Evidence of meeting #30 for Canadian Heritage in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was content.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Konrad W. von Finckenstein  Chair, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
Scott Hutton  Executive Director, Broadcasting, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gary Schellenberger

I'll call the meeting to order. I think we'll all be here very shortly.

This is meeting 30 of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), for a study on the request of the CRTC to obtain the power to impose administrative monetary penalties.

We have two issues to deal with here today. That's the first one. The second one, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), is the study on the Internet content regulations.

We have, from the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, Konrad W. von Finckenstein, chair; Scott Hutton, executive director, broadcasting; and Namir Anani, executive director, policy development and research.

Welcome, gentlemen.

I understand that Mr. von Finckenstein's presentation will be on both issues, but we can treat them individually as we question.

Mr. von Finckenstein, would you make your presentation, please, sir.

3:35 p.m.

Konrad W. von Finckenstein Chair, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for inviting us to be here before you.

As you say, there are two points, Internet content and administrative monetary penalties. I will begin by addressing the topic of Internet content.

I am going to talk now about the regulatory background of the new media.

Unlike many other jurisdictions in the world, future technological developments were taken into consideration when drafting our Broadcasting Act. It does not refer to any specific technologies. As such, all types of broadcasting fall within the Commission’s mandate.

Ten years ago, we examined new media services that deliver broadcasting content over the Internet. After holding a public hearing, we concluded that these services were not having a discernible impact on conventional radio and television audiences and that regulation was not necessary to achieve the objectives of the Broadcasting Act.

Consequently, in 1999 we issued an exemption order for new media services, and in April 2006 we determined that broadcasting services received through cellphones, personal digital assistants and other mobile devices should also be exempted for similar reasons.

Naturally, the world has changed tremendously in the past decade. In particular, the broadcasting and telecommunication industries have converged and there have been significant advances in technologies.

In December 2006 we submitted a report to the government on the future technological environment facing the Canadian broadcasting industry. Our report found that new media services had yet to have an impact on conventional radio and television audiences. However, the report also advised that public policy action would have to be taken in the next three to seven years.

Given the rapid pace of change, we felt it was high time the commission take another look at the impact of new media services on traditional broadcasting systems. When I joined the commission in early 2007, I immediately launched a new media project initiative, the purpose of which was to investigate the social, economic, cultural, and technological issues associated with broadcasting in new media.

In two days we will be issuing a document called Perspectives on Canadian Broadcasting in New Media, which is a compilation of the research we have commissioned and views that we have obtained over the past year.

In parenthesis, I didn't know I was going to appear before you today. The document was always timed for Thursday, so it isn't ready. Otherwise I would have brought it with me today.

You will read in the document that recent studies show that Canadians are spending more and more time accessing all types of broadcasting content over the Internet and through mobile devices. The perspectives highlighted in the document also tell us that there are very different opinions on how to promote and support Canadian content in this environment.

Broadcasting in new media is becoming an increasingly important element of the Canadian broadcasting system. It is having an impact on traditional broadcasters. But is it a positive impact or a negative impact? Do the exemptions orders continue to be appropriate?

We have decided to ask the public to help us in answering these questions and in defining the issues related to broadcasting in new media. At the same time as we release Perspectives on Canadian Broadcasting in New Media, we will be launching a public consultation on the same day. We're seeking guidance from the public to verify that we have correctly identified the issues and are on the right track, and we want the public to help us structure a framework for public hearings that we plan to hold in early 2009.

I would like to be clear on one point. Our interest primarily lies in the distribution of professionally produced broadcasting content. That is, the same kind of high-quality Canadian content you would normally watch on television or hear on the radio. Our ultimate aim is to ensure that broadcasting in new media contributes to the achievement of the objectives of the Broadcasting Act.

Once Canadians have had a chance to weigh in with their views, we will issue a notice of the public hearing, probably towards the end of the summer, and we will outline the details of the hearing that we will hold on new media next year.

I would gladly return after our documents have been made public this Thursday to answer any further questions you may have as a result of the issue of those documents.

Now let me turn to the subject of AMPs. I was pleased to learn that your committee recently passed a motion to study our request for the power to impose AMPs or administrative monetary penalties. When I appeared before you in March, when you were studying Bill C-327, I raised the subject. I mentioned that the Telecommunications Act currently provides the commission with such powers, which it can use to enforce its policies in limited areas. In the case of the “do not call” list, we have the power to impose penalties on individuals and companies for each violation of the telemarketing rules. However, the commission does not have AMP powers under the Broadcasting Act. This creates a significant gap in our regulatory toolbox, as we can impose only penalties that are either relatively light or excessively heavy--or as one of your committee members said, we can either use a peashooter or a bomb, but nothing in between.

As you know, the commission grants licences and there are usually terms and conditions associated with them. If a licensee commits an infraction, we have at our disposal three options.

At the light end of the spectrum, we can wait until the end of the licence term and then impose more stringent conditions of licence during the renewal process. Given that licence terms can extend up to seven years, there can be a significant wait before we are able to act, especially if the infraction occurred early in the term.

At the more severe end of the spectrum, section 12 of the Broadcasting Act allows us to issue mandatory orders that effectively require licensees to abide by the rules, and we can file these in court. If the licensee refuses to abide by the order, we can launch contempt of court proceedings. Of course, contempt of court proceedings are criminal proceedings, and the standard of proof is beyond all reasonable doubt. It's a very difficult thing to pursue, and it's really not appropriate when we're talking about the violation of the term of a licence.

Finally, if we find that the licensee is still not in compliance we can call a hearing to determine whether we should suspend or revoke the licence--in effect, put the person out of business. That's at the very extreme end of the spectrum.

This is simply not an efficient way to make the system work. We need intermediary civil penalties to induce licensees to abide by the rules, without having to elevate their non-compliance to criminal behaviour. We should only have to resort to the courts in the most extreme of cases. Following my last appearance before you, we submitted a draft of an amended Broadcasting Act. I would encourage you to refer to it as you carry out your study.

A modern regulator needs AMP powers in all areas under its mandate. If we are to regulate with a lighter hand and provide broadcasters and BDUs with more latitude, then we must have the tools to ensure that licensees live up to their responsibilities.

It is my hope that at the conclusion of your study you will support our request for the power to impose AMPs. I would now be happy to answer any of your questions.

Thank you.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gary Schellenberger

Thank you for that.

The first person on the docket for questions is Ms. Fry.

May 13th, 2008 / 3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Thank you very much for presenting to us.

I think you make a good and clear case for looking at giving you other powers under AMPs.

I want to focus a little bit on the consultation on broadcasting in new media. It's interesting that you say your report found that “new media services had yet to have an impact on conventional radio and television audiences”. I don't think there is a single television station today that doesn't have Internet access to their news, to chat lines, to comments and questions and answers on whatever their topics are. It seems to almost be an extension now of the particular broadcast they did. I think it's important that this behaviour or this method of communicating with people also have some very clear guidelines for how they work.

So when you say you're not going to hold any public hearings until early 2009, that concerns me a little bit, because I think we are way behind all of the other countries in terms of looking at the issue of the digital platforms--all of them.

I want to ask you if you think your decision to wait until 2009 is a good one. Do you not believe you should be holding public hearings sooner, given that, as I said, all the television stations that I know of have various forms of talking to them, on the Internet and on various other platforms, and are reaching out to those platforms?

3:40 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Konrad W. von Finckenstein

You raised several points. Let me try to address them in order.

You mentioned that in 2006 we said it had yet to have an impact. Those were the views that were imparted to us, and that's what the CRTC reported.

Frankly, like you, I feel that was understating the issue. And therefore, when I became chairman, I immediately said we had to address this issue, this was coming at us, etc.

However, the issue is very complex and has lots of dimensions. There are as many views as there are people who you consult. And we, over the last year, commissioned a whole bunch of studies. We held seminars. We held colloques. We have participated in them in order to try to somehow figure out the total dimension of this new media.

Secondly, you asked what our aspect is. We are responsible for broadcasting, so I was very careful throughout my remarks to always say the “broadcasting in new media”. I'm looking only at broadcasting. I am not looking at Facebook. I am not looking at how it shapes it. I am looking only at broadcasting in new media.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

No, no, I understand that.

3:40 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Konrad W. von Finckenstein

We have now produced this document, which you will see on Thursday, which unfortunately, frankly, is not terribly structured, because the new media isn't structured. It is very complex. We've tried to put it in as systematic a frame as we can. We say, “Here it is. Now, really, what are the questions we should be asking in order to hold a meaningful hearing so we come to the root of it?” The root of it is obviously to what extent the media is another means of distribution of the broadcasting system, and to what extent we can use it to obtain the objectives of the Broadcasting Act. That's clear. That's the key question. But how do you get it, and what are the subjects? Do you look at incentives? Do you look at subsidies? Do you look at regulatory restraints or regulating attempts? All of that is what we are doing.

That's why we did it in two steps. We will get it out first of all to get a verification of whether or not we have it more or less right--our snapshot, you know--and then secondly to help us guide it.

Would I have loved to do it last year? Undoubtedly I would have. I wasn't here, unfortunately, and we had to do the preparatory work first of all to try to delineate the subject.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

I think this should have been done a long time ago. We're really behind on this, so I was just wondering why you were taking so long. I hear your answers, and I would just urge you to do this sooner rather than later.

3:45 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Konrad W. von Finckenstein

I hear you, Mrs. Fry, and if we can do it earlier, we shall.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Good.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gary Schellenberger

Thank you.

Ms. Mourani.

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I will deal first with the matter of administrative penalties, since we are going to talk about the Internet later on. Is that right?

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gary Schellenberger

You can proceed. We're on the subject of the Internet right now. That was the first question.

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

About the Internet, I am unfortunately in agreement with Ms. Fry. I think that this should be done quite quickly. You say that it is a very complex issue with lots of dimensions. You are right, it is very complex. This question has many dimensions.

I would like to know something about the consultations you are planning to hold in November. According to an article on the Internet, you were planning to hold these consultations in late 2008. If I understood correctly, the much talked-about report, which according to you will be ready in two days, should have been ready in March 2008. Is that right?

3:45 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Konrad W. von Finckenstein

Our document will be available on Thursday. At the same time, we will hold a consultation on the matters to be dealt with in connection with this document. Does this document really describe the situation accurately, and if so what are the questions stemming from it? We are going to hold consultations during the summer and, at the end of the summer, we are going to issue a formal notice stating our questions for the hearing on the new media. This hearing will take place next January.

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Do you think that the CRTC should regulate matters of content? I am not talking about Canadian content—that is part of the Act—but about hate and pedophile content found on Canadian sites within our jurisdiction? These are not foreign sites. You will say that the Criminal Code is there for pedophilia, but whether we like it or not, children are being exposed half naked in suggestive positions on Canadian sites. Do you think that it is also the role of the CRTC to withdraw licences from this kind of Canadian site? Will this be part of the questions and consultations?

3:45 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Konrad W. von Finckenstein

As you know, there are criminal cases to which the Criminal Code applies. Even with the new media, there are problems of evidence and jurisdiction. This can be dealt with by amending the Criminal Code. Having said that, it is not our job to deal with behaviours that are not criminal, even though they are not desirable. Children are the responsibility of their parents, who can use mechanical means to block things. There are also agencies that give you... What is the word I am looking for?

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

You may express yourself in English; that is not a problem for me.

3:50 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Konrad W. von Finckenstein

No, I must practise my French. If you ask me a question in French, I am going to try and answer it in French.

The new media providers, especially Internet service providers, are common carriers. They have no influence over content, they simply carry the electronic signals from a website to the user. They are prohibited under the law from discriminating or influencing content, unless we allow them to...

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Excuse me for interrupting you...

3:50 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Konrad W. von Finckenstein

Which standards should we set? How do we determine what is acceptable or not?

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

I am going to give you a very concrete example found on the Internet. Some Canadian sites show children aged 10, 12, 13 or 14, half naked in sexually explicit positions. They escape the Criminal Code. Is this your jurisdiction?

3:50 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Konrad W. von Finckenstein

If they escape the Criminal Code, then amend the Criminal Code. That is the best thing to do.

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

The CRTC does not handle that.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gary Schellenberger

Okay, another round.

Welcome back, Mr. Angus. I see you're down for the next question.