Are your Netflix and chill plans in danger? That’s what’s headlines have been saying in recent weeks with the federal government contemplating levying additional taxes on streaming services. While it’s unknown if and when a tax would be levied, the debate raises issues of digital media, Canadian content and tax reform.
The story of Netflix began in 1997 when the company was sending DVDs by mail to consumers. In 2007 the company launched its streaming services and in 2013 started to release its own original content. Netflix expanded into Canada in 2010 and is now operating in more than 190 countries. Even as other competitors move into the market – including Amazon Prime Video and Bell’s CraveTV – Netflix remains the leader in streaming services. This new market has created issues for Canada on how to deal with online content from foreign companies.
Jason van Rassel has been the “approacher” in this scenario hundreds of times. The former Calgary Herald justice reporter is now the journalist-in-residence at the University of Calgary Faculty of Law, and teaches law students about a variety of media topics – from pitching stories to the media to managing crisis communications.
“Reporters and lawyers don’t do the same things, but both have respective roles in keeping a court open to the public,” says Rassel. “There should be a cooperative relationship.”
Lawyers shouldn’t be afraid of the spotlight, he adds: the media can be a great benefit to your clients and your practice.
To attract media coverage, consider your audience and the story you want to tell.
What began as a simple recall of cars became front-page news. On February 7, 2014, General Motors ordered the recall of 800,000 vehicles due to faulty ignition switches. GM told the public that the switches could malfunction, causing the engine to stall and the airbags not to deploy. GM revealed that it knew as early as 2004 about the faculty switches that caused 124 deaths and 275 people to be injured. After an internal investigation conducted by external counsel, 15 executives were fired. By the end of 2014, nearly 30 million cars where recalled and $900 million was paid out to the U.S. government for a compensation fund for victims’ families.
Meanwhile another car company is in the middle of a crisis. In 2014, American and European regulators noticed discrepancies in Volkswagen vehicles when testing emissions. This was not an accident. Volkswagen programmed their cars to show low levels of emissions in laboratory testing when in real-world scenarios the car emits up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide. By September 2015, under pressure from U.S. regulators, Volkswagen admitted to cheating.
Crises destroy companies. While GM and Volkswagen may seem like rare nightmare scenarios, their tales of lies and cover-ups can happen to any organization. In-house counsel must be prepared for the worst and help their organizations be in the best position not only to survive but be better.
You’re the executive vice-president and general counsel for a mid-size company. While working on a file, you notice some questionable practices from management in dealing with an overseas client. You report your findings to senior management but they don’t take any action. What should you do?
This is the situation facing Sanford Wadler, former general counsel for Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc., a company based in the U.S. He sued his former employer earlier this year for wrongful termination, claiming that he was fired because of whistleblowing.
Wadler’s case brings up the complicated ethical issues surrounding whistleblowing for in-house counsel. Lawyers must uphold their duty to confidentiality to the client but also have a duty to protect the public from potential harm. When lawyers should blow the whistle, especially for in-house counsel, can be tricky.
Whistleblowing is the last defense for lawyers. As trusted advisors, whistleblowing can be seen as the final alternative to prevent wrongdoing. The recent case of Edgar Schmidt, who blew the whistle in 2012 on the federal government’s failure to examine whether proposed legislation was in violation of the Charter, is a reminder of the difficulty in coming forward.
“Whistleblowing is like the Bogeyman,” says Jean Nelson, Director, Governance and Legal Services at the Canadian Medical Association. “No one wants to talk about it. It might not be something that you directly experience but it can affect you. People have come to lawyers because they see them as the conscience of the organization. People are looking to you for help.”