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‘Milestone’ digital content meeting to take place next week: Heritage

News | 02/01/2019 5:39 pm EST
Parliament Hill on July 5, 2018./ Photo by Andrew Meade.

The federal government is organizing a working meeting next week in Ottawa involving a broad swath of stakeholders to devise strategies for promoting diversity of digital content, including discoverability and the quality and reliability of information online.

The invite-only meeting will take place between Feb. 7 and 8 and is part of Canadian Heritage’s international engagement strategy first unveiled in its Creative Canada plan in 2017. The meeting will have representatives from civil society, academia, Canadian and foreign governments and the private sector, the department said.

Conversations will involve “the discoverability of content, the quality and reliability of information, and the need for working together on multi-stakeholder approaches,” a Heritage spokesperson confirmed.  

It will come a week after the government announced new measures on Wednesday to “safeguard” the federal election later this year, including a new regime to warn Canadians about threats and $7 million toward a literacy campaign to insulate Canadians from disinformation. Federal officials also said they expect social media platforms to combat manipulation on their platforms, but didn’t make the move to regulate them.

All of this comes at a time of heightened awareness of the dangers of online information ahead of the election. Government officials have made a point to foster good relations with influential foreign technology companies to contain the impact of bad information. Meanwhile, the Ottawa-based Public Policy Forum said late last year that it is launching a new project to track, analyze and counter “fake news.”

Heritage did not provide a list of companies who will attend the meeting when asked, saying to facilitate an open conversation, the meeting will use Chatham House rules that make attendees effectively anonymous to the public. But earlier this month, Apple Inc. registered to lobby in relation to the February rendezvous, with a registration that states: “arranging meetings to address policies pertaining to the diversity of content in the digital age.”

This week, Apple head Tim Cook announced in a first quarter earnings call that the company will launch its first-ever bilingual Apple News service in Canada later this quarter, which will host Canadian news stories.

Before the 2017 Creative Canada announcement, then-Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly met with digital media giants including Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc., Snap Inc., and Twitter Inc. to discuss just this topic. Joly noted that the companies focused on supporting a diversity of voices, having local content, accessing trusted news sources, being fair to creators and countering cyber bullying and hate speech.

Otherwise, further details on the meeting are limited.

The get-together is considered by the department as a “milestone” and will culminate in a report, as well as five “thought-leadership papers,” to be made public in March 2019, Heritage said.

Furthermore, a Liberal motion “to advance the principles of cultural diversity in the online world” is expected to be debated in Parliament in the near future. Part of the motion, put forth in June last year, asks Canadian Heritage, in its study of the Copyright Act, to consider the “models and distribution methods by which Canadian cultural content is accessed or otherwise made available to online audiences,” to call on the government to engage with other countries to promote cultural diversity online, and to emphasize its importance in the current Telecommunications Act and Broadcasting Act reviews.

Last year, the department launched its cultural export strategy, with funding to the tune of $125 million over five years. The motive is to drive exports of Canadian content to global markets.

Next week’s discussions will also be in-line with a joint declaration between the Canadian and French governments in April last year. That agreement suggests states, digital platforms and civil society should be in charge of supporting the “creation, dissemination and accessibility of diverse local content;” contributing to economic sustainability of content creators and respecting copyright; countering disinformation online, and promoting transparency with respect to algorithms and their impact on content discoverability and availability related to ranking, recommendations and access to local content.

Heritage will work in collaboration with the Canadian commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for the event. In 2005, UNESCO composed a framework called the the Convention on the Protection and the Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions that is in-line with the objectives of the meeting.

As part of the overall strategy, in March last year, Heritage co-organized another international working meeting with the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and Stanford University. The result of that March meeting was a special report that included topics such as the challenges posed by internet platforms, protecting the quality of discourse, and whether governmental initiatives to “combat online hate speech, extremism, and fraudulent news” is consistent with international human rights law.

One of that report’s recommendations includes the need for a multi-stakeholder approach involving government, private sector companies and content companies to tackle these issues.

With reporting by Ahmad Hathout at ahathout@thewirereport.ca and editing by Anja Karadeglija at akarad@thewirereport.ca

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