Canada’s right-wing media outrage machine is getting itself worked up over the threat of legislation that no one is introducing
Is Canada’s Heritage Minister getting ready to introduce a new bill that would force Internet news sites to register for a license with the Government of Canada?
According to the Department of Canadian Heritage: Nope.
Canada’s right-wing media erupted in outrage this week after Blacklock’s Reporter reported: “Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said he will introduce a bill by spring that follows recommendations for mandatory registration of internet news sites.”
The story was amplified by right-wing websites like The Post Millennial, which repackaged the news to suggest “the Trudeau government (is introducing legislation to) force news outlets, like The Post Millennial, to register with the government.”
Conservative leadership candidate Derek Sloan, a social conservative hardliner, told Rebel Media the prospect of such draconian legislation is “frightening.”
Meanwhile, far-right People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier stoked fears on Twitter that Canada’s Minister of Heritage has a secret agenda to “censor Internet news.”
As @ezralevant told me in my latest show, Guilbeault really does have a mandate from the PM to censor internet news, despite his recent about face.
THE THUGGISH LEFT WANTS TO SILENCE OPPOSITION. https://t.co/H3KIlbX65a
— Maxime Bernier (@MaximeBernier) February 27, 2020
In a statement to PressProgress, the Heritage Minister flatly denied he is creating legislation that would force news websites to register with the government.
“Preserving a free and independent news sector is essential to Canadian democracy,” Guilbeault said. “This principle will continue to guide our actions moving forward.”
“The press, either online or traditional, do not need permission to operate in Canada and our Government intends to keep it that way.”
Asked if this means the Liberal government will not impose licensing requirements on news organizations or take any step to regulate news content, a Heritage Canada spokesperson clarified: “We can indeed confirm that that is our position.”
The source of confusion traces back to an independent panel report on the future of the CRTC released last month that did, in fact, issue a recommendation calling on the government to require Internet news websites to register for licenses.
The recommendation, which was criticized as anti-democratic and potentially unconstitutional, was “unequivocally” rejected by both the Prime Minister and the Heritage Minister following an initial backlash earlier this month.
However, Blacklock’s Reporter publisher Holly Doan suggested Guilbeault’s remark this week that he’s “looking at every single recommendation” in the report could be interpreted literally to mean everything is back on the table again.
#CRTC panel recommendation: “Under this approach, any media content undertaking with significant Canadian revenues and delivering media content by means of the internet would be required to register.” Minister @s_guilbeault in @CdnHeritage committee Feb 26: pic.twitter.com/J1oQbZzaKw
— Holly Doan (@hollyanndoan) February 27, 2020
In an interview with CTV’s Question Period, Guilbeault suggested he didn’t see the “big deal” in regulating journalism like other industries. A few days later, the minister scrambled to walk back the remark.
Despite Guilbeault’s gaffe, University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist, an expert in Internet and copyright law, warns the CRTC report makes a number of “extreme” recommendations that still appear to be on the table.
A more serious problem than made-up fears about journalists being thrown in jail for practicing without a license is a recommendation to regulate big platforms that distribute news content — everything from streaming services like Netflix or Crave to news aggregators like Google or Apple News to “sharing platforms” like YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.
The report calls on the CRTC to regulate platforms to ensure they provide “links to the websites of Canadian sources of accurate, trusted, and reliable sources of news” and have “rules to ensure the visibility and access to such sources of news.”
While that might sound like a nice idea, things get problematic when it comes down to deciding who is an “accurate, trusted and reliable” source of news — and what’s to stop future governments from abusing that power to suppress critical news?
“It would mean establishing the most extensive speech regulation Canada has ever seen,” Geist notes. “That is a big deal.”