Is Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly the cat being set upon the Cancon pigeons by the new Liberal government?
It is sure starting to look that way, and the results will potentially be a radical shakeup of Canadian content legislation and regulations that have long been left untouched.
In late February, in an interview with On The Coast on the subject of CBC/Radio Canada, Joly stated she would be launching a series of consultations about CBC's new focus on digital, asking, "How can we support Canadian content in a digital age?"
According to a CBC news item, she also hinted that changes might be coming to the Broadcasting and the Telecommunications acts, which, in her words, "were developed 30 years ago, when it was really a much more analogous way of thinking."
She expanded on these thoughts in an interview with the Globe and Mail’s Daniel Leblanc that appeared in print on Saturday--and that’s already being widely discussed as one can see with over 4k shares at time of print.
The interview coincided with Joly’s announcement of her office’s review of Canadian content rules and regulations designed to foster creation of Canadian content, and increase the international audience for Canadian creators.
According to The Globe and Mail, in announcing the launch of consultations with consumers and creators of cultural content, Joly says she is willing to change laws such as the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act, modify the mandates of the CRTC and the CBC, and create new laws or agencies, as needed. The scale of the coming upheaval hasn’t been seen in 25 years when the Mulroney government revised the Broadcasting Act (in 1991) and long before the arrival of YouTube, Netflix and iTunes.
The august national broadsheet quotes Joly as saying that “I think the current model is broken, and we need to have a conversation to bring it up to date and make sure we harness its full potential. For a long time, politicians have been afraid to deal with these difficult issues, but I don’t understand why it wasn’t done.… The issue is how can the government be relevant today, instead of being left behind,"
Her stance has taken the broadcast and music industries by surprise as this review of Canada’s cultural policies was not included in the Liberals’ pre-election platform.
The Globe story notes that “in the first five months in her position, Joly has had a series of conversations with key players in Canada’s cultural industries who complained about Ottawa’s inability to respond to ongoing changes.”
She sounds like a woman on a modernization mission. “I’m a Heritage Minister who thinks about digital technology first and foremost, that’s how I consume information and music. I’m a product of my generation,” Joly says in the widely re-framed interview.
She notes that her 2013 mayoral race in Montreal – where she finished in second place behind Denis Coderre – was run mostly on social media. “All of my career was built outside of traditional models,” she says. “For me, all of these reflections on digital technologies and the model that we will build after these consultations, that will be the cornerstone of my mandate at Heritage.”
In the online consultation process, Canadians will be asked about key and controversial issues facing Canada’s broadcasting and cultural industries, including existing limits on foreign ownership of media companies and the Canadian content rules for television and radio. The document also seeks input on what should be the CBC’s priorities for the future, offering choices such as focusing on local content, reflecting the country’s diversity, fostering a new generation of creative talent or offering all of its content on a variety of platforms, including digital.
The questionnaire can be filled out until May 20, and will be used to prepare a second phase of consultations, dubbed “Strengthening Canadian Content, Discovery and Export in a Digital World.” A yet-to-be-announced panel of experts will oversee the process, to be completed by the end of the year.
It is reported that Joly and International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland will prepare a new cultural export strategy in 2017, with The Globe reporting that Joly “will also start acting on the recommendations to come out of the consultations to implement the necessary changes to Ottawa’s “cultural-policy toolkit.
“We will not come up with solutions to all of the transformations that flow from the technologies that change the way we act and live,” Ms. Joly told the paper, adding she hopes to find the best way to nurture and distribute Canadian content.
“I look at it this way: ‘If there was no model in place, what model would we create? And given the existing model in place, how do we transform our tools – both regulatory and legislative – to develop this new model?’” the feisty Liberal cabinet minister says.
Canadian Heritage state that this questionnaire is “to help us establish the scope of these consultations. Your answers will be used to better define the themes and questions that will be used to guide the consultations.”
The Globe story was quickly picked up by other media outlets. On Sunday, The International Business Times gave it major play, noting that “Canada's Liberal government is prepared to overhaul the country's laws governing broadcasting, media and cultural industries to support local content.”
Their piece also noted that “last year the government eliminated its 55 percent requirement for local shows on over-the-air TV, with the CTRC saying the protections were no longer relevant in a world of abundance and choice. The regulator's decision is not expected to take effect until 2017.”
The IBT also mentions the disruptive effect such services as Netflix have had on the Canadian TV industry. That theme was also explored in the Globe and Mail feature, which quoted Elliott Anderson, director of public policy at the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA). He observed that he wanted regulations that “ensure Internet broadcasters play by the same rules as traditional broadcasters. More and more Canadians are turning to Internet broadcasters like Netflix when they’re looking for film and television programming. However, unlike traditional broadcasters, Internet broadcasters are exempted from any regulation under the Broadcasting Act. This means they do not contribute to media production funds, which help fund Canadian productions and ensure Canadian stories are told on our screens.”
Minister Joly is kicking things off with a discussion paper declaring that she and her Heritage colleagues will consult with Canadians about “information and entertainment content as presented in television, radio, film, digital media and platforms, video games, music, books, newspapers and magazines.”
In a separate Globe and Mail feature, Simon Houpt reflects on Joly’s mission, calling it “a move fraught with risk and opportunity." Continuing, he writes: "Ms. Joly could have simply fulfilled the Liberal campaign promise of more money for the CBC, National Film Board and Telefilm Canada and then taken her phone off the hook. But, as a digital native who lives on her iPhone (and who has seen her boss, Justin Trudeau, savvily use the unregulated platforms of social media to connect directly with voters), she recognizes that the sector urgently needs attention as much as it does money, especially after the previous government’s posture toward culture vacillated for years between neglect and open hostility.
"In floating the idea of blowing up the entire system, Joly is trying to get ahead of the disruptive forces that are straining creators and broadcasters alike, even as they hold enormous promise for consumers. But the recent history of technological disruptions – from Uber to the Arab Spring – has shown how easily governments can crumple. How will the Liberals hold that tiger by the tail?”
This story is just beginning. Stay tuned.