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The Internet is broadcasting, therefore let us regulate!

The new Broadcasting Act, Bill C10, may be stymied in the Senate of Canada, but the actual content of its policy objectives has just been released. Heritage Canada has published “Guiding Principles on Diversity of Content online”. The Guiding Principles have several advantages over the policy objectives of section 3 of the Broadcasting Act. They are not legislated, they can be revised and adapted according to the how the technologies or the societies that adopt them evolve, and they have no legally binding force. They have only the force of the large platforms to back them, if they sign on to the Guiding Principles.

It was Tim Wu in The Master Switch who pointed out that the structure of an industry mattered a lot more than any other factor in determining whether there could be censorship. Vertical integration of the movie-making business with distribution and movie theaters meant that the censors could govern the industry through the code of conduct, one that lasted from Mae West in the 1930s to Easy Rider in the 1960s.

The basic idea of the Guiding Principles is the achievement of diversity, equity and inclusion. It is a set of principles that its signatories are expected to work towards. The most important signatories will be the Internet platforms, because without their compliance, the Principles will be mere hot air.

The private sector companies to which the guiding principles are to apply particularly include “services operating online, whose primary purpose is to broadcast or distribute content or share user-generated content online.” Governments, media sector representatives, regulators and civil society organizations are likewise to be included as signatories.

The goal is to promote diversity on-line, understood as

  • Creation access and discoverability of diverse content online
  • Fair remuneration and economic viability of content creators
  • Promotion of diverse, pluralistic sources of news and information as well as resilience against disinformation and misinformation
  • Transparency of the impacts if algorithmic treatments of online content.

 

Signatories are to agree to implement these goals within the scope of their responsibilities and to develop specific commitments by December 2022 at the latest, to show concrete actions they will take to implement these guiding objectives”.

There follow a number of principles which assume, as a matter of fact, that

  1. There are “equity deserving groups” whose access is limited
  2. Hate, racial prejudice, disinformation and misinformation “can disproportionately affect indigenous people and equity deserving groups”.
  3. “Equity deserving individuals and groups” are defined as those facing significant barriers to participation in different facets of society, a marginalization that could be created by attitudinal, historic, social, economic, legal and environmental obstacles.

Having seen the cartoons of the kids of various heights standing on boxes of various heights to see the baseball game over a wooden fence, “equity” may reasonably be interpreted to mean active measures to overcome the consequences of inequalities, natural or artificial. The term ‘equity’ involves, in modern parlance, an ongoing governmental interference to achieve goals that might not otherwise be achieved in the absence of governmental actions.

The Principles are organized around themes:

  • Creation access and discoverability of content
  • Fair remuneration and economic viability of content creators
  • Promotion of diverse, pluralistic sources of news and information as well as resilience against disinformation and misinformation
  • Transparency of the impacts of algorithmic treatments of online content.

 

The last-mentioned goal says that “content recommendation algorithms and their developers should minimize potential systemic biases and discrimination in outcome, related to such things as race, sexual orientation, gender identity and ability.”

Content recommendation algorithms now seek to interest me in what is related to what I have previously expressed an interest in. If I have expressed interest in videos of Andrew Camarata fixing bulldozers, the algorithm is likely to recommend other machine-oriented males fixing tractors, chainsaws, and building log cabins. Inevitably the algorithms will direct me to things of interest to males, such as myself. I imagine the same happens with videos on golf, tastes in music, physics, flower gardens, or cooking, Japanese art or any taste whatever. How then, it may be asked, will an algorithm correct for systemic bias in male oriented videos if I am a male, and female oriented videos if I were female?

The Guiding Principles do not say, but they expect content recommendation systems to “respect freedom of expression in a way that allows for safe and diverse content.” In other words, safety and diversity, as defined by governments or the platforms, are to constrain freedom of expression.

The Guiding Principles are a kind of Broadcasting Act for the Internet, or a set of objectives that the platforms are expected to implement  By this I mean that the system it envisages is systemic, organized, comprehensive, global (as far as Canadians will see) and subject to government regulation, and that in Annex A to this document, the signatories are expected to develop by December 2022 at the latest “concrete actions they will take to complement the guiding principles.  These specific commitments will remain evergreen and continue to evolve”.

The great advantages for the government, in its efforts to regulate the Internet, are that the Principles utterly bypass legislation, need no Parliamentary approval, require the cooperation of the platforms but not of society, and subject large areas of private tastes to algorithmic manipulation.

The Guiding Principles are creepily totalitarian, and yet one imagines the authors of this document think of themselves as being great public benefactors. In order to explain what I mean, I ask you, as a thought experiment, to replace the content of the particular goals to be achieved by the guiding principles. Look at the whole thing, and ask yourself what the document, conceived as a whole, says. It says in short, that speech carried across the Internet is to serve particular purposes. All speech, everywhere, that is carried on the Internet.

Agreement or disagreement with the guiding principles as they are stated is less important than the whole purpose of the document. Take out the language about diversity, equity and inclusion (the new modern woke credo) and replace it, in this thought experiment, with any other set of goals to be achieved. These goals could be anything: the divinity of Christ, the supremacy of the Aryan race, the sanctity of the Roman Church, the triumph of scientific socialism, the grandeur of the Aztec Sky God Huitchilopotchtli, the preservation of the British Empire, or the values of the Enlightenment. So let [x] stand for the content of the Guiding Principles. Forget whether you agree with them or not. Just think of the Guiding Principles as a block of ideas that can be lifted out and replaced with some other set of desiderata. In effect, by calling the Principles an evergreen document, Heritage Canada virtually guarantees that they will be revised in time.

Then perhaps it becomes clearer that my point is not the DEI principles, though they are creepy enough. It is the idea that everything on-line should be aimed at any guiding principle at all.

Would you think it normal that the publishing industry in Canada be enjoined to publish books that exclusively promote a certain political agenda?

Would you think it right that speech across various telephone and voice applications be organized to conduce to the achievement of diversity, equity and inclusion?

To make the point even clearer, I recall the story of a Canadian diplomat who served in the Soviet Union, as it then was, in the Brezhnev era. I asked whether there was freedom of speech in the Soviet Union. He said ‘yes there was, absolute freedom of speech’. I was startled.

-What do you mean absolute freedom of speech?!!

– If you are out on the ice fishing in winter, and in your shelter, and out of range of prying microphones, and talking with people whom you have known all your life or from high school, and you have developed trust over decades, you can talk about anything. And they do. They talk about stuff no one talks about here, like whether Hitler was right to invade Stalin’s USSR, or whether Communism is a pile of crap, or whether the USA is actually imperialist. There is complete freedom of discussion. You just have to be careful with whom and where you share your ideas.

People need to look at the Guiding Principles from this perspective. Canada will have complete freedom of speech. Just not the kind we have been used to. Thank you, Peter Grant.

 

People who live in glass houses: Bill C10 continued

I was talking to my old colleague Blair Atholl the other day. He had an acute observation about the backers of C10, the federal bill which seeks to make the Internet conform to Canadian broadcasting rules and ideas.

It is apparent that the only backers of this bill, apart from the Canadian ministry of Heritage, are the official lobby groups of those who are set to draw more income from the eneactment of this legisaltion, or so they believe.

Blair Atholl said of the kind of people who back this legislation that “they are used to speaking in a cancel-culture political environment. Their speech is constrained in many ways. They don’t realize that most people exchange opinions in a much freer way than they can. Normal people exchange views that would put their hair in fire. So they don’t understand what all the fuss is about. If my speech is self-censored, why shouldn’t your speech be censored too?”.

And while we are on the subject, Dr. Jordan Peterson reminded us that he has a million more subscribers to his YouTube channel than does the CBC. This makes him a bigger “broadcaster” than the CBC, it would seem.

 

Bill C10 – Internet censorship coming to a site you read

For some time now I have been tweeting and organizing resistance to Bill C-10. This has kept me busy in my personal capacity, as it were, and Dalwhinnie has had to take back seat to my public-facing self.

I have learned or been reminded of several truths in the course of the past few weeks, but first let me tell you about the bill.

There are two modes of communications, legally speaking. On the one hand, there are speech and writing, film production, and others which occur without prior permission from the state. You write what you want and assume responsibility after publication for slander, criminal conspiracy, obscenity, and other legal liabilities. Then there is that creature of the twentieth century, called broadcasting, which requires a licence from the state. You broadcast under conditions established for a particular class of speaker, one who is assumed to be few in number talking to hundreds of thousands who are limited in their choice of “stations”. This was the original rationale for broadcasting regulation,  few-to-many, one way and which used airwaves that interfered with one another unless carefully assigned by central authority.

It will be readily understood that every advance of electronic communications has served to increase the number of stations, from three to seven to thirty to fifty, to the Internet. The internet has exploded the number of speakers into the millions, or tens of millions. With new forms of addressing, such as IPv6, the number of “stations” will be in the trillions.

Despite this, Canadian law still treats the Internet as a form of “broadcasting”, a licensable activity that for thirty years the government had the wisdom not to touch. Previous CRTC decisions had said that regulating the Internet as broadcasting was superfluous and unneeded. These decisions of the CRTC claimed jurisdiction over the Internet but did not exercise it.

Now that restraint has been overthrown. In a search for revenue from web giants, and egged on by the Canadian cultural organizations – the ones who feed on television productions subsidies – the government, led by the Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbault, has plunged recklessly into a gigantic extension of federal authority over communications.

Bill C10, which is a series of amendments to the Broadcasting Act, would treat

  • all websites
  • all user-generated uploads to social media sites

as “broadcasting”, that is, occasions where you could be regulated by the CRTC. The difference is that, in the case of user generated content uploaded to platforms, you would not be the broadcaster, the platform would be the broadcaster. This would outsource government control and censorship to the large platforms, who would act under CRTC or other government regulations.

This website, and all others, commercial, artistic, political, would be treated as broadcasting if they were “predominantly” -word undefined – audio-visual rather than printed in nature. It is not difficult to imagine that by bit count alone, and by inclusion of a few video inserts, a newspaper would become a “broadcaster”, in the same way that a podcaster is now, according to this Bill, a radio station.

It reaches the absurdity of a zoom call among church attendees being considered broadcasting, and subject to federal regulation. Will “balance” in religious programming be imposed on church services? Will the imam share time in the pulpit? If you think this is absurd, you don’t know the CRTC.

 

The authors of C10 are seeking to jam the internet into the form of broadcasting, rather than make  broadcasting conform to the Internet.

It is readily evident that a large number of issues will remain undecided by the bill itself and that years of hearings and lawsuits will ensue, including challenges to the constitutionality of the bill, on several grounds.

But back to the tweetstorm.

The public debate on this bill took a while to get started, for several reasons. The first is that members of Parliament are not clever lawyers on the whole, and it took them a while to scope out the extent of the government’s ambitions. Both the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP favour large public subsidies to their unionized buddies in the TV production industry. The Liberals favour their own guy and they are not averse to totalitarian controls on the Internet, it seems. That left the Conservatives to slowly appreciate that the Liberals had handed them a major electoral campaign issue if they wanted it. They finally realized what the bill meant to ordinary Canadians. And ordinary Canadians are waking up.

This state of affairs was changed only by professors of communications, like Michael Geist, members of the Internet Society of canada, and former CRTC commissioners such as Peter Menzies, Konrad von Finckensten and Timothy Denton to write op-eds in papers until the latter woke up to the notion that they would become “broadcasters” if this bill passed. Open Media got involed and that meant that the political left started to agitate against it. As one wit said of the left-right alliance on C10: “we want to be able to shout at each other without the state refereeing.”

The ignorance of the press on this issue has been astounding, if you were not already cynical about their capacity to understand issues. They had to be told in black and white what the Act said, and even then they still hesitated to get it.

The opinion battle among the elites has taken place principally on Twitter. Throughout, the motives of those opposed to the Bill have been questioned. Vast conspiracies have been imagined by the proponents of the bill, sponsored by the likes of Google and Facebook. It has not occured to them that people could actually freely spend time opposing the bill because of principled concerns for freedom of speech. If you speak only for money, it comes as a shock that people will speak and write for no money at all.

Not once have the arguments of the opponents of the bill ever been frontally addressed. Not once. The Minister has been reduced to blithering incoherence on several occasions by being asked factual questions about what the Bill plainly says. It is as if he had not read his own bill, or did not understand it. A reasoned defence of the Bill has been missing. It might have been attempted, but was not, largely because to address the issues would be to deal with some real concerns that the bill’s proponents would rather not discuss.

The TV production and other recipients of cultural largesse in Canada have only tweeted their unanimous support for C10. (Canada spens about as much money on cultural subsidies overall as we spend on the Candain navy). The French Canadians, it would appear, have no concerns for freedom of speech, and seem not to understand what English Canadians are going on about. Their confidence in a federal institution, the CRTC, to decide matters of cultural concern to them, appears to be unbounded. We are confidently told by those who feel they understand Quebec that even to raise these concerns with them is a provocation.

Normally a story has a two or three day run. The C10 issue has occupied weeks of media attention, and won’t go away because it constitutes an immense assault upon historic rights of free speech won by revolutions and bloodshed in the 17th and 18th centuries, revolutions that passed French Canada by. It remains to be seen whether the Liberals have handed the Conservatives a winning election issue or not. But if enough people say they will die on this hill, not even the federal Liberals can overcome the resolve of the nation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They can’t help themselves: the divine right of being Liberal

I used to be the token conservative at a weekend gathering of Liberals in the lakes south west of Ottawa. It gathered a good bunch of people for talk, silly clever  word games, and more talk. They belonged to the Martinite faction of the Liberal party of Canada. This means that they had lost to the Chretien-ite majority. Some leading members of the group left for Reform, and stayed there. They were regarded by the remainers as lost sheep, but they were accepted. But on the whole the group had been young activists in the Trudeau the Greater period, ministerial assistants, activists, and they had all the virtues of the Canadian Liberal; bright, optimistic, active, and connected.

Several years of close acquaintance on these pleasant autumn weekends have led me to certain conclusions, and I have never had any reason to recant or modify them. And please recall these were the better sort of Liberal. I have met much worse and they share this characteristic I am about to describe.

They feel themselves to be morally superior. They are Liberal because they are morally superior. And they are morally superior because they are Liberal. This is the core belief. This explains many things about them. In policy terms they can switch from nationalist to free traders, from low tax libertarians to high tax collectivists, without any qualms. Because policy as such has no importance to them. What matters is being Liberal. To be Liberal is to be a better sort of person.

So of course they are not to be assessed by the outcomes of their actions. That would be unfair. They are to be measured by their good intentions. This is why I say about them that they cannot help themselves.

The unelected Liberal Kielburger brothers and the Liberal politicians Trudeau and Morneau are not to be judged by the obvious corruption of the financial arrangements between the WE charity and Trudeau’s family. They are to be judged by the obvious good intentions of the charity that the Kielburgers run. Of course Justin Trudeau is not corrupt, nor is his mother Margaret, nor his brother Sascha, the fanboy of Fidel Castro.

If you feel that you enjoy the divine right of Kings, you behave like Charles I. If you find yourself on trial for treason to the state, as King Charles did, your answer would be: “I am the state”.

If you feel you enjoy the divine right of being Liberal,  you do not need explanations, excuses, or reasons. What you do is for the best, by definition. So what I suggest, for the betterment of our country, is a state trial of Trudeau and Morneau for corruption. Where is our Cromwell?

“The self-flattery of the vision of the left gives its true believers a huge ego stake in that vision which means that mere facts are unlikely to make them reconsider, regardless of what evidence piles up against the vision of the left and regardless of its disastrous consequences.” – Thomas Sowell

The Vision of the Anointed: Self -Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy, 1996

 

Elite rebellion: the (attempted) Impeachment of Trump

News that the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has decided to proceed with hearings that would lead to the attempt to impeach Trump, shows the desperation of the Democrats to prevent an election where they would face Trump. We know how this will end. The Senate will not agree to any articles of impeachment, since it is Republican. Hence a crisis is being concocted by the Democrats to prevent there being an election where the Republicans have a viable candidate, namely Trump.

The political elites of the United States and the United Kingdom are in full rebellion against their embattled political leaders, Trump and Boris Johnson, and the electorates that have put them into power.

“Contempt of Parliament used to be a crime; it has now become a moral obligation” – David Starkey.

The contempt of the parliamentary class for the British

In this incisive interview, the historian David Starkey expounds why the current political class of the British isles is utterly contemptuous of the people who constitute the country. Make no mistake: we are witnessing a legal coup by the Establishment against the will of the people. The British Supreme Court and its Parliament is wrecking the constitution of the country.

Starkey is incandescent.