This article originally appeared in the Epoch Times.
By Peter Menzies, October 10, 2023
Perhaps you like listening to podcasts produced by the likes of Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson, and Joe Rogan.
Maybe you lean to the left and tune in to the rabble.ca podcasting network in Canada or, in the States, Al Franken.
You might not even be into politics at all. Your interests might focus on food, fashion, travel, celebrity news, movies, or music.
Here’s something you need to know: Going forward, all your favourite podcasts will be transmitted and overseen under the keen regulatory eye of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and its nine cabinet appointees.
Your days of enjoying a free and open internet are over.
That’s because the CRTC declared, in its first decisions since being granted authority over the global internet through the Online Streaming Act (Bill C-11), that podcasts meet its definition of “programming.” That means, according to the federal regulator, that the transmission of such “programming” constitutes “broadcasting” which in turn leads to the definition of any platform distributing podcasts as a broadcasting distributor, which most of us know as a cable company.
So, thanks to all that regulatory legerdemain, platforms that distribute podcasts must now register with the CRTC so that it can decide how, in the words of Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge, to “best support” podcasts.
You will hear a lot in the weeks and months to come from St-Onge and CRTC Chair Vicky Eatrides about how they won’t be regulating podcasters—absolutely not!—and their content, just like they “don’t regulate” television and radio programs.
They may even honestly believe that. If they do, they are living in a world of self-delusion and denial; virtually everything the CRTC does in terms of broadcasting dictates the terms and conditions under which those programs are allowed to exist.
Broadcasting licences detail—in many cases to the minute—what sort of programming will be transmitted, when, and in what proportion. And—here’s the crunch—it is the CRTC’s responsibility under its governing legislation to make sure “the programming over which a person who carries on a broadcasting undertaking has programming control should be of high standard”—as subjective a measure as is imaginable.
To meet that obligation while avoiding getting the regulator’s hands dirty, the radio and television industry “volunteered” decades ago to “self-regulate” through the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC), to which virtually all radio and television operators except for the CBC belong.
The CBSC’s most notable decision of late was its somewhat grudging acceptance—despite the complaint lodged by a single viewer outraged by its racism and misogyny—that CHCH-TV’s “Happy Days” reruns did not violate its code despite there being “no doubt that some components of the program may not be pleasant for some viewers.”
It also famously—again, based on a complaint from a single listener—declared that the Dire Straits iconic 1985 song “Money For Nothing” could no longer be played because one of the characters portrayed through its parody lyrics uses a homophobic slur. You may agree with this or you may disagree. But it is, without question, censorship.
The CBSC’s code of conduct is overseen by the CRTC, to which it files an annual report, and its decisions regarding complaints can be appealed to the commission. As it proved when it sanctioned Radio-Canada for allowing the N-word to be spoken on air, the CRTC doesn’t hesitate to assume the role of censor when called upon to do so.
Censorship is a business it has been in for decades.
The organization just prefers to do it by stealth, which is why podcasters need to be afraid—very afraid—that what the CRTC is going to come up with is a set of rules governing the transmission of podcasts by the likes of YouTube, Spotify, and any other platform with revenue of more than $10 million. There is no reason to expect this will unfold much differently than it did with the creation of the CBSC, which established a system of self-censorship that has hovered over Canadian broadcasters since 1991.
Don’t take just my word for it.
“Broadcasters in this country have a long history of self-censorship, whether through the ‘independent’ Canadian Broadcast Standards Council or just in the privacy of their own head offices,” wrote Globe and Mail columnist and CBC panelist Andrew Coyne recently when assessing the CRTC’s podcast decision. “And now we can look forward to the same online.”
What Canadians have been experiencing through their CRTC-governed and controlled broadcasting system is an arrangement through which the scope of opinion, the range of perspectives, and the manner in which they are expressed are carefully and meticulously curated. This is done through an unspoken but deeply embedded mutual understanding between the regulator and broadcasting companies. You, as a consumer of content, have no say.
They think that’s fine. It’s really all they know.
I don’t think that’s fine. Not at all. And, if you value your freedom, neither should you.
Peter Menzies is a senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an award winning journalist, and former vice-chair of the CRTC.