Media & Entertainment

Online broadcasters shouldn't be given special status

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) "Let’s Talk TV" hearings wrapped up last week, and as an article in The Globe and Mail points out, there are many questions the federal regulator has to ponder.

One of the most publicized issues to come out of these hearings is whether a “Netflix tax" should be imposed on online broadcasters to contribute to Canadian-content coffers.

Kevin Fisher, a litigation partner with Basman Smith LLP, is not a CRTC lawyer but does act on behalf of major Canadian and international broadcasters. He says he doesn’t think a tax is the best way to address Canadian-content issues.

“The best way to address the situation is to consider all broadcasting methods and not give special status to online broadcasting so as not to regulate it and make it immune from the rules and regulations that apply to other forms of broadcast,” he says. “New technologies may change the method of delivery but the rationale for the rules and regulations remains the same and should be applied accordingly.”

Fisher says one of the biggest issues for Canadian broadcasters versus online providers is the need for Canadian content, which puts money into the local industry through Canadian productions.

“This should be something that is a concern to everyone, as it means jobs in Canada and could lead to an erosion of what has taken decades to build up a strong industry in Canada,” he says.

Section 3 of the Broadcasting Act sets out the CRTC's mandate, and states that the Canadian broadcast system should “encourage the development of Canadian expression by providing a wide range of programming that reflects Canadian attitudes, opinions, ideas, values and artistic creativity, by displaying Canadian talent in entertainment programming and by offering information and analysis concerning Canada and other countries from a Canadian point of view.”

Traditional television broadcasters, for example, are required to ensure 50 per cent of prime-time programming qualifies as Canadian content. This creates an unlevel playing field as it relates to traditional broadcasters and online ones, says Fisher.

Rather than a tax, “The push should be to have them regulated the same in the Canadian context, particularly as more and more people are advising that they watch their programming online,” he says.

“Traditional broadcasters have to comply with a number of regulations, including ones regarding Canadian content that online broadcasters do not.”

The Globe reports that the CRTC is expected to respond by the end of the year.

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