CRTC chair says online streaming bill won’t police user-generated content, algorithms

A controversial online streaming bill won’t lead to regulation of user-generated content or enforce specific algorithms on platforms, the chairman of Canada’s broadcasting regulator said.

Ian Scott told a Senate committee studying the bill on Wednesday that his previous comments on the federal Liberals’ controversial online streaming legislation, Bill C-11, were “taken out of context”.

The bill seeks to bring Canada’s broadcasting rules into the 21st century by creating a policy framework that, for the first time, applies to giants such as YouTube, TikTok and Spotify.

Scott had previously suggested at a meeting of the same committee that the CRTC could require platforms to “manipulate” their algorithms to produce certain outcomes — a statement that all three companies expressed serious concern about in their own parliamentary testimony.

“Unfortunately, my previous remarks were taken out of context by some of the witnesses who have appeared before you,” Scott told senators.

“The goal of the CRTC is to make sure Canadians know about Canadian content and that they can find it. It’s not about manipulating algorithms,” he said. “What the bill would not do is allow the CRTC to mandate the use of specific algorithms or source code to achieve the goals of outreach and discoverability. We have no problem with that limitation.”

Scott added that any regulatory obligations on online platforms would first be subject to public comment. That would include a definition of “Canadian content,” which he said should evolve over time.

Asked whether the bill’s Canadian content rules meant the regulator would seek to push content to Canadian users, he said: “The CRTC has not, has not, and will not try to guide consumers on what to watch.”

He said it’s not about getting Canadians to eat — it’s about making sure they have Canadian food in front of them.

During a question-and-answer session with senators, Scott acknowledged that platforms could choose to change their algorithms as a way to meet their new obligations.

But he said there are other ways to achieve legislative goals, which could include internal or external advertising campaigns, curated listings or promotional reels, he said.

Concerned that the bill leaves room for the CRTC to regulate user-generated content, Scott said he has no intention of doing so.

“The CRTC is not empowered to police individual users in relation to the content they create,” he said. “I want to assure you and Canadians more broadly that the CRTC has no intention of policing individual TikTokers, YouTube users or other digital content creators.”

But some senators objected, saying the bill’s lack of clarity could leave room for future CRTC officials to interpret it differently. As the bill writes, there is no express prohibition on policing such content.

Scott reiterated that the CRTC is “not interested” in doing such regulation, and that even if jurisdiction existed, “it would be pointless.”

As senators suggested various amendments to the bill to fix the problem, Scott made it clear he was “not trying to defend the legislation.”

“This is a job for ministers and departments,” he said. “Ultimately it’s up to the legislators, not me.”

Asked whether it was important to clarify the legislation so that it would be clear to the community of affected stakeholders, Scott replied: “Yes.”

Several senators asked about a provision in the bill that some critics fear would give the government extraordinary new powers to influence how the bill is implemented.

Scott insisted that the CRTC is independent, arguing that government discretion would not apply to its individual rulings. “There is a very clear line. I have never, and will never discuss issues with ministers or anyone else in our presence,” he said.

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