

The Online Streaming Act, representing a significant shift in Canada’s approach to broadcasting and content creation, sets a precedent in balancing the promotion of national content with the freedom of individual creators. While its full implementation is still years away, the Act’s final policy direction marks the end of the government’s direct involvement in its formulation, transitioning the focus to the CRTC’s upcoming regulatory process.

With the Act’s focus on supporting Canadian and Indigenous content while safeguarding the creative autonomy of individual content creators, the Canadian media landscape looks set for a transformation that aligns with the evolving digital era. The next few years will be crucial in observing how these policies shape the country’s cultural and digital narratives.