OTTAWA — The federal government faces "stark" differences of opinion over how best to help Canada's cultural industries adapt to the digital world, says an academic watching the unfolding of public consultations on the future of digital content.
The latest phase of those consultations, started Tuesday by Heritage Minister Melanie Joly, asks for suggestions on ways Ottawa can help create, promote and deliver digital content, including local news, at a time when Canadians have foreign content at their fingertips.
There has been growing concern among cultural industry players that current government policies are stifling creation of content at a time when Canadian products are being drowned out by the likes of Apple iTunes and Netflix.
A discussion paper released to coincide with the consultations makes clear the government doesn't want to place limits on foreign content, but aims to channel energies into supporting cultural industries.
"The way forward is not attempting to regulate content on the Internet, but focusing on how to best support Canada's creators and cultural entrepreneurs in creating great content and in competing globally for both Canadian and international audiences," said the paper.
In a pre-consultation, online questionnaire completed by close to 10,000 people, participants were asked their views on what are the most pressing challenges facing Canada's cultural sector.
In their responses, individuals focused on foreign competition and ways of making Canadian content stand out online.
So-called industry stakeholders, however, "were all about the money," with a majority of respondents arguing for more public funding, said University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist.
"(Industry) focuses on money, the public focuses on finding content," said Geist, who holds the school's Canada research chair in Internet and e-commerce law.
The questionnaire also asked respondents to define the barriers to creating and promoting Canadian cultural content.
Most public responses centred on a perceived lack of quality Canadian content, while the industry voiced concerns about consumers who expect free content and outdated government supports.
The public appears to be more onside with Joly's goal of producing more content and doing a better job of promoting it, said Geist.
"The differences between the public and ... industry stakeholder responses are pretty stark," he said.
Rapidly changing technology is affecting how Canadians produce and consume cultural content, Joly acknowledged.
But she says the new digital reality has produced both new challenges and new opportunities for creators.
"Every day, we use our phones, our tablets and other devices to access music and apps, to watch movies and shows, to read and to research contemporary works of art," Joly said in introducing the consultations, titled "Canadian Content in a Digital World."
The national dialogue on Canadian content "will help us adapt our cultural policies to today's digital realities," she said.
Canadians have until Nov. 25 to have their say about what new policies, if any, they think are needed.