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Peter Menzies: The CRTC said it would leave podcasts alone. Turns out that was a myth

Commentary

The CRTCCanadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has backtracked on its promise to leave podcasts alone.

On May 12, the federal regulator stated in its “Myths and Facts” release that concerns it would regulate content such as podcasts were a “myth” and the “fact” of the matter was that “a person who creates audio or video content or creates a podcast, is not a broadcaster under” the Online Streaming Act (Bill C-11).

That “fact” didn’t live long. It expired September 29 when, in its first decisions since being granted authority over the internet, the CRTC changed lanes.

While it was careful to state that podcasters themselves don’t have to register with the Commission, the web-based platforms that make podcasts available must do so. Indeed, podcasters may not be broadcasters, but very much as predicted by the legislation’s critics, the CRTC has found ways to bring them into scope anyway.

It decided that podcasts constitute “programs under the Broadcasting Act, given that they are comprised of sounds intended to inform, enlighten or entertain.”

The regulator’s decision further explains that while podcasters may not be broadcasters, the transmission of podcasts over the internet most definitely “constitutes broadcasting” which makes those entities that platform podcasts into cable companies.

So whike the CRTC concedes that while “the Broadcasting Act does not give the Commission a mandate to regulate creators of programs” it nevertheless makes clear that its powers do cover “those services that are involved in the broadcasting of programs, which are referred to as broadcasting undertakings.”

Is your head spinning yet?

The legal contortions continue throughout the decision, but the clear takeaway, the bottom line, is that, while it keeps insisting it doesn’t intend to regulate the content of podcasts, it is very concerned about the content of podcasts and if it can’t legally regulate them, it’ll make sure someone else does it for them.

Paragraph 223 of its decision makes it clear the CRTC is about to draw podcasts into its warm embrace.

Without information about online undertakings that transmit or retransmit podcasts, it would be more difficult for the Commission to ensure the achievement of the objectives of … the Broadcasting Act, which relate to, among other things, providing a reasonable opportunity for the public to be exposed to the expression of differing views on matters of public concern, and (that) the programming provided by the Canadian broadcasting system should be varied and comprehensive, providing a balance of information, enlightenment and entertainment for people of all ages, interests and tastes.

In other words, what the CRTC denounced as “myth” in the spring has become a “fact” in the fall. It has kicked open the door to the regulation of online content, if not directly then by proxy through the platforms that deliver the work of podcasters to their audiences.

It is a bureaucratic master stroke.

Here’s what will follow.

The list of intervenors presenting at the CRTC’s public hearing coming up in late November indicates the panel of commissioners will hear from a number of groups that will explain the extent to which they are under-represented and funded. So, a possible outcome of this will be that services that carry podcasts will have to fund podcasters who, on their own, haven’t been able to find an audience.

Just as likely is that platforms will be regulated to ensure podcasts designated by the CRTC are given priority visibility/discoverability online over undesignated podcasts through the manipulation of algorithms. These are likely to be podcasts by Indigenous, BIPOC and LGBTQ2S creators.

As erstwhile CRTC Chair Ian Scott told the Senate committee studying Bill C-11 in 2022:

Instead of saying, and the Act precludes this, we will make changes to your algorithms as many European countries are contemplating doing, instead, we will say this is the outcome we want. We want Canadians to find Canadian music. How best to do it? How will you do it? I don’t want to manipulate your algorithm. I want you to manipulate it to produce a particular outcome. And then we will have hearings to decide what are the best ways and explore it.

This was reinforced in an exchange Scott had with Senator Pamela Wallin, who suggested proponents of the bill were parsing their words and that:

You won’t manipulate the algorithms; you will make the platforms do it. That is regulation by another name. You’re regulating either directly and explicitly or indirectly, but you are regulating content.

To which Mr. Scott replied: “you’re right.”

The CRTC has now confirmed what it denied mere months ago when it was parroting then-Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez’s talking points.

It will make sure podcasts and any other internet content it can capture is regulated.

Patrick Luciani: Rome’s decline is a warning to the West. But the analogy only goes so far

Commentary

Review of: Why Empires Fall: Rome, America, and the Future of the West
Author: Peter Heather and John Rapley
Publisher: Yale University Press, 2023

President Xi Jinping of China skipped the recent G-20 meeting in New Delhi, and there was much speculation about why. Perhaps he was ill or stayed away to show solidarity with Vladimir Putin on his war in Ukraine. Maybe he was miffed with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the conflict on the Chinese-India border. 

There may be another explanation. Xi was showing the world that China had arrived as a major world power, demanding respect from the West and refusing to be treated as a mere member of a club of 20 countries. 

Over the past 40 years, the developing world’s per capita productivity rate has been higher than European and American rates. In 2000, the West produced 80 percent of the world’s output; by 2022, it was down to 60 percent, driven mainly by the rise of China. Today, some of the world’s fastest-growing nations are in Africa

Just as Rome’s rise created an empire that stretched from Scotland to the Euphrates, it inadvertently led to the rise of other powers on its periphery, such as Persia, the Visigoths, and the Vandals. 

This is the central theme in a recent book entitled Why Empires Fall: Rome, America, and the Future of the West, written by King’s College historian Peter Heather and Cambridge political economist John Rapley. They argue that Edward Gibbon’s six-volume 1776 classic The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire work has profoundly influenced how we think about the fall of Rome. Gibbon stressed Rome’s fall was caused by its inability or unwillingness to control its borders and further weakened by the rapid spread of Christianity, a position popular among neoliberals. 

The first part of Why Empires Fall shows how archeological findings over the past few decades have changed our perception of what caused Rome’s eventual collapse. Rome’s fall wasn’t the long, slow decline, as Gibbon claimed. Rome reached its economic apex around 400 AD and fell quickly over the next few decades, ending when Rome’s last emperor, Romulus Augustulus, gave up his rule to Odoacer, king of the Goths, in 476 AD. Rome’s insatiable quest for more land and treasure led it to overreach, stressing its internal political system while strengthening its neighbours. In brief, the Roman Empire’s prosperity sowed the seeds of its demise. The authors believe the West is confronting the same reality and blowback with the growing wealth of former developing countries.

Rome’s fall parallels the modern West’s quest for greater profits beyond its borders by plundering the world’s resources over the past 200 years. The West must accept the reality that its power is waning, they assert. It can either retrench and close its borders or acknowledge the facts of a new world order. 

Part two outlines the needed reforms to avoid Rome’s fate. The West can no longer expect to solve its internal political and economic problems by relying on cheap labour and resources from developing countries. To save its economy and status, America needs policies that diminish rising wealth disparities, higher taxes on wealth holders, more support for social programs, a universal basic income, affordable housing, higher minimum wages, and better job security. Regarding immigration, the authors want the West to confront the reality of an aging population. The West and America must also acknowledge and respect countries it once exploited as equals. 

But what looked like China’s relentless rise looks bleak today. As international direct investment is drying up, China faces a mountain of debt from massive public infrastructure spending and private housing construction. Even China’s massive trillion-dollar Belt and Road program is in serious trouble. One can easily make the case that China is more likely to collapse, given President Xi’s disastrous handling of the COVID crisis, high youth unemployment, and a failed real estate market that has drained the savings of countless families. And China’s support of Russia’s war in Ukraine jeopardizes its trade relations with the West. 

China shares a border with fourteen countries, along with others that share the South China Sea, and most are suspicious of China’s new-found power and intentions. In comparison, the West and the U.S. economies look remarkably stable. China has few friends other than a group of failed states, including Venezuela, North Korea, Iran, perhaps South Africa, and now a collapsing Russia. Hardly “peripheral” nations ready to bring down the West.  

The main strength of Why Empires Fall is that we now know more about Rome’s decline and the rise of outside powers that contributed to Rome’s demise. But to leap from that insight to pushing for a range of progressive policies to save the West—policies mainly aimed at the U.S.—is stretching the fall of Rome analogy. In Margaret MacMillan’s book The Uses and Abuses of History, American historian John Lewis Gaddis warned if we use history only as a rearview mirror, we risk landing in a ditch.