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Panel recommends changes to Canada’s media and communications sectors

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A government-appointed panel is recommending a massive overhaul of Canada’s broadcasting and telecommunications laws, including eliminating advertising on all CBC/Radio-Canada platforms over the next five years and requiring internet-streaming companies such as Netflix to invest in Canadian programming and charge sales tax.

The six-member panel, which was appointed in June, 2018, is also recommending that social-media platforms such as Facebook be required to pay levies that would fund the production of news content.

It will be up to the federal government to decide whether to act on the 97 recommendations contained in the report released Wednesday. Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault and Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, said in a joint statement that they will carefully consider each of the recommendations and act “as quickly as possible.”

“Reforms are needed to level the playing field on which conventional broadcasters and digital media companies compete. Our priority is to ensure that all media companies that operate in Canada develop Canadian content and contribute to the Canadian system,” the statement said.

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If implemented, the new legislation would bring platforms such as Facebook, which aggregate and share media content, under Canada’s Broadcasting Act, requiring them to pay levies based on the Canadian advertising revenue that they derive from news media. Those levies would go into a fund administered by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that would help finance the production of news.

Janet Yale, a broadcasting and telecommunications industry veteran who chaired the panel, said the CRTC would determine what portion of the content provided on such platforms classifies as media content, as opposed to personal material such as family photographs, to set an appropriate levy.

“One of the reasons for doing that is that the journalists who generate that content currently are not compensated,” Ms. Yale said in an interview.

“We’re trying to deal with the fact that news is in crisis and we need to ensure that there is appropriate support for the content that is made available through these sharing platforms that end up being one of the primary ways in which news content is disseminated.”

Meg Sinclair, a spokesperson for Facebook, said in a statement that it is reviewing the recommendations and welcomes “dialogue with the Government of Canada on these important subjects.”

The CBC, meanwhile, said it looks forward to working with the government, but spokesperson Leon Mar said that the broadcaster had highlighted the importance of commercial revenue in its submission to the panel.

“Virtually all public broadcasters around the world have mixed commercial/public business models and their public funding is much higher than CBC/Radio-Canada’s,” Mr. Mar said in an e-mail, adding that requesting an additional $300-million in public funding to remove ads from its platforms is not a priority for the broadcaster.

“We would much rather invest any additional resources on programs and services that benefit Canadians.”

Some of the changes proposed by the panel have already been promised by Ottawa. Mr. Guilbeault has vowed to introduce legislation requiring foreign-based internet platforms such as Netflix to fund the creation of Canadian cultural content by the end of this year, while CRTC chair Ian Scott has called such rules inevitable.

Daniel Bernhard, executive director of journalism advocacy group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, welcomed the rules, adding that for years foreign media companies have not had to pay taxes or make contributions to Canadian programming.

“It’s nuts to allow these big foreign media companies to run the table on their Canadian competitors thanks to unfair, unequal regulations,” Mr. Bernhard said. “It’s got to end.”

Netflix, meanwhile, said it will continue to invest in Canadian productions and that it looks forward to working with the government as it modernizes Canada’s broadcasting and telecommunications legislation.

“We all have a role to play in supporting the future of film and television being created in Canada,” Stéphane Cardin, director of public policy for Netflix Canada, said in a statement.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce said in a statement that the panel’s recommendations are ill-conceived and “out of step with G7 approaches to broadcasting and streaming issues, not to mention deeply concerning infringements against the Canadian ideal of freedom of speech.”

The panel also recommended that the CRTC take on a broader role and rename itself the Canadian Communications Commission, to reflect the fact that telecommunications now encompass a wide range of electronic formats beyond conventional radio and television stations.

The Broadcasting Act should be renamed the Media Communications Act and the Telecommunications Act should be called the Electronic Communications Act, while the Radiocommunication Act – the third piece of legislation reviewed – does not need a new name, according to the panel.

The CRTC is studying the report “with great interest,” Mr. Scott in a statement Wednesday.

“At first glance, it is clear that the panel recognizes that fundamental changes need to occur to fully enable the CRTC to act in the public interest,” Mr. Scott said.

The panel is also recommending ways to expedite the roll-out of advanced telecommunications networks such as fifth-generation wireless technology, including by granting carriers access to public infrastructure such as lampposts and utility poles and by introducing a faster method of resolving any disputes that arise between telecom companies and municipalities.

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Migrant worker battling cancer in urgent need of MSI

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Halifax, NS (December 6, 2022) – In a video released today, migrant worker Kerian Burnett speaks out about her ongoing struggle with cancer. While she is supposed to start cancer treatments soon, she has no health coverage in Nova Scotia.

Kerian is a 42 year-old woman from Jamaica. She is a mother of 6 and grandmother to 2 children. In April 2022, she came to work in Canada through the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP). After 2 months of working on a strawberry farm, she fell sick and was unable to work. In September 2022, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, which required two different surgeries. She was advised by her doctor to remain in Canada to undergo life-saving treatments.

In some provinces, migrant workers have access to public healthcare on arrival. In Nova Scotia, migrant workers must have a one-year work permit to be eligible for public healthcare (MSI). This means that SAWP workers are not eligible, because their contracts are only up to 8 months. They would only have access to private health insurance, which is tied to their employment.

Due to her illness, Kerian’s job ended and her private health insurance was terminated.

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Kerian is calling on Health Minister Michelle Thomson to provide MSI coverage to herself and other migrant workers in Nova Scotia.

“There are lots of Jamaicans here and other migrant workers here, which come here for work. Nobody wants to be sick, but eventually, you get sick. Now we are working for like $13.35/hour. There is no way if you get sick, and you have a bill at the hospital, how are we going to pay these bills? So, actually, I’m not really doing this for myself alone. I’m doing this for every farmworker that doesn’t have access to public healthcare here in Canada,” said Kerian in the video.

 

To date, a GoFundMe campaign in support of Kerian has raised over $9,000 of the $15,000 goal.

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Guelph drag queen sees all-ages shows targeted by social media campaigns

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A Guelph drag queen says their shows are being targeted by two Ontario-based social media campaigns, resulting in the cancellation of one event and the performer feeling uneasy about an upcoming show.

Last month, Crystal Quartz had a drag brunch organized at Kelseys Original Roadhouse in Burlington. But following threats made to the restaurant, management was forced to cancel, the restaurant confirmed to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo. Restaurant management couldn’t disclose information about these threats due to an ongoing police investigation.

Since then, a link to Quartz’s Dec. 11 all-ages brunch at a Boston Pizza in Hamilton was shared in a Facebook group, asking members to purchase tickets to sell out the event in a bid to prevent “sick parents” from bringing their kids.

These incidents come shortly after a mass shooting at a LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo., that killed five people, and have left Quartz feeling unsafe.

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The drag queen posted an impassioned video on social media about the anti-LGBTQ threats that they, and other performers and promoters, have received.

Crystal Quartz is now raising funds to help enhance security at the shows. (Submitted by Crystal Quartz)

Guelph Police Services are investigating the alleged incidents Quartz brought up in the video.

In the meantime, Quartz told CBC News they’re raising funds for an ID scanner, self-defence classes and said that they’re looking into other security options.

“I want to get an ID scanner so that even if the people come in there, we know what their names are at least,” said Quartz.

‘It was absolutely terrifying’

Hamilton drag performer, Hexe Noire, was also confronted during a drag storytime last month at a public library in the city.

There were people protesting the event, but also counter-protesters  with a heavy police presence — something Noire hadn’t seen before.

“This is the first time in my drag career that I’ve been affected directly by this,” Noire, a cis woman, told CBC News. “It was absolutely terrifying.”

This wasn’t Hexe Noire’s first rodeo with storytime, she has done many other drag storytimes across Hamilton, including at Hamilton Public Library’s Binbrook branch on Nov. 14. (Aura Carreño Rosas/CBC)

Noire explained she received online threats as well.

“I’m a mother with four children who goes into the library dressed as a drag clown to teach children about diversity and that it’s ok to be different,” she said.

“Had I had a program such as this for myself as a young queer child, I would have flourished and I don’t understand what the issue with reading books to children is.”

Quartz said that this type of harassment is new as the LGBTQ community becomes more visible and more mainstream.

“Before we were hiding who we were, right? So now we’re being seen more and these people just, they don’t want anything to do with that,” Quartz said.

“And that’s fine. If you don’t like me, that’s cool. Just go on your merry way and I’ll go on mine, right?”

But this harassment isn’t just aimed at drag queens, according to K-W-based trans activist, Cait Glasson. The transgender community is being targeted too.

Activist Cait Glasson believes that education is key in combating transphobia. (Joe Pavia/CBC)

“They’re definitely well and truly emboldened, the transphobic people,” said Glasson. “They are very emboldened. I get threats on my Twitter with some regularity.”

“My personal belief is that the best way to fix it is education,” she said, stressing that understanding about the trans community comes from knowing someone who is trans.

A study done of LGBTQ people in Waterloo region in 2018 found that 10 per cent of those surveyed have experienced violence due to their sexual orientation; 26 per cent faced violence due to their gender identity.

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Heading Into 2023 Media And Tech Companies Are Tightening Their Belts

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Over the past few months, Disney, Paramount
PARA
Global, Warner Bros. Discovery, Comcast
CMCSA
and AMC Networks
AMCX
have all announced employment layoffs, hiring freezes and/or restructuring heading into 2023. Coming out of the pandemic the goal is to continue to grow revenue, reduce debt and increase market value. With viewers steadily migrating to streaming video, media companies have been looking for a moneymaking revenue model as the lucrative linear TV revenue model, that had generated billions for decades, is slowing down. With inflation and concerns about a slowing ad market, media companies, are looking to impress Wall Street as the media behavior of consumers continue to evolve.

These employee cutbacks are not limited to “traditional” media companies, such digital titans as Meta, Amazon
AMZN
, Alphabet, Microsoft
MSFT
and of course, Twitter have also been looking to drive down costs and grow revenue as the digital advertising slows and their market value declines.

Below is a breakout of some recent announcements on the belt tightening taking place across the media and tech industries.

AMC Networks: Ten years ago, AMC Networks was one of the most popular cable TV networks airing The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad and Mad Men. Since then, the cable TV industry has been besieged by cord-cutting as viewers migrated to streaming video. In response AMC launched its own standalone streaming service AMC+. In the latest quarter, AMC+ reported a year-over-year increase in subscribers of 44% and now totals 11.1 million. Nonetheless, for the quarter, AMC’s net revenue dropped by 16% to $682 million with a decline of 10% in ad dollars for the quarter.

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AMC Networks Chairman James Dolan noted the revenue losses from cord cutting were not being offset by the gains from streaming. As a result, the Wall Street Journal reported AMC will lay off up to 20% of the estimated 1,000 total employees. Also, it was announced AMC CEO Christina Spade was stepping down after only three months at the helm.

Disney: In early November, Disney’s then CEO Bob Chapek announced cost-cuts (i.e., curtailing business trips unless absolutely necessary), a hiring freeze with potential layoffs. The announcement came in the aftermath of a disappointing quarterly earnings report with Disney’s stock price falling to a 52-week low. In the earnings report Disney noted their streaming services had lost $1.47 billion, more than double the loss from the previous year. Chapek maintained their streaming unit would be profitable by 2024. Ten days later Bob Iger, in a surprise announcement, returned as Disney’s CEO replacing his handpicked successor. Chapek had served as Disney’s CEO in February 2020 just prior to the start of the pandemic.

The 71-year-old Iger agreed to return as CEO for two more years and will look for another successor. Besides developing a new organization chart, Iger announced Disney’s hiring freeze would continue. The CEO will also place a priority on making Disney’s streaming unit profitability instead of focusing on subscriber growth. (In its latest earnings report Disney said that Disney+. Hulu and ESPN+ had 235.7 million global subscribers, up from 221 million in the previous quarter.)

Warner Bros. Discovery: When Discovery acquired Warner Media earlier this year, CEO David Zaslav shared with Wall Street plans to cut costs by $3 billion each year for the debt-ridden company. The merger approval came during a tenuous time, as investors were beginning to take a more hardened look at the revenue potential of streaming providers. In addition, Zaslav told investors the ad economy has been weaker than it was during the pandemic and the merger was messier than previously thought. As a result, the market value of Warner Bros. Discovery has been cut in half this year.

Since the merger Warner Bros. Discovery have undergone a sweeping series of layoffs. In August, 70 people were let go at HBO accounting for 14% of the entire staff. In October, the studio group Warner Bros. Television laid off 82 people which was 19% of the staff. Sports was impacted, in mid-November when an estimated 70 people, primarily at Turner Sports and Bleacher Report, were laid off. With the current NBA media rights contract expiring after the 2024-25 season and the possibility fees could triple, Zaslav has said they would stay disciplined when renewal negotiations begin, saying “We don’t need the NBA.”.

Most recently massive cuts were made at CNN with a reported 400 layoffs. While the direct-to-consumer CNN+ jettisoned within one month of launch, new CNN President Chris Licht announced further layoffs at the venerable news division. The layoffs were made across most CNN units from on-air talent to operations to CNN International. Among the CNN units hit hardest was Headline News which will no longer produce live content. Prior to the cutbacks CNN had a staff of between 4,000 and 4,500 workers.

Warner Bros. Discovery notified the Securities and Exchange Commission that it could cost upwards of $1.5 billion with cutbacks on content that were already approved and severance packages for employees laid off.

Comcast: In September, Comcast announced it was looking to cut $1 billion from its traditional TV networks entertainment division at NBCUniversal. The funding would be allocated to bolster other parts of Comcast’s portfolio such as streaming (with 15 million paid subscribers Peacock has room to grow).

The cutbacks would impact both staff members and programming budgets forcing the network to develop lower cost unscripted shows instead of more costly scripted programming. It’s been reported that 37 employees were laid off at E! Entertainment which was restructuring. NBCU has recently shuttered G4 cable network with 45 people losing their jobs. Additionally, Comcast has reportedly been offering retirement packages to long-time employees. Besides declining linear TV ratings, Comcast continues to be impacted by cord-cutting and broadband subscriber growth has been slowing.

Paramount Global: In November it was reported Paramount Global was cutting back on its ad sales department with fewer than 100 positions in New York and Los Angeles being eliminated. The media company has also made a number of organizational changes in recent months such as the scripted original division of Paramount+ becoming a part of Paramount TV studios resulting in a loss of jobs.

Roku, a streaming device, announced in mid- November they were planning to lay off 200 employees or about 5% of their 3.000 full-time workforce. The company cited the current financial conditions prevalent in the streaming industries and a sluggish ad economy. During its third quarter earnings report Roku executives told investors to expect a challenging fourth quarter.

Netflix

NFLX
: After reporting a decline in subscriber counts, Netflix earlier in the year announced layoffs. In May, 150 employees saw their position eliminated as well as a number of contractors and part-time workers. The following month Netflix followed up with 300 additional employers laid off. At that time Netflix had about 11,000 full-time workers worldwide.

Digital Media: Even digital media companies are pulling back in these uncertain economic times and sluggish earnings reports.

The mass layoffs at Twitter have been well documented, the micro-blogger site has downsized from 7,500 employees to fewer than 2,500 in just a few weeks.

In mid-November Amazon reportedly was going to lay off 10, 000 workers or roughly 3% of its 1.5 million global work force. Cutbacks will be more prevalent with devices such as Alexa.

In early November Meta announced 11,000 employees would be let go accounting or 14% of the entire workforce. The cutbacks were across all divisions and included Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Also, Meta decided to move out of their 250,000 square foot office in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards section. Meta has been focusing on the metaverse and has been incurring startup costs.

In August Snap announced a reduction in their workforce of 20% from what had been 6,400 employers. Snap said the company would be restructuring. The company has been struggling post-pandemic and its stock price had been down 80% since the first of the year.

In October Microsoft announced globally nearly 1,000 workers were to be let go. Similar to other tech companies, Microsoft has seen its stock price tumble this year. Globally, Microsoft has 221,000 employees.

More traditional media are also reporting cutbacks. Gannett
GCI.I
, the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, announced that 200 additional workers (6% of the workforce) would be laid off. Washington Post recently announced that after three decades they would no longer publish a Sunday print magazine, resulting in a loss of ten positions. The last issue will be on Christmas Day. With a cutback in revenue from sponsors, NPR is looking to cut $10 million in costs (3% of their budget), announcing they would severely curtail any hiring and would cut back on any discretionary spending. By doing so NPR is hoping to avoid layoffs. Vice Media announced they will lay off 2% of their staff or roughly 12 members in its sales, branded content, editorial in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Economic slowdowns and market valuations are transient and a hiring binge in media and tech companies could take place relatively soon as a workable business model evolves. Another silver lining is there are now thousands of experienced and talented workers now available for hire.

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