CRTC seeks to relax broadcast restrictions

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
announced earlier this month that it seeks to relax broadcast
restrictions for potentially false or misleading information.

Writing for The Toronto Star, University of Toronto professor Stephen Bede Scharper writes:

“Currently, the law stipulates that broadcasters “shall not broadcast any false or misleading news.”

“Sounds reasonable enough — and straightforward — as it should, since it concerns the integrity of news reporting.

“But not apparently to the CRTC. It is proposing to soften the regulation, banning ‘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.’

“In short, with the new wording, broadcasters could air false or misleading news with impunity, provided that it does not endanger the lives, health or safety of the public.”

The change is set to go into effect on Sept. 1. The CRTC does not detail who would be the judge of whether information endangered the public. In an interview with the Globe and Mail, law professor Michael Geist reports that since the proposed standard is set so high, anything that doesn’t harm life, health of safety could make it on-air. writer Alex Ly, in a story titled “Why do we need false news?“, writes:

“The current proposed regulatory amendment is very misguided and has detrimental effects for political discourse and democracy in Canada. There are a handful of things that Canadians should expect from news broadcasters. One of those expectations is that news broadcasters have a responsibility to report evenhandedly on substantive and important news events and to do so under the highest standards. In this instance, it is very challenging to construct a logical reason for purposely misinforming Canadians and distorting their perception of what is actually taking place in the world.”

In the Star story, Bede also spoke with Geist:

“As University of Ottawa law professor and media expert Michael Geist points out, there is some irony in the CRTC’s timing. Just as the U.S., reeling from the Arizona massacre that targeted Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is reflecting on the wider social impact of its poisoned airwaves, the CRTC is embracing a more U.S.-style approach.

“This is made all the more disconcerting as a new right-leaning all-news network, Sun TV News, prepares for its debut in March. In a recent interview, Geist observed there’s a growing fear that Canada is about to adopt the more bellicose U.S. approach to political news coverage. The CRTC’s proposed change will only deepen these fears.”