Chronicle of Folly: Hedy Fry and the Internet

“Chronicle of folly” is the name that could just as well be attached to any serious blog. The world is too much with us and the follies are gigantic and continuing, on this we are all agreed. No sooner do we rid the world of a serious belief in the state’s owning the means of production (communism) than it resuscitates itself as the global warming panic, which calls for anti-market governance by bureaucrats seeking to adjust our carbon outputs, as if carbon dioxide were not one of the bases of life. There will be no end to it as long as humans are in charge.

But to today’s sermon will address a smaller and more parochial aspect of the march of folly: local news. It appears to our federal parliamentarians that there is a crisis in local news which needs fixing, and probably by state intervention.

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Certifiable nut-job Hedy Fry, chairman of the House Committee on Heritage (which covers such matters as the CRTC, broadcasting, newspapers) is launching an inquiry. The CBC reports:

The Commons committee will embark on an expansive study of “how Canadians, and especially local communities, are informed about local and regional experiences through news, broadcasting, digital and print media,” according to a motion passed Tuesday.

It will also delve into media concentration, and its impact on local news reporting, and how digital media fits into the whole picture. The MPs have committed to no less than 10 meetings for the study.

Now here’s the rub:

The fear is that with the decline of a strongly Canadian news industry, any shared sense of national identity is also in peril.

Fry says the study will take a close look at the shifting information consumption habits of Canadians, and whether they are getting enough Canadian content online.

It is inevitable that this kind of political exercize will wring its hands about national identity and bemoan the fact that we are not getting enough Canadian content on line. How much is enough? Even to ask that question is to posit a point of view from which to judge the matter, and that point of view is statist, or dirigiste. It assumes there is a “we” that knows, or can ever know, and that “we”, in the context of a federal government inquiry, consists of the chattering class opinion, largely Liberal, that will submit its report and call for “dialogue”, a “conversation” on national identity, and suggest means of controlling the Internet for the betterment of Canadian national identity.

This vision of the anointed will have to face the wrath of the Canadian people. We have moved on, while our governing classes seem locked in a worldview that we need the state-licensed, advertizing-supported video of the broadcasting industry . We have become used to getting our information in new ways. Even I, still a subscriber to a physical newspaper, have become used to gleaning information and opinion from twenty or thirty sources, and occasionally perusing another fifty blog sites. I do not feel I am underinformed. I do not feel the lack of fifteen pounds of newspaper accumulating every month for disposal. My biggest concern for the future of the news paper is to find a source of kindling material for my woodstoves in the country.

The legal hook that will become apparent is that the Internet is not regulated by the CRTC and the broadcasting industry is.  The CRTC claims jurisdiction over the Internet to the extent it carries full motion video. Full motion video = “programming” and “programming” = “broadcasting”. That is how their interpretation of the law works.  They have maintained that view  since they first heard of the Internet back in the nineteen nineties. No technical reality of any kind has been allowed to interfere with their interpretation of the law. The Commission has chosen not to regulate the Internet solely on the basis that they have been unable to detect the harm done to the Canadian broadcasting system by the Internet.

Clearly the economic harm is mounting. It is as if the farriers, saddlemakers and ostlers got to determine whether the automobile was a threat to horse-centric transportation.

This recondite legal matter would have no importance but for one huge thing. To “broadcast” is to require a legal licence from the CRTC. To “broadcast” without a licence is to engage in a very serious crime, with enormous financial penalties and possibilities of jail time. According to the CRTC’s interpretation, this blog and the rest of the sites on the Internet within Canadian jurisdiction become licensable undertakings at the Commission’s discretion a) if they use video and b) are found in their collective economic effects, as a matter of fact, to be harming the licensees of the regulated broadcasting industry.

The advocates of the program production industry in Canada will tell us that they have just a little “Netflix” tax for us to help sustain the Canadian broadcasting industry. It won’t hurt and it will only apply to some minuscule part of the Internet.

Wait until you see the jihad (crusade if you prefer) unleashed by the Canadian public on the government and the CRTC when they try this. But as to the newspaper owners, who significantly overlap broadcast television owners, will they rise in revolt, or apply for “broadcasting” subsidies for their “local” news outlets?

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PS: This is Dr. Hedy Fry, she of the accusations of cross-burnings on the lawns of interior British Columbia towns. She would not know how to find where the interior of British Columbia is, from her riding in downtown west-end Vancouver. The BC interior begins at Coquitlam, for this lady, if not Burrard Street.

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