February 9, 2011 | 2 Comments
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is considering amendments to its regulations that lay out what licensed broadcasters can and cannot say on Canadian airwaves.
Currently, CRTC regulations say that no licensee can broadcast “any false or misleading news”. If the regulation is updated according to the amendments on the table, no licensee will be able to broadcast “any news that the licensee knows is false or misleading and that endangers or is likely to endanger the lives, health or safety of the public.”
That amendment didn’t come out of the blue. It was the result of recommendations made by a joint committee of the House of Commons and the Senate.
All that said, as soon as it learned about those proposed changes, the NDP came out vehemently against them. MP Charlie Angus said the following to reporters on Parliament Hill.
“If you change [the regulation], you could see a very different media landscape,” he said. “You could have the kind of Fox News in Canada, you could see the hate radio that’s all over the United States.”
It’s no secret that Angus was referring to the forthcoming Sun TV News, which will launch a bevy of political coverage at some point in the coming months. Many critics thought Angus was out of line.
Among those critics was QMI’s David Akin, who wrote today that Angus was “calling for what amounts to the establishment of bureaucratic ‘truth squads’ at the country’s broadcast regulator.” He drew comparisons to Egyptian thugs hunting foreign journalists.
But bureaucrats have kept their eye on Canadian broadcasters for more than two decades. Akin calls the current language of the regulation “outmoded and impossible-to-enforce”, and perhaps that’s true. But if truth squads have existed, they must have been in hiding for the last couple of decades. Because that’s how far back the current regulation can be traced.
Twenty-five years ago, the CRTC set in stone that no licensed radio station shall broadcast “false or misleading news”. That was 1986. The following year, the CRTC did the same the same for TV stations. In 1990, the commission did the same for pay TV.
Now, perhaps the proposed changes are for the best. Perhaps not. But Angus was simply defending the status quo. And if that status quo includes truth squads roaming the streets in search of journalists, it’s been a pretty invisible campaign.