The CRTC is thinking of regulating the internet. Seriously. It’s even going to hold hearings — sorry, a “consultation” — on the matter. And while CRTC commissioner Konrad von Finckenstein claims “our intention is not to regulate the internet,” it wouldn’t be the CRTC if it didn’t have regulation very much in mind.

So when von F. says “new digital technologies and platforms are creating opportunities for the broadcast of professionally-produced Canadian content that simply didn’t exist a few years ago,” and when he adds that the purpose of the exercise is “to gain a better understanding of this environment and, if necessary, to propose measures that would support the continued achievement of the Broadcasting Act’s objectives,” you just know where this is headed.

Hence the series of innocent “questions” the regulator would like to address takes on a very sinister hue indeed:

  • What is broadcasting in new media?
  • Should the creation and promotion of Canadian broadcasting content for the new media environment be supported? If so, how?
  • Are there any barriers to accessing Canadian broadcasting content in the new media environment?
  • What other issues should be considered?

Now, not even the CRTC is addle-headed enough to think of regulating every little blogger in cyberspace, or the thousands of other sites that are producing oodles of Canadian content on their own, even without the miracle of government “support.” It’s the old media in the new media you can imagine the regulator getting its hooks into — the Canwests and the CTVglobemedias. After all, you can just bet someone at the commission is going to say, we already regulate what they broadcast on the network. Doesn’t it just make sense that we should also regulate what they broadcast over the ‘net?

And this is where this all gets very scary. Television has been a regulated sector since the start, with predictably dreary results. The nation’s magazines, while (hitherto) unregulated as to content, have descended into a similar state of decrepitude, thanks to their clinical dependence on state subsidy. But newspapers have until lately been the exception, or as much of an exception as you get in this country (we still prohibit foreigners from owning Canadian newspapers, though Canadian plutocrats have a proud record of rescuing other countries’ newspapers.)

That was already in some peril, thanks to the trend toward cross-ownership of newspapers by broadcasters of recent years. If the government could not pressure the newspapers directly, it could do so indirectly, by threatening trouble for their owners’ broadcast interests. And if you don’t think that’s possible in this country, you haven’t been paying attention.

But now suppose the CRTC gets into regulating the ‘net in support of Canadian content and other good things. Is it going to regulate what CTVglobemedia puts up on its CTV site, and not on its Globe and Mail site? Will it impose quotas on but not on Not on your André Bureau.

This has got to be stopped, now. Once upon a time the Conservatives talked about trimming the CRTC’s powers back to such rudimentary tasks as auctioning spectrum and the like. I realize that was, like, two whole years ago, but at this point it’s an open question who’s the bigger threat to press freedom in this country, the human rights commissions or the CRTC.

UPDATE: You think I’m just imagining things? Have a read of this graf from the Ottawa Citizen‘s account

The outcome of the hearing, which is expected late 2009, could eventually limit Canadians’ access to online broadcasters and Internet-based radio stations. It may also see a levy charged to Internet service providers to pay for the creation of more Canadian content online.

Or if you really want to give yourself a fright, scroll through the CRTC’s compilation of “stakeholder views” on the subject. 

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