This reminds me of something I had to write for Canadian Studies class a few years ago. I'm not entirely sure how serious I was taking this essay so don't ask me questions about tone or anything, but I got an A on it apparently.
Living next to a nation as powerful and cultural influential as the United States has created a fear among the Canadian citizenry that their culture is being supplanted by American culture, and that eventually, their entire culture will be lost because of outside influence. Already, many Canadians feel that their culture is relatively weak, and the lack of unity between the provinces, along with the “nation within a nation” idea based on Quebec's cultural separation from the rest of Canada contributes to this feeling of a threatened culture and national identity. Pierre Trudeau summed up many Canadians' feelings by saying, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly or temperate the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt” (Thompson).
Two of the biggest outlets for American media are television and radio, the former because of Hollywood's gravity and the way they tend to get their hands on all sorts of international film productions, and the latter because of both the amount of American music being produced and the overflow of American airwaves into the densely inhabited souther regions of Canada. As such, several laws, councils, and broadcasting groups were created by Canada's government to ensure that Canadian content would still get a fair showing.
In 1955, a commission was established, known as the Fowler Commission, to determine what exactly was being broadcast in Canada. After it determined that the majority of content was American in origin, it was decided that funding and legislature would need to be used to protect Canadian culture. In 1958, then, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was reaffirmed as the main national Canadian broadcasting company, it was decided that roughly half of all content broadcast in Canada must be Canadian in origin, and a quota system was introduced. This, along with the earlier National Film Act of 1950, set the standard for future cultural content regulations (CRTC's Origins).
Now, the main group regulating the laws today is the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which was created in 1968. The CRTC works through a sort of chain of command. The CRTC reports to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, and by proxy Industry Canada. These two created the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act, which are the two acts that control the the presence of Canadian content and lay out what constitutes Canadian content. The Minister of Canadian Heritage, in turn, reports to Parliament. It's through this line that the government is able to determine what is being shown and in turn regulate it (CRTC's Origins).
In regards to radio and television, the CRTC does three major things. Under guidance of the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Acts, with some additional guidelines, the CRTC allocates signals to stations. This is especially important to the content laws because Canadian stations, by default, get priority over other stations, meaning that if two competing stations are attempting to air their networks, if one is Canadian and the other isn't, often only the Canadian one is allowed to air. Second, if an American television network is airing a show in Canada that the same time a Canadian television network is airing the same show in Canada, the American network must use the Canadian network's feed. Finally, they also enforce the rules about Canadian content (CRTC FAQ).
Television is required to have 60% of the content be Canadian in origin between 6 am and midnight, and 50% must be of Canadian origin between 6 pm and midnight. In theory, this can be anything, although it's typically filled up with news, talk shows, sports, or cheaply produced sitcoms. On particular infamous example was the sitcom The Trouble with Tracy, which began airing in 1971. It was based on slightly updated transcripts of a much older radio sitcom from the 30's, and the series was notable for not being able to afford retakes, ergo bloopers were often left in the normal showing (Jump the Shark). Productions of this caliber obviously did not generate a lot of viewers, and were often put in unimportant time slots anyway, so the CRTC has taken to requiring more meaningful or popular content to be played at peak hours on certain stations (Canadian Content). However, this has often led to cheaply produced “reality” television and entertainment news programs being used instead of content that's either culturally meaningful or something people actually want to watch. Premium networks generally have more lenient restrictions. (CRTC FAQ).
For music radio, the content requirement ranges from 20% to 35%. While the legal minimum is officially 35%, stations such as jazz and classical generally have lower requirements simply because there's a lack of Canadian-produced content in these genres, jazz specifically being a primarily American institution, and classical music having most of its canon laid out before Canada existed as a sovereign nation, for instance. Musical content, as a whole, must subscribe to the MAPL system to determine how Canadian it is. MAPL stands for music, artists, production, and lyrics, which are the four areas in which music is judged on how Canadian it is. At least two of these areas must be Canadian in origin, unless the music was written before 1972 and meets one of the requirements, is an instrumental written by a Canadian, is an instrumental rendition of a song written by a Canadian, or is written after September 1, 1991 and is at least co-written by a Canadian, and is performed and produced by a Canadian (The MAPL System). Many people feel that Canadian radio only plays artists which have existing fame, specifically abroad, and ignores independent, newly emerging, or very uniquely Canadian artists. As such, Canadian artists that really need the exposure aren't getting it, and the artists that are getting played are too globalized to really be considered Canadian. Several groups such as Indiepool and Let's Fix Cancon are trying to change this. (Let's Fix Cancon).
There have been a few points raised against the Canadian content enforcements. Many people feel that it is undemocratic and unreasonable, and chiefly a violation of the right to free speech. In some regards it is—the government is effectively telling people what they can and cannot air. At the same time, it doesn't really restrict what Canadians are allowed to see, and there's ultimately a good deal of elbow room within the restrictions (Thompson, 7)..
The other main point of opposition has been the belief that Canada blocking cultural imports is in violation of trade agreements like NAFTA and GATT. This was brought up in 1997 when it was ruled by the World Trade Organization that Canada could not charge additional taxes on magazines with split runs in America and Canada, nor could they put subsidies on Canadian magazines. However, in 1999 an agreement was reached between America and Canada addressing how such split-run magazines were handled, basically allowing them with certain restrictions to protect cultural, marking the first acknowledgment and agreement between the country that imports could be limited to protect culture. Certain publications like Reader's Digest continue to complain, though (Thompson, 8).
The Canadian television and radio consumer does not appear to care about these laws as much as the broadcasting companies. As previously stated, a lot of the content used to fill the criteria is not particularly interesting at worst, and at best is something Canadian that would already be aired anyway. As such, the Canadian citizen is completely free to ignore almost entirely Canadian produced television and instead watch primarily international, and predominately American, shows. For roughly the same reasons, the law does not appear to be effective. When record stores only carry 13% Canadian music, only 34% of the television audience is watching Canadian television, 80% of magazines are American, 64% of television programs are American, and 94% of movies are American, according to Thompson, it seems highly unlikely that the content laws have changed much of anything. (Thompson 7, 8).
It's hard to find anything analogous in America. Considering that the United States' culture is not threatened by much of anything, and that any foreign ideas are generally integrated as part of the melting pot value set, there doesn't seem to be any particular need for a cultural protection program in the states, and if there is, it's not particularly clear what sort of content it would need to block and allow. And while America's culture is larger and more influential than Canada's, it's not necessarily more distinct—it's still predominately an amalgamation of various ideas from several different cultures and influences. Likewise, such a perceived threat to freedom of speech would most definitely not being well received in America, especially considering the pull that Hollywood has.
I don't see any real problem with the content laws in regards to whether or not they violate freedom of speech. While they're restricting on the broadcasting companies, they aren't ultimately restrictive to the end user. Furthermore, while a 35% requirement for radio and a 50% requirement for television might seem high, given the ubiquity of Canadian musicians in pop music, and the fact that news, sports, and “real world” coverage can satisfy a great deal of the television requirements, this does not strike me as an unrealistic regulation. Likewise, it's not as if the news industry is being forced to skew things in some sort of controlling manner. It's simply Canadian news programs that are more focused on local and national events in Canada. And while it's possible to argue that these laws could open up the path for the Canadian government to control their programming in such a way to turn it into propaganda, this makes very little sense and is absolutely unrealistic. Most importantly, the content laws aren't particularly drastic. While roughly half of all content is supposed to be Canadian, and while some of the requirements seem rather arbitrary, especially in regards to the MAPL system, again, most of the quota is met by things like news, and the rest of the Canadian content would probably be shown anyway. For this same reason, I don't believe that it interferes with open trade laws and treaties like GATT and NAFTA. They're not omnipresent restrictions by a long shot, so international content can still generally be distributed relatively freely.
I don't believe the set of laws is particularly effective, though. While it clearly doesn't infringe on free speech in any important way, it doesn't seem to do that much else, either. Canadian content, in the areas where the laws mandate it to be, would probably occur there anyway, and be watched or heard or read by just as many people as if the laws weren't there. Furthermore, in the age of the Internet, television and radio are generally becoming less important, simply because similar content is just as available on line as it is on television. And there are, doubtlessly, much more important areas than broadcasting where the government could be spending money on bolstering culture, such as museums or public cultural festivals.