CRTC chair says online streaming bill won't police user-generated content, algorithms
Previous comments about controversial bill were 'taken out of context,' chair of broadcasting regulator says
The chair of Canada's broadcasting regulator says a controversial online streaming bill will not result in the policing of user-generated content or the mandating of specific algorithms on platforms.
Ian Scott told the Senate committee studying the bill on Wednesday that his previous comments about the federal Liberals' controversial online streaming legislation, Bill C-11, were "taken out of context."
The bill is an attempt to bring Canada's broadcasting rules into the 21st century by creating a policy framework that would apply for the first time to giants such as YouTube, TikTok and Spotify.
Scott had previously suggested at a meeting of the same committee that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) could require platforms to "manipulate" their algorithms to produce certain results — a statement that all three companies raised as a serious concern in their own parliamentary testimony.
"Unfortunately, my previous remarks have been taken out of context by some witnesses that have appeared before you," Scott told senators.
"The CRTC's objective is to ensure that Canadians are made aware of Canadian content and that they can find it. It is not about manipulating algorithms," he said.
"What the bill will not do is allow the CRTC to mandate the use of specific algorithms or source code to achieve the objective of promotion and discoverability. And we have no issue with that limitation."
Scott noted that any regulatory obligations put on online platforms would be subject to public consultations first.
CRTC won't regulate content creators, chair says
Asked whether the bill's Canadian content rules mean that the regulator will be looking to push the content on Canadian users, he said: "The CRTC is not, has not, and will not be trying to direct what consumers watch."
He said it's not about making Canadians eat — it's about making sure that there are Canadian dishes in front of them.
Scott acknowledged during a question-and-answer period with senators that a platform could choose to change its algorithm as one way to meet their new obligations.
But he said there are other ways to achieve the legislation's goals, and these could include internal or external ad campaigns, curated lists or promotional reels, he said.
Amid concerns that the bill leaves room for the CRTC to regulate user-generated content, Scott said there is no intention to do so.
"The CRTC is not being given the power to regulate individual users in relation to the content they create," he said. "And I wish to assure you and Canadians more broadly that the CRTC has no intention of regulating individual TikTokers, YouTubers or other digital content creators."
Lack of clarity leaves act up to interpretation, critics say
But some senators pushed back, saying that a lack of clarity in the bill could leave room for future CRTC officials to interpret the act differently.
As the bill is written, there is no explicit prohibition on the regulation of such content.
As senators suggested various amendments to the bill that would address concerns, Scott made it clear that he was "not trying to defend the legislation."
"That's the job of the minister and the department," he said. "It is for you as lawmakers to decide on the ultimate content, not me."
Asked whether it's important for legislation to be clear so the affected stakeholder community has clarity, Scott answered: "Yes."