We discover very convincing arguments in the report presented Wednesday by a committee of experts responsible for studying better discoverability of our cultural content in the digital landscape.
We also discover a lot of ambition in this document which formulates 32 recommendations divided into three spheres: the partnership that Quebec wishes to negotiate with the federal government, the alliances that it must strengthen with international allies, particularly France, and legislative actions what it will have to do to adapt its laws to new realities.
Commissioned by the Minister of Culture and Communications of Quebec, Mathieu Lacombe, in February 2023, the report entitled The cultural sovereignty of Quebec in the digital age: report of the advisory committee on the discoverability of cultural content is the work of the former PQ Minister of Culture and International Relations Louise Beaudoin, the former general delegate of Quebec in Paris and administrator of the International Organization of La Francophonie Clément Duhaime, the professor at the Faculty of Law of the Laval University and holder of the UNESCO Research Chair on the diversity of cultural expressions, Véronique Guèvremont, as well as Patrick Taillon, co-director of the Center for Studies in Administrative and Constitutional Law at Laval University.
The four experts arrive with recommendations that are commensurate with the alarming situation we are experiencing. We know that French is in decline in Quebec. The phenomenon is observable in several areas. For example, a study carried out by the Observatoire de la culture et des communications showed that in 2022, Quebec performers accounted for only 8% of listening made by the Quebec public in streaming music services.
“One of the main effects of the digitalization of culture is to distract the Quebec public from its own culture,” declared Mathieu Lacombe, in April 2023, during a speech given to the Council on International Relations of Montreal (CORIM ).
It is in this context and with the mandate to “defend Quebec’s linguistic specificity” that the committee established a strategic plan which requires “action to be taken as quickly as possible”.
Before we go any further, let’s take a look at the meaning of the word “discoverability”, a term that has been very popular for some time. This concept refers to “the availability of content and its ability to be located among a large set of other contents, in particular by a person who was not specifically searching for it”.
As its title indicates, the idea of cultural sovereignty is at the heart of the committee’s reflection, which recalls that “Quebec has always sought to defend respect for its skills, first and foremost, in the field of language and of the culture “.
“We cannot imagine a Quebec government, whatever it may be, which does not claim its share of cultural sovereignty and which exercises it,” said Louise Beaudoin, in an interview with The Press. We are already doing this through laws on language, the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, through our cultural policies (…) Cultural sovereignty has existed for around fifty years in Quebec and we can clearly see that it is something transpartisan. »
A partnership with Ottawa
Canada has adopted a tool to better protect its creators and its cultural industry. Bill C-11 aims to update the Broadcasting Act to require digital platforms to promote and contribute to Canadian content. The framework of this law is to be defined.
The commissioning of this report by Mathieu Lacombe is clearly a gesture aimed at allowing Quebec to get a foot in the door. It should be noted that three resolutions were unanimously adopted in recent months in the National Assembly to denounce Quebec’s lack of “right of review” over the directions that will be implemented by the CRTC.
The committee therefore recommends “developing a practice of federalism which recognizes Quebec as the best judge of the state of its language and its culture” and allowing it to participate in the development of the new regulatory framework which results from the adoption of Bill C-11.
An alliance with French-speaking states
The protection of Quebec’s cultural sovereignty requires an international strategy, the authors of the report firmly believe. Consultation with other French-speaking states is essential. The authors aim for discoverability of cultural content of original expression in the French language rather than the protection of local culture.
Quebec would fit into a register different and complementary to that recommended by the federal government. By promoting cultural content of original expression in the French language, Quebec culture would be strengthened.
“Pierre Bourgault would like to repeat that French isolates us in North America and opens us to the world because we speak French on five continents,” says Louise Beaudoin. For the convinced internationalist that I am, I think we must fight this idea that everything must go through the Anglo-Saxon world. »
The report insists on an alliance with France which should be inspired by that which was sealed in 2005 by members of UNESCO with the aim of committing to the discoverability of French-language cultural content. Furthermore, the French and Quebec Ministers of Culture created another alliance in 2019 which, this time, aims to position itself in the face of the rapid and massive evolution of digital platforms in the world of culture.
The committee therefore recommends enhancing the Franco-Quebec alliance at the political level by creating a new working group chaired by the two Ministers of Culture.
A bill adapted to the new reality
To achieve its objectives, Quebec must also take action to adapt its laws and regulations to digital transformations in the field of culture. “The Quebec legislator cannot remain inactive in the face of practices and business models (…) which go against the fundamental rights of Quebecers,” we can read in the report.
The committee recommends developing a bill guaranteeing “the fundamental right of Quebecers to access and discoverability of cultural content of original expression in the French language” which could include an amendment to the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms in order to to add “cultural rights that are fully enforceable and justiciable before the courts”.
“Our constitutional expert (Patrick Taillon) demonstrates very well that these are shared skills and that Quebec has the right to act in this sector internationally and nationally,” underlines Louise Beaudoin.
The report addresses the issue of young audiences not being attracted by French-speaking content on digital platforms. By making Ariane Moffatt more visible rather than Taylor Swift, will consumers be tempted to abandon the latter and turn to the former?
“It’s the bet,” said Louise Beaudoin. Otherwise, let’s all get out of the way and listen to Taylor Swift. I continue to believe that if our culture is more easily identifiable and accessible there will be results. »
The report’s 32 recommendations will undoubtedly not all lead to implementation. But let us remember for the moment from the work that has been done a desire to act quickly, to make things happen before it is too late.
A report, however relevant and solid it may be, remains a report. We will now have to see what we do with that. And how will we welcome these great ambitions, particularly in Ottawa.