Broadcasting Act and on-Line Harms


Sir Douglas Barrett, QC, King’s Bench, 1692-1764, precursor of Canada’s broadcasting legal fraternity



I see that broadcasting lawyer Doug Barrett is suggesting we vote anything but Conservative because they threaten delay in the passage and implementation of the Broadcasting Act, as expressed in the late bill C10. If you care abut people’s freedom to communicate across the Internet without prior permission, I would suggest that you vote for anyone who comes closest to scrapping the Broadcasting Act, and while they are at it, dismantling the CRTC and starting again.

The issue is: do we need a Broadcasting Act? By which I mean, do we need a comprehensive scheme of state licensing of privileged speakers called broadcasters? Does the industrial model of a closed shop of privileged speakers make any sense at this stage? The Internet has been invented, and the broadcasting lawyers are upset that communications is being reformed without their say-so. Their business model is under threat, and their reaction has been to seek a vast expansion of regulatory authority in the CRTC by calling every transmission broadcasting that carries audio-visual messages. Then they propose to exempt private communications from the definition of “broadcasting”. Minions of Peter Grant, Janet Yale and Doug Barrett can count the packets and determine whether something is preponderantly  audio-visual or alpha numeric, and make legal distinctions accordingly.

Sounds like a terrific employment for life plan for Canadian broadcasting lawyers.

The Internet Society Canada Chapter has been arguing for the converse approach. Treat everything as the Internet and by very great exception, where we still need a licensed system, maintain the licensed broadcasting regime. In my opinion we do not need a licensed system for anything except over the air signal transmitters, which was the original intention of the Broadcasting Act back in the 1930s when the idea still reflected reality.

C-10 was the triumph of a control ideology over the facts of the Internet. It came very close to enactment. The resolute opposition of the Internet Society Canada Chapter and many others succeeded, for a time, in holding back the rising tide of statist speech control

And the regulatory hubris it foresaw was as nothing compared to the on-line harms legislation that the Liberals are proposing. Unless you are a broadcasting lawyer, I see very little reason to favour the current government’s plans for crushing the Internet. Doubt me? Just read the consultation document.


PS The MacDonald Laurier Institute has published a thoughtful piece by Irene Berkowitz and Peter Menzies called “Back to the Future: How Canada can become a global leader in digital communications policy”. It presents the views I would like to see incorporated into Canadian communications policy. Given the current government’s ideas on communications, the chances of this happening are slightly better than zero.


To top