ARCHIVED -  Public Notice CRTC 1995-198

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Public Notice

Ottawa, 24 November 1995
Public Notice CRTC 1995-198
Introductory Statement to Decisions CRTC 95-849 to 95-855 - Denial of Applications for Broadcasting Licences to Carry on New, Religious Television Programming Undertakings at Various Locations in Western Canada
At a Public Hearing commencing 5 June 1995 in Winnipeg, the Commission considered seven proposals by six different applicants for licences to carry on new, religious, over-the-air television programming undertakings: two in each of Winnipeg and Edmonton, and one in each of Vancouver, Saskatoon and Steinbach. In the decisions that accompany this public notice (Decisions CRTC 95-849 to 95-855), the Commission has denied all of these applications for the reasons stated therein.
The purpose of this introductory notice is to provide a summary of the Commission's religious broadcasting policy and its background, and to highlight certain of the concerns common to many of the applications denied in today's decisions.
1. Background
a) The Religious Broadcasting Policy
The Commission's policy on religious broadcasting is contained in Public Notice CRTC 1993-78 dated 3 June 1993. Under this policy, for the first time, the Commission set out guidelines for the licensing of single-faith groups to carry on broadcasting undertakings devoted to religious programming.
The Commission's religious broadcasting policy was developed in response to requests and submissions received from several individuals and groups across Canada. Despite the success of the national, multifaith, specialty programming service provided by Vision TV, which had then been operating for a number of years, the Commission concluded in its 1993 public notice that it might not be realistic in every case to expect broadcasters to implement a similar multifaith model at the local level. In announcing its new policy for the licensing of locally-based, single-faith religious groups, the Commission indicated that it was satisfied that:
 ...local religious broadcasters can work within the existing flexible guidelines of the current balance policy in order to keep their audiences informed of differing perspectives on issues of importance, including religion itself, while addressing the particular needs of the communities they serve.
The Commission's expectations regarding balance in religious programming stems from the requirement contained in the Broadcasting Act (the Act) that the programming offered by the Canadian broadcasting system should "provide a reasonable opportunity for the public to be exposed to the expression of differing views on matters of public concern". Because of the degree of controversy associated with religious practices and beliefs, the Commission's policy calls for those who broadcast religious programming to expose their audiences to different points of view on religion itself.
In its notice, the Commission iden-tified a number of criteria that, if met by a broadcaster, should enable it to satisfy the balance requirement. In essence, the balance policy seeks to ensure that a reasonably consistent viewer or listener will be exposed to a spectrum of views on issues of public concern within a reasonable period of time. It is up to each applicant to propose specific plans, best suited to its particular circumstances, to ensure balance in its programming. Applicants must be able to demonstrate their understanding of the Commission's policy expectations. They must also be able to substan-tiate their proposals for achieving balance with concrete and viable plans for their implementation.
The guidelines on ethics contained in the Commission's 1993 notice are also an important element of its religious broadcasting policy. The guidelines are expected to apply to all religious programs, both Canadian and non-Canadian. The Commission emphasized that programming of a religious nature, like any programming, must demonstrate tolerance, integrity and social responsibility. Whereas the Commission noted that religious broadcasting has the power to provide spiritual comfort, the Commission also stated that it was "acutely aware" of instances where this power has been abused. The ongoing potential for such abuse is of concern to the Commission, particularly in the context of acquired programming that may not always be effectively monitored and reviewed before broadcast.
In order to ensure that their programming meets the high standard required under the Act, broadcasters of programming of a religious nature are expected to adhere to the guidelines. It follows that all applicants proposing new religious programming services should possess a clear understanding of, and commitment to, the objectives the guidelines are intended to serve; they should also be prepared to demonstrate that they have effective mechanisms in place to ensure adherence to the guidelines at all times.
In its 1993 notice, the Commission also emphasized the importance of local reflection, stating that it would expect each applicant to demonstrate that the programming it proposes to provide will adequately meet the needs of the community it serves. In some cases, in particular those communities with diverse populations, this may mean providing multifaith programming.
b) Previous Decisions
The first applications proposing single-faith, over-the-air television services, one for Lethbridge, Alberta and another for Dawson Creek, British Columbia, were considered at a public hearing in Saskatoon on 6 June 1994. Subsequently, in Public Notice CRTC 1994-110 dated 30 August 1994, the Commission announced its determination that both applicants, Victory Christian Fellowship of Lethbridge (1983) Inc. (Victory), and Cherry Point Community Promotion Association (Cherry Point), had failed to provide the Commission with sufficient detailed information as to how, over time, their proposals for meeting the expectations set out in the religious broadcasting policy "...would be consistently, fairly and effectively implemented". The Commission, however, recognizing that there had been no decision issued on any application proposing to offer a religious programming service following the 1993 policy statement, provided the two applicants with further guidance regarding its expectations and requirements, and gave them an opportunity to clarify their proposals and commitments.
In April 1995, following its consideration of the further information submitted by these applicants, the Commission issued decisions, one approving the application by Victory and the other denying the application by Cherry Point (see Decisions CRTC 95-129 and 95-130).
2.The Current Applicants
Trinity Television Inc. (Trinity) applied for licences to operate television stations in each of Winnipeg and Edmonton. Trinity proposed a loose affiliation between itself and other potential religious broadcasters, the purpose of which would be to share costs for the production or acquisition of "national" programming. The Vancouver applicant, National Christian Television Inc. (NCT), is a member of this potential alliance. Consequently, the program schedule proposed by NCT for its Vancouver service is essentially the same as the schedules submitted by Trinity for its proposed Winnipeg and Edmonton undertakings. Other parties who have indicated plans to become part of this affiliation include applicants proposing to offer new religious television services in Toronto and Ottawa. Their applications are tentatively scheduled for consideration at a public hearing in the spring of 1996. The remaining four applications considered at the June 1995 hearing in Winnipeg are by societies or corporations whose ownership and proposed operations would be independent of the Trinity "alliance", and of each other.
3. Assessment of the Applications
The Commission analyzed each of the applications at the Winnipeg hearing, individually and on its own merits, against the background of its 1993 policy on religious broadcasting. Specifically, the Commission has assessed the plans and commitments put forward by each of the current applicants for the provision of local reflection, taking into account the size and diversity of the community each proposed to serve. The Commission has also evaluated the applications to determine the adequacy of each applicant's understanding of the religious broadcasting policy, as well as of the information provided concerning the safeguards and other mechanisms that each would put into place to guarantee that the applicant's proposals and commitments for ensuring balance, and adherence to the guidelines on ethics, would be dependably and effectively maintained over the long term.
Each application has been denied for the particular reasons cited in today's decisions. Nevertheless, there are certain matters of Commission concern that are common to many of these proposals.
All of the applications were submitted prior to issuance of the Commission's decision licensing Victory in April 1995. Following that decision, each of the applicants filed revised proposals and commitments for ensuring balance and adherence to the guidelines on ethics. In each case, the revised proposals included a policy manual describing the programs that the applicant would broadcast in order to provide balance, and the procedures that would be followed to ensure adherence to the guidelines on ethics, including provisions for the establishment of a review committee.
The text of the policy manuals submitted by the applicants is very similar to, and, at times, matches almost word for word, the text contained in the manual submitted by Victory in response to Public Notice CRTC 1994-110. That the current applicants appear to have borrowed heavily from Victory's policy manual in drafting their own is not, in and of itself, a concern.
The fact remains, however, that many of the applicants were unable to provide sufficient or specific details at the hearing as to how their own proposals would be implemented. Nor did they explain to the Commission's satisfaction how their strategies would expand upon Victory's chosen approach at Lethbridge, or would otherwise be modified, in order to take into account their own particular circumstances and those of the communities they sought to serve.
The Commission notes in this regard that the populations of the communities the current applicants propose to serve are, with the exception of Steinbach, substantially larger than the population of Lethbridge. Winnipeg and Edmonton have Christian populations that are, respectively, more than ten and twelve times the size of that in Lethbridge. Their non-Christian populations are, in the case of Winnipeg, 20 times greater than in Lethbridge and, in the case of Edmonton, 30 times greater. The population of Vancouver includes a Christian component numbering almost 20 times the size of that in Lethbridge, but has 72 times the number of people belonging to other faith groups.
These comparisons point to a greater diversity of religious perspectives in the populations of these larger cities than exists in a smaller community such as Lethbridge. Those proposing new religious services in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver thus face a commensurately greater challenge in meeting their responsibility to ensure that the diversity within these communities is reflected in their programming.
The larger and more diverse make-up of these communities raises the question of whether the applicants, in most instances, should not have made more convincing and effective efforts than they did to elicit commitments from other faith groups to participate in the production of programming. Further questions are raised regarding whether the applicants should have been better prepared at the hearing to provide detailed plans concerning how they would ensure the provision of balance programming, how they would monitor the provision of alternative viewpoints and what corrective action would be taken if balance was not being provided.
With regard to the provision of balance, in Public Notice CRTC 1994-110, the Commission stated that it would:
 ...assess an applicant's plans with respect to the provision of balance by examining, not only the methods it will use to provide different views on religion and on other matters of public concern, but on the amount of programming it proposes to include in its schedule presenting such different views.
The current applicants have all made commitments to broadcast approximately the same number of hours of balance programming as Victory proposed in its successful application. In many cases, however, a heavy reliance on the repeat broadcast of balance programs and, in three instances, the absence of plans to schedule any balance programs during the evening hours when the largest potential audiences are available, raise concerns about whether such programming could be truly effective in providing balance, particularly given the size and diversity of most of the communities involved.
4. Conclusion
Although it has denied the seven applications before it at the Winnipeg hearing, the Commission remains open to the licensing of over-the-air services devoted to religious programming. In the circumstances, the Commission has not been satisfied that the applications, as filed, would meet the objectives of the Act. Nevertheless, the Commission would give further consideration to applications containing firm commitments supported by detailed plans to provide programming services that are consistent with the objectives and requirements of the Act.
Allan J. Darling
Secretary General

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