Woke up today was confronted by yet another headline demonstrating why the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) must go.
For those who’ve never heard of the CRTC, it is the government agency that regulates Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications activities, the best-known of which is probably the Canadian content rules.
At the core of the proposal is a fundamental misunderstanding of the internet. The CRTC wishes to treat it like a broadcast medium – one where there are distinct roles of creators and consumers. Happily for us, this is not what the internet is. Instead it is what Clay Shirky describes as a communications medium – one where we are all talking to one another and where the distinction between creator and consumer has broken down.
So with that lens in mind, I encourage you to read the article. Below is my analysis:
Amid fears that Canada’s culture is being drowned in a sea of online video from around the world, federal regulators are looking at setting up a $100-million fund to support homegrown programming on the Internet… under a scenario proposed yesterday, Internet service providers could be asked to surrender 3 per cent of their subscriber revenue – roughly $100-million – to a fund that would help produce Canadian programs for the Web.
Is Canadian content being drowned out in a sea of online videos? I suppose. But so is everybody’s. It is the nature of the medium. What % of content on the internet is American, Indian, Chinese? Does it matter? Not really. Because people don’t surf the internet like they surf the radio or television – most often the seek out content. But the CRTC is used to a certain % of content being Canadian on the radio and television because it controlled how much content ended up on those mediums. This is their frame and why they can’t understand the internet.
Ironically, even though we don’t know what % of online content is Canadian what the CRTC cannot grasp is that since the advent of the internet ordinary Canadian both produced more content and – I’ll wager – consumed more Canadian content than ever before. Think of all the blogs, videos, podcasts made by ordinary Canadians that are sharing Canadian stories over the web. Think of this blog. Ensuring Canadian stories get shared is core to the CRTC’s mandate. And yet, for all their discussion about Canadian content the CRTC does not include content created by all those Canadians who’ve previously could never tell their stories.
Why? Because none of us have title of “producer” or “writer” or “actor” in the CRTC’s eyes. We (Canadians) don’t count as culture.
More ironically, the one thing you often can’t find online (and/or has been slow to get online) is the very media the CRTC does count as culture and that it seeks to protect – the Canadian TV and radio shows broadcast on CTV, CBC and Global. These artifacts of the broadcast era have fought or denied the existence if the internet, who have been the slowest to make their content available to us, now want us to foot the bill for creating their content.
What I can be certain of is that the $100 million raised by the CRTC will not go towards Canadians telling their story on the web. My blog, your blog, your podcast, or your video of the play you wrote, none of these will never see the CRTC’s money. Instead a public servant somewhere in Ottawa will determine what is “Canadian” not so we can promote Canadians stories, but so that we can prop the old and dying business model of broadcast media – the expensive production facilities, the hierarchies of managers and staffers that are necessary to produce older media like television.
Nor is this is not about protecting artists – writers, actors, singers – they all thrived before the advent of television, and they will thrive after its demise in ways we cannot imagine. Again, this is not about them. It is about an industry trying to prop up a dying broadcast medium and a government agency trying to assert control over what can be defined as Canadian.
Both are problematic and have no place in a networked world. As a closing counter factual, imagine a tax on your phone designed to raised funds to ensure a certain % of all phone calls in the world were being conducted by Canadians. A fund designed to pay people to make “Canadian” phone calls. That is what this is. At the very time when we need the internet to be free and as cheap as possible so those with the fewest resources can make use of it to tell their stories, organize protests, create a new business or just find a job, we are going to try to make it more expensive.
In short. Are Canadians lost in a sea of content? Yes. And they are thriving in it. More Canadian stories are being told than ever before. Moreover, I never watched Canadian content on television, but today I read numerous Canadian blogs, and listen to the occasional podcast. I never consumed so much Canadian media in my life. Moreover, never has Canadian content been so widely viewed. Readers of even this small blog come from around the world.
What we don’t need is a tax that makes it more expensive for ordinary Canadians to tell their stories. We don’t need a levy that props up a dying business model. We don’t need a government agency that defines what is “Canadian culture.” Arguing against this proposal is not the most important battle of our time, but it is worth fighting against. Today Canadian culture is a free culture, increasingly defined and created by Canadians. That’s the promise of the internet, why would we fight that?