Online-streaming bill closer to passing after House OKs most Senate amendments

Online-streaming bill closer to passing after House OKs most Senate amendments
Minister of Heritage Pablo Rodriguez responds to a question during a session at the Canadian Media Producers Association Prime Time conference, Thursday, February 2, 2023 in Ottawa. The Liberal government's controversial Online Streaming Act is one step closer to passing after the House of Commons approved most of the Senate's amendments to the bill.

A Liberal government bill that would require online streaming services to contribute to Canadian content is one step closer to passing after the House of Commons approved most of the Senate’s amendments to the proposed legislation.

If passed, Bill C-11 would update broadcasting rules to include online streaming and require tech giants such as YouTube, Netflix and Spotify to make Canadian content available to users in Canada — or face steep penalties.

On Thursday evening, the House agreed to adopt Senate amendments that reinforce the promotion of Indigenous languages and Black content creators, and seek to ensure that funds collected from tech giants go toward promoting diversity, equity and inclusion.

The move received quick praise from those who advocate for the arts and media industry.

“Canadians deserve the ability to see their own stories, culture and points of view included in their content options. That is what C-11 is ultimately about,” said Neal McDougall, assistant executive director of the Writers Guild of Canada, in a statement Friday.

However, Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois MPs rejected a key amendment that YouTube had advocated for, which was worded to add further protections for people who upload content and shield them from government regulation.

Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has said his government is against the amendment because it could create a loophole for big companies to avoid following the law.

The House also rejected a Senate amendment that would have required companies to verify users’ ages before they access sexually explicit material online, and a change that would have prohibited CBC from producing sponsored content.

FRIENDS, a public broadcasting advocacy group, said “powerful, well-financed interests” have lined up against the bill. The group said in a statement that it will continue to support the purpose of the bill, which is to help Canadian voices tell Canadian stories.

For the last year, the proposed law has come under intense scrutiny amid accusations from companies and critics who said it left too much room for government control over user-generated content and social-media algorithms.

The U.S. government has also raised concerns that the law could discriminate against American companies, with some U.S. senators calling for a trade crackdown.

The Opposition Conservatives have fought heavily against its passage throughout various stages of the bill, dubbing it a “censorship” law because they argue it is designed to interfere with the algorithms that affect the content people see.

Big tech companies explained in their testimony to committees studying the bill that they design their algorithms so each user sees content specifically tailored to them. The algorithms are shaped by how much time people spend on content, including video, pictures and music, whether they like or share it and if they click on similar content.

“Instead of having algorithms that give people things they want to see, there will be algorithms that give people things the government wants them to see,” Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said in the House of Commons earlier this month.

But the Liberal government continues to insist the bill won’t regulate everyday content creators, or require social media and big tech companies to alter their algorithms.

Because the House rejected some of the senators’ amendments, the bill will now return to the Senate, where it must pass another vote before it can become law. That will not happen until later this month, when Parliament returns from a two-week Easter break.

Senators could choose to amend the bill again and send it back to the House, but that approach is rare.

“The Senate made meaningful contributions to the legislative process, and as a result, Bill C-11 has been improved,” Sen. Marc Gold, the government representative in the Senate, said in a statement.

“I am optimistic that a majority of senators will accept the decision made by the elected chamber.”

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2023. 

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