Cultural groups want Canada's broadcast regulator to wade into the new media realm, as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on Tuesday kicked off a series of hearings investigating the issue.
While the call "doesn't mean the CRTC should regulate videos of kids or singing dogs on YouTube," said actor Colin Mochrie, inaction could mean "our stories will get lost and our culture will drown in a sea of non-Canadian content."
'[Regulation] doesn't mean the CRTC should regulate videos of kids or singing dogs.' —Actor Colin Mochrie
Mochrie and fellow actors Charlotte Arnold and Bruce Dinsmore spoke on behalf of the performers union ACTRA, which along with other groups is calling for the CRTC to reconsider the distribution of new media content as broadcasting.
They also urge the regulator to introduce a levy on internet service providers whereby three per cent of revenues would go to a fund that would specifically support the creation of Canadian online programming, from documentaries and webisodes to comedy skits and internet games.
"The new media issues being studied are really the same issues we heard about the old media for decades," Alain Pineau, national director of the Canadian Conference of the Arts, told CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein and a host of commissioners.
User-generated material such as personal videos uploaded to YouTube or content by fledgling new media companies are not what needs regulation, according to Pineau. He said the CRTC should focus on professional producers "who are repurposing TV and radio broadcasting" for users to consume online, on cellphones and via other new technologies.
"Broadcasting is broadcasting, no matter what the distribution form," Pineau said.
Levy could be modelled after TV fund
Likening ISPs to traditional television and radio broadcasters, both ACTRA and the CCA said that funds from the proposed levy could be modelled after the existing Canadian Television Fund.
However, any new funding should be earmarked specifically for new media, urged filmmaker Sturla Gunnarson, speaking as president of the Director's Guild of Canada.
"I see a fund as critical if we're going to ensure a presence in the new media universe for [Canadian productions] going forward," he said, after outlining examples of how film and TV creators are currently pushing the new media envelope with original, online-first productions.
'[Online funding is] not just a backdoor route for supporting TV production...I see it as an opportunity and not a threat.' —Director Sturla Gunnarson
"[This is] not just a backdoor route for supporting TV production," Gunnarson said. "I see it as an opportunity and not a threat...We don't see the conventional business model disappearing anytime soon. We see an integration of the two."
The hearings, held in Gatineau, Que., continue over the next few weeks, with representatives from internet service providers among those slated to speak in the latter half.
Levy proposal an unnecessary tax, say ISPs
However, communication industry giants Rogers and Bell are already voicing their displeasure at the proposed levy — which they have said they would pass on to consumers via increased fees.
Likening the levy to an unnecessary tax, Ken Engelhart, Rogers senior vice-president of regulatory affairs, said Canadian content already exists.
"People [already] visit Canadian websites," he told CBC News. "We don't see a reason why it needs a subsidy."
With everyone dealing with the current financial crisis, it isn't the time to introduce such measures, according to Mirko Bibic, Bell Canada's chief of regulatory affairs.
"Now's not the time to be taxing consumers or the industry. We're in difficult economic times and the last thing a consumer needs is to absorb an extra fee to fund Canadian new media content. I'd say the same thing goes with industry."
Trying to regulate internet and new media is an unwieldy proposition, David Silverberg, managing editor of social news site Digitaljournal.com, said Tuesday afternoon.
"I don't think it is possible [to regulate the internet]. I think the CRTC is just putting out its feelers out there to see what it can do," Silverberg said, adding that the regulator's mandate should focus on the promotion of online Canadian content.