Less than a week after an expert panel recommended sweeping changes to Canada's broadcasting and telecommunications landscape, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault was forced today to clarify the government's position on media licensing.
"Let me be clear. Our government has no intention to impose licensing requirements on news organizations, nor will we try to regulate news content," Guilbeault said Monday.
"We are committed to a free and independent press, which is essential to our democracy. Our focus will be and always has been to ensure that Canadians have access to a diversity of high-quality and credible news sources."
The rookie cabinet minister's comments came in the wake of an interview on CTV's Question Period digging into the 97 recommendations in the independent panel's report.
That report, drafted by a seven-member panel led by broadcasting and telecommunications industry veteran Janet Yale, recommends the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission be given new powers and responsibilities, including oversight of foreign streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.
Question Period host Evan Solomon asked Guilbeault about the panel's recommendations on discoverability and its suggestion that content providers register and get a licence.
"You're talking about a couple of different things here but as far as the licensing is concerned, if you're a distributor of content in Canada — and obviously if you're a very small media organization the requirement probably wouldn't be the same if you're Facebook or Google, there would have to be some proportionality embedded into this — but we would ask that they have a licence, yes," responded the minister.
Guilbeault said he felt a need to call a press conference today to clarify his remarks after receiving heavy criticism online.
"I could see some people were confused about this particular recommendation in the report so I felt it was important to clarify," he told reporters on Monday.
When asked if someone asked him to clarify his remarks, Guilbeault said he made the decision by himself.
"I did that all by myself, as a big boy," he quipped.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, the party's critic for industry and economic development, said Guilbeault's comments are still ambiguous.
"The role of the state is not to interfere in people's right to free speech or the freedom of the press," she said.