Divide By Zero

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Take Action On The CRTC’s Amendments To Allow News Broadcasters To Report Opinions Or Lies As Facts

Written By: Tyler Style - Feb• 09•11

The Immediate Issue: The CRTC’s Proposed Amendment

This is, with no exaggeration, one of the most important issues we as Canadians need to take action on this decade.  The definition of what may be reported as news in the media as described by a new Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) amendment would allow broadcasters to report as fact anything that wouldn’t actually put the public in immediate, physical danger.  In other words, broadcasters may report as factual news anything they like so long as it doesn’t immediately endanger people, such as Orson Welles’ famous “War of the Worlds” broadcast hoaxOpinions, rumours, propaganda – basically anything can be reported as factual news without any disclaimers whatsoever!

The changes in the actual wording are simple but staggering in scope.  Here’s the original regulation:

3. A licensee shall not broadcast
(d) any false or misleading news; or

And the CRTC’s proposed amendment:

1. Paragraph 3(d) of the Radio Regulations, 19861 is replaced by the following:
(d) 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; or

The implications are immediate, obvious and appalling!

Canadians need to act now and object to this proposal allowing an almost total lack of accountability and responsible journalism!  Fortunately, the CRTC is still taking comments on the proposed amendment to the Broadcasting Distribution Regulations until February 16th.  To comment requires several rather particular steps:

  1. Go to the CRTC’s “Participate in a Consultation” for Amendment 2010-931, select “I Agree”, and click the “Next” button:

    Step 1

  2. Double check that under the “Submit a Comment” title that you are commenting on “Notice #: 2010-931″.  Select the category for your comments, presumably “Opposition” :)  Finally, type in your comment in the “Enter comment:” text area.  The CRTC comment guidelines has some rather fussy formatting   rules for faxing; it can’t hurt if you use them for your online submission as well.  Number all paragraphs (eg, “1)”, “2)”, etc),  and add separate line with “***End of document***” at the finish:

    Step 2

  3. You next have the option of requesting to appear in person to present your comments if there is an oral hearing.  Assuming you don’t want to appear in person if there is a hearing, select “Do not want to appear” and “I agree”, then click “Next”:

    Step 3

  4. Next you will need to fill out your personal information, so that the CRTC can verify your comments are legitimate.  DO NOT use bogus information when filling this out, it is an official Government of Canada document:

    Step 4

  5. Finally you will be asked to verify your comments and personal information, and given a checkbox option to “Send me a copy of this submission via email”.  I would check this, to be sure your comment has been received.  Verify your information (I removed mine from the screen shot) and click “Submit”:

    Step 5

  6. You’re done!  You’ll see a confirmation page appear, and if you selected the checkbox in Step 5 to “Send me a copy of this submission via email” an email should come into your inbox almost immediately:

    Step 6

The CRTC is also taking omments on this specific part of the amendment, but those comments are only open until February 11th.  I commented on both myself:

1) I object to the proposed changes to: Paragraph 3(d) of the Radio Regulations, 1986 Paragraph 5(1)(d) of the Television Broadcasting Regulations, 1987 Paragraph 3(2)(c) of the Pay Television Regulations, 1990 Paragraph (3)(d) of the Specialty Services Regulations, 1990 2) I object to the proposed changes to those paragraphs which would replace the current language of the law to not broadcast any false or misleading news with the proposed new ambiguous language “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.” 3) I object as this wording seems to allow a great deal of leeway in reporting opinion or even propaganda as ‘news’ so long as the broadcaster can rationalize that what they report doesn’t actually put anyone in danger (which I assume would be interpreted as immediate, physical danger). The dangers to the Canadian social fabric and the public’s being well informed on actual facts surrounding an issue is just as serious, and would be left completely to the mercies of broadcasters without accountability or responsibility. After having lived in the USA and been subjected to ‘news’ there, I am particularly sensitive to this, and cannot object strongly enough against any amendment which permits ‘truthiness’ in news reporting. ***End of document***

Please don’t copy and paste my comment! Duplicates will just be thrown out by the CRTC.

You can read other peoples’ comments on the amendment in general here (2010-931), or this specific part of it here 2011-14).

The More Subtle Implications: Quebecor Media’s Sun TV News (Fox News North)

That this proposed amendment appears at this particular point in time is no accident.  The strongly conservative, pro Progressive Conservative party Quebecor Sun TV news channel was approved in November 2010 for launch on January 1, 2011.  Sun TV is a fairly blatant attempt to have a US-style news channel that is more or less a tool of a particular party in order to manipulate public opinion and spread fear, uncertainty and doubt.  In fact, this seems so obvious that Sun TV is referred to as “Fox News North” in the media (Fox News being the US Republican party’s mouthpiece).  To be able to act effectively as a similar mouthpiece for the PCs, however, Sun TV would need as much leeway as Fox News has to report news it’s own special way.  Stephen Colbert popularized the term “truthiness” to describe this – “a ‘truth’ that a person claims to know intuitively ‘from the gut’ without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts“.  However, “truthiness” in reporting is not allowed under the original wording of the CRTC’s regulations.  So under the current Progressive Conservative government we have a sudden drive to change the 24 year old regulations to allow anything to be factually reported as news so long as it doesn’t harm the public directly.  It’s impossible to imagine that the establishment of a pro-PC ideals news network and the almost simultaneous push by the government to loosen broadcasting regulations pertaining to the truth in news reporting are coincidental.

For those that don’t know already, Sun Media publishes tabloid newspapers, generally called “The Sun”.  Notable features include sensationalist headlines in two-inch-high bold type on the front page and the page 3 “Sunshine Girl”.  It’s pitched to a low reading level, and it’s politically & socially conservative articles that show a strong similarity with US style right wing attitudes (Christian family values, anti social programs, liberal elitist conspiracies, etc.  The Sun News TV channel, “Hard News and Straight Talk”, seems to be much the same; it is supposed to “offer Canadians an attractive mixture of ‘hard news’ reporting during the day and ‘straight talk’ opinion journalism at night” and aims to be less politically correct and unapologetically patriotic.

Having lived and worked in the US from 2003-2010 as a voting citizen, I’ve seen first hand how this sort of news manipulation destroys the political process and turns it into overly simplified “patriotic” “us versus them” shouting matches and ad hominem attacks.  I’m already appalled at how far the Harper government has taken Canada down to the USA’s level of political discourse, dirty tricks and legislative changes in order to please corporate interests.  Olease help keep Canada’s political system Canada’s, not just a carbon copy of the ostensibly democratic corporately controlled US oligarchy!

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6 Comments

  1. Tyler Style says:

    There’s a bit of interesting discussion on my post on reddit’s /r/canada, too

  2. Tyler Style says:

    Interestingly enough, mediamatters.org has an article citing a former Fox News insider describing exactly what I fear Sun TV would become if the CRTC gets this amendment passed:

    “…a purely partisan operation, virtually every news story is actively spun by the staff, its primary goal is to prop up Republicans and knock down Democrats, and that staffers at Fox News routinely operate without the slightest regard for fairness or fact checking.”

    Some particularly galling quotes from the source:

    “People tend think that stuff that’s on TV is real, especially under the guise of news.”

    “We were a Stalin-esque mouthpiece. It was just what Bush says goes on our channel.”

    “They’re a propaganda outfit but they call themselves news.”

  3. Tyler Style says:

    The Globe and Mail ran an article today discussing the outraged comments that the CRTC has been receiving, and speaks with Mr. Derek Lee (a Liberal MP on the committee that recommended the change).

    Mr. Lee states that the CRTC can’t actually forbid broadcasters to disseminate falsehoods – that “We shouldn’t be asking the issuer of [a broadcast] license to be a policeman in a way that diminishes a Charter right.”

    First off, since when do Charter Rights apply to corporations? Are we going to go the same route as the US is heading down and grant legal personhood to corporations??? Secondly, if this indeed a case of not violating Charter rights, how does he explain the mandated percentage of Canadian content required by licensing? That can easily see that as being a violation of Charter rights.

    While the CRTC may not have the authority to actually apply criminal penalties, there is certainly nothing stopping it from yanking a license for violating it’s terms. Or even acting as a watchdog organization and simply prosecuting against violations in court. Mr. Lee’s arguments are specious at best.

    Mr. Lee may say it’s pointless, but at least we as Canadians can go on record as being against this measure, and hopefully enough outrage will catch the attention of politicians to pursue this in other venues!

    • Stephen P says:

      > Are we going to go the same route as the US is heading down and grant legal personhood to corporations?
      The same route we’re going down? We’ve been there for a long time already. Corporations have long been “fictitious persons” and lack only a few rights that actual persons have, and they make up for those by having all kinds of rights real people don’t have and the money to buy representation in the government.

      Good post though, which I found from a comment of yours on addictinginfo.org

      One nit to pick:

      Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” to describe this

      Computer programmers have been using the word “truthiness” for a long time, so Colbert didn’t coin it, though he uses it differently than we do. Stephen Colbert uses the term “truthiness” to ….

      • Tyler Style says:

        Hey, nice to know I can stir up some interest when I comment elsewhere – thanks!

        Let’s hope we can reverse the course then – at least the US judges have started to a little given last week’s ruling that corprorate persons don’t have the same right to privacy when it comes to producing documents, etc.

        And to be a programmer is to nit pick! Tell you what, I’ll meet you halfway and change it to “popularized” ;)

  4. Tyler Style says:

    AVAAZ also has an online petition against the amendment up.

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