Addicted to novelty since 2001

Canadian Artists Want to Regulate the Internet?

Warren points to a peculiar article in the Montreal Gazette. I read it twice, and I still don’t quite understand the point.

A coalition of arts groups is asking Ottawa to protect the Canadian identity by regulating the Internet, which so far has remained untouched by government oversight in this country.

The group of 18 associations of content creators – most of them from Quebec – says the Internet should be subject to the same rules as TV and radio – that is, it should have more Canadian-made content.

Also, artists should get a cut of the money Internet providers make every time Canadian content is transmitted to homes, said Richard Hardacre, president of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists.

What’s the real story here? I don’t think it’s artists hungry for cash, and here’s why:

  • In a world where file sharing is ubiquitous and web regulation is relegated to Saudi Arabia and China, only an imbecile would think that Canada could and would control Internet content.
  • No actual artist is quoted in the article, nor are any of the other “18 associations” cited. Given that we’re talking about Canadian arts and culture, I would have liked to have heard from a Canadian artist.
  • The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists is also known as ACTRA, and they’re a labour union.
  • Richard Hardacre, the ACTRA president, has no ideas about how this regulation might take place, or what it might look like. He says (I’m not sure if I hear irony or not) “”We have great deal of faith in the CRTC. We’re just asking them to not let this remain the Wild West.”

Reframing the Issue

I’m ill-informed, but let me speculate. ACTRA is a protectionist organization, and according to a recent press release, fears foreign ownership. That release specifically identifies “CanWest Global’s U.S.-funded takeover of one of Canada’s leading media companies” as a threat. They’re reframing the foreign ownership issue, arguing that it will “damage our cultural sovereignty, deepen the crisis in Canadian drama and potentially jeopardize Canadian content rules”.

CanWest also owns the Montreal Gazette, where this story was reported. They were all too happy to go along with the CanCon angle, because it directs attention away from the corporate takeover and union’s true concerns about job loss.

Does anybody have the average Canadian news consumer in mind? Nope. Both parties seem to be intentionally obfuscating the truth.

I’ve invited both Roberto Rocho, the Gazette journalist, and Mr. Hardacre to clarify things. Specifically, I’ve asked Mr. Rocho why no artists were quoted in the story, and why none of the other arts organizations were mentioned. I’ve asked Mr. Hardacre to provide some specific information about the kind of regulation he’d like to see.

UPDATE (December 4, 2007): I failed to recognize that this article was actually about a month old. My bad, there.

UPDATE #2 (December 4, 2007): I heard back from Mr. Rocho, who wrote article. With his permission, I’ll quote his response:

Now, as to why other artists weren’t quoted, the answer is simple: none of the artists organizations I contacted returned my calls in time. Only ACTRA.

I wasn’t satisfied with only Mr. Hardacre’s voice in my story, since one in 18 hardly satisfies my idea of a representative view. But given that all groups put their names of the press release and showed a united front, given deadline demands, it had to do.

Personally, I found it hard to believe that hundreds of content makers spanning 18 groups can all be this monumentally clueless about the reality of the Internet. But my personal opinion shouldn’t matter. I reported the information that was available to me at the time.

5 Responses to “Canadian Artists Want to Regulate the Internet?”

  1. Darren James Harkness

    The problem is that there’s no real way to know if content is “Canadian” or not. Does its placement on a Canadian-based server make it Canadian? What about Canadian content hosted on foreign servers (ie: flickr.com)? And what do you define as “content”? Blog posts? Photographs? Comments? Of course, this ignores the debate around CanCon to begin with (I can’t find the reference at the moment, but I remember reading Douglas Coupland suggesting that CanCon was responsible for all the ‘Margaret Ondaatje’s’ of Canadian literature — the the artificial lack of competition with American cultural content made for less compelling Canadian works: everything ended up looking like a Margaret Atwood or Michael Ondaatje novel.

    The difficulty in regulating content on the Internet is why, in 1998 after a public opinion-gathering, the CRTC decided not to regulate it. It’s a near-impossible task that has no real benefit.

  2. JB

    Hey Darren –

    I think that these are totally separate issues, and as such I think that you’re making something of a false comparison. ACTRA is a “protectionist organization” only insofar as it’s a Canadian union, and their press release is much more than a “reframing the foreign ownership issue”. However, their press release is pretty vague and definitely doesn’t do a very good job of explaining to the “average Canadian news consumer” (as you put it) exactly what’s so scary about this deal. They’re certainly not the only film and or television organization in this country to be spooked by Goldman Sachs’ pending takeover (and yes, it’s a takeover) of Can West Global and Alliance Atlantis (the Canadian Film & Television Producers’ Association and the Friends Of Canadian Broadcasting, just to name two other organizations, have also expressed serious concerns). Hardacre’s absolutely right when he characterizes the deal as “foreign ownership by the back door” and he’s dead on when he says it’s a violation of Broadcasting Act and Canadian public policy.

    As Darren J.H. has noted, the CRTC doesn’t regulate Canadian content on the internet, and nor should it, because as we all agree, it couldn’t even it wanted to, and that’s only the whole point of teh internets anyways, that it’s unregulated, and so I do think Hardacre is posturing here. Canadian airwaves *can* be regulated, however, and they are, by the CRTC, which enforces the Broadcasting Act. Whether one thinks Canadian airwaves *should* be regulated is really a socio-political debate, but if one believes, as I do, that one of the things that very generally defines a culture is its ability to tell its own stories and see itself reflected in those stories, then one can see what Hardacre’s getting at when he says that “[i]ncreased foreign control of broadcasting would damage our cultural sovereignty”. A US investment bank – and not just any US Investment Bank, but Goldman Sachs – Goldman Sachs, for fuck’s sake, one of the largest most secretive firms in the world – is for all intents and purposes going to own not only a Canadian broadcaster but also a Canadian distributor – thousands and thousands and thousands of hours of award winning Canadian film and television. If it’s protectionist to be considered about this, well, call me protectionist. Hardacare’s reference to “the crisis in Canadian drama”, on the other hand, is a very specific reference to Canadian private broadcaster’s pathetic track record on the one hand of investing in Canadian television shows and feature films (mostly through pre-licensing) – i.e. supporting not only Canadian culture but an actual Canadian industry – and their obscene track record on the other hand of spending their obscene profits on obscene American shows for their lineups. They’re also constantly lobbying for relaxation of the Canadian content regulations without which there would be no indigenous film and television industry. (Cf. Jim Shaw’s outrageous campaign against the Canadian Television Fund). It’s no exaggeration to say that without the CRTC we would be watching nothing but American shows and seeing nothing but American feature films. This isn’t anti-Americanism – this is concern for our cultural sovereignty, which is just about all the sovereignty we have left. If an American company effectively owns a Canadian broadcaster and distributor, then this will indeed “potentially jeopardize Canadian content rules” as Hardacre puts it. IMHO this isn’t just another American takeover of another Canadian company, and Hardacre and ACTRA are right to try to draw attention to the very high stakes here.

  3. Ryan Anderson

    Speaking as someone who like you, Darren, comes from a background in theatre, I know a lot of actors and have found that organizations like ACTRA do more to prevent the success of Canadian actors than to promote it.

    Stupid moves like this smack of a sense of entitlement that drives me crazy. If they want more Canadian content on the web, allow your members to promote themselves online. Most of the serious actors I know would love to be able to do use YouTube to promote themselves, but the union won’t allow it.

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