Will Canada Regulator Change Law to Ban Airing of News that could Endanger Lives?

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A Canadian regulator is considering changing broadcasting regulations.(Credit: CRTC)

A Canadian regulator is currently debating whether to change the wording of a regulation on broadcasters.

According to the Toronto Star, current laws require broadcasters to not “broadcast any false or misleading news.”  The Canada Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is “an independent public organization that regulates and supervises the Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications systems” that “reports to Parliament.”

However, the suggested revision tweaks the wording by calling on broadcasters not to air anything “the licensee knows is false or misleading and that endangers or is likely to endanger the lives, health or safety of the public.”  But, as Macleans noted, if the suggested changes are passed, “it will still draw the line on profanity” and “the new rules would apply to both radio and TV.”

Notably, there haven’t been any violations of the current regulation during the past 20-plus years it has been in place, the Star reported.

The public could was allowed to offer their opinions on the proposed revision until Feb. 9, the Expositor reported.  And, as of Feb. 10, the CRTC reportedly had more than 3,000 comments, according to The Globe and Mail.

“The parliamentary committee that demanded the change will discuss the issue” this week, The Globe and Mail reported. If the revisions are accepted, they would be in effect on Sept. 1, 2011, according to the Expositor.

Two Canadian members of Parliament, Charlie Angus and Thomas Mulcair, have spoken out against the suggested revision, the Star reported.  Angus and Mulcair have indicated that they think “rules for accuracy in broadcast journalism are being weakened because the government wants to accommodate right-leaning Sun TV News or Fox North as it has become known.”

Sun TV News was granted a broadcasting license in late November and is set to go on air in March.  According to the Center for Journalism Ethics, “the people behind the new station have close ties to the conservative wing of one of the national political parties, and they promise to counter the purported left wing bias of existing TV news outlets.”

“Opponents of the Sun-TV News bid quickly organized a petition on Avaaz.org, an online activist site,” claiming that Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper is trying to “create a ‘Fox News North,'” according to the Center for Journalism Ethics. (Read more about the controversy over Sun TV News here.)

Angus stated at a news conference: “If you change it (the regulation), you could see a very different media landscape. You could have the kind of Fox News in Canada, you could see the hate radio that’s all over the United States.”

Macleans explained what spurred the suggested revision.  A Parliamentary committee has been asking for the changes since 1992.

“Problems with the ban began with a 1992 ruling in the case of Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, which said the right to freedom of expression meant a person could not be charged for disseminating false information. In 2000, the regulations committee pointed out to the CRTC that its regulation seemed to contradict the ruling.”

But, Peter Murdoch, media vice-president for a journalists union, commented to The Globe and Mail that the union hasn’t been able to “find out who’s pushing” the suggestion revision.  Murdoch’s union, the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers Union, “represents more than 20,000 journalists, including those at The Globe and Mail.”

“It’s totally bizarre. Nobody in the industry has called for it,” Murdoch is quoted as saying. “Where is the motivation for change that would lower the standards of truth and fairness in broadcast journalism?”

iMediaEthics has written to the CRTC for comment and more information and will update with any response.

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Will Canada Regulator Change Law to Ban Airing of News that could Endanger Lives?

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