ARCHIVED - Decision CRTC 2001-711
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Decision CRTC 2001-711
|Ottawa, 23 November 2001|
CTV Television Inc. and Groupe TVA inc.
Amendment to the conditions of licence concerning the nature of the specialty services provided by Newsnet and Le Canal Nouvelles (LCN)
|This decision completes the process that began with Public Notice CRTC 2001-65, in which the Commission called for comments on proposed amendments to the conditions of licence describing the nature of the services to be provided by Newsnet and LCN.|
|The Commission has considered the many comments submitted in response to its call, including those of Newsnet and LCN. The Commission, by majority vote, has decided to accept the proposals put forward by the licensees, but with some modification. The Commission's majority is convinced that the final amendments announced herein will ensure that both licensees remain within their approved headline news formats, while allowing them to provide Canadian viewers with appropriate coverage of news and to operate as viable and relevant services.|
|Newsnet and LCN are owned and operated by CTV Television Inc. and Groupe TVA inc., respectively. They were licensed in 1996, following a competitive process, to provide headline news format specialty services, the former in English and the latter in French.|
|The services, as described in the original licence applications, were to provide headline news, weather and sports reports, as well as business, consumer and lifestyle information, presented on a continuously updated 15-minute wheel. At the licensing hearing, the applicants stated that their services would be distinctly different from existing services, would not include long-form programming, and would remain strictly within the proposed program formats.|
|The Commission's policy of licensing one analog specialty service per language in a given program genre is designed to ensure that viewers have access to a variety of specialty formats, and to foster diversity of programming within the Canadian broadcasting system, as called for by the Broadcasting Act. The Commission considered that the headline news format proposed by Newsnet and LCN would be distinct from the comprehensive, long-form news formats offered by the CBC's Newsworld and RDI, and would provide the public with diversity in, and convenient access to, news programming.|
|After Newsnet and LCN launched in September 1997, the Commission received several complaints from Newsworld and RDI to the effect that both headline news services were broadcasting live long-form programming. The complainants argued that this type of programming clearly departed from the 15-minute program wheel format that was approved by the Commission.|
|The Commission attempted to resolve the issue by way of a letter dated 2 March 1999 to the involved parties. It reiterated that, in order to ensure diversity among programming services, Newsnet and LCN were to maintain a headline news format at all times, and that this format should be distinctly different from that of Newsworld and RDI. The Commission also stated in its letter that the live broadcast of special events was not specifically prohibited, as long as the headline news format was maintained.|
|Following the letter to involved parties, complaints continued to be filed by Newsworld and RDI about the broadcast of long-form programming by Newsnet and LCN.|
|On 6 June 2001, the Commission issued Public Notice CRTC 2001-65 in which it proposed amendments to Newsnet's and to LCN's conditions of licence concerning the nature of their respective headline news specialty services. The purpose of the proposed amendments was to ensure these services remained in the programming formats that had been originally proposed by the licensees, and that were approved by the Commission on the basis of its finding that they would complement existing specialty news services.|
|The proposed conditions of licence were as follows:|
|1. (a) The licensee shall provide a national* …specialty service and shall draw its programs exclusively from category 1 (News) and category 3 (Reporting and actualities) as set out in item 6 of Schedule I of the Specialty Services Regulations, 1990.|
|(b) Subject to 1.(c)†, the licensee shall maintain a "headline news" format as described in its application presented in a continuously-updated fifteen minute wheel.|
|(c) In exceptional circumstances, programming may depart from the headline news format for the coverage of events. When this occurs, the service must provide a break following no more than 15 minutes of such event coverage, excluding commercial time, to broadcast "headline news" as defined in 1(b) above. This break must provide a minimum of 5 minutes of "headline news", excluding commercial time.|
|The Commission received 496 interventions in response to Public Notice 2001-65. A majority of interveners expressed concern about the licensees' possible inability to provide credible headline news services under the amended conditions of licence proposed by the Commission, particularly with respect to their coverage of live events. Others, however, noting that the Newsnet and LCN licences had been issued by the Commission following a very competitive process, stressed the importance of broadcasters adhering to their original conditions of licence.|
|In its response to the proposed amendments, Newsnet referred to the results of a comparison of the program schedules of Newsnet and Newsworld performed by Bowden's media research firm which revealed that these schedules differed by more than 95%. Nevertheless, both Newsnet and LCN proposed amendments to their conditions of licence that would prevent them from departing from their headline news formats, but would be sufficiently flexible to ensure their continued relevance and viability.|
|Essentially, under the solutions proposed by the licensees, both services would be required to break every 15 minutes for a headline news bulletin having a minimum duration of one minute. The licensees also requested that they be granted the flexibility to depart from this requirement on occasion, representing, in aggregate, no more than 5% of the time within a broadcast month.|
|Newsnet also proposed the maintenance, by condition of licence, of an onscreen ticker displaying the latest news headlines at all times. LCN was of the opinion that such a condition of licence was not necessary in its case, since it already offers such a display as part of its service. It added that a condition of licence that refers to a particular technology would not be appropriate, since the technology could rapidly become obsolete.|
|The Commission's decision|
|In its deliberations, the Commission has sought to reconcile its policy objectives of complementarity and diversity among specialty services with the licensees' concern for their ability to provide credible news services, and the public's need and demand for convenient and reliable access to news, as provided by Newsnet and LCN.|
|The Commission, by majority vote, has decided to accept the proposals put forward by the licensees, but with some modification. Specifically, the Commission will require the licensees to ensure that no fifteen-minute period elapses without the broadcast of a headline news segment of a minimum of two minutes duration (excluding commercials). The headline news segment must contain a comprehensive news bulletin that includes such programming elements as news, weather, sports and business reports.|
|The Commission will permit a 5% measure of flexibility, which shall correspond to, and be calculated in accordance with, the following. In any broadcast week, a maximum of 25 occurrences will be permitted in which more than 15 minutes elapse without the broadcast of a headline news segment, as described above. For the purpose of assessing compliance with this requirement, each 15-minute period that elapses without the broadcast of such a headline news segment shall count as a separate occurrence.|
|The Commission will also require the licensees, on those occasions when more than 15 minutes elapse without the broadcast of a headline news segment, to provide an onscreen display of headline news items.|
|The Commission's majority is of the opinion that the flexibility to broadcast, on occasion, programming that varies from the 15-minute program wheel format will allow Newsnet and LCN the necessary latitude to provide appropriate coverage of the news, where circumstances warrant that such coverage take a longer form. This includes live coverage of news and actualities, which are essential components of any effective news service. Further, during those periods, the onscreen display will ensure that viewers continue to have convenient access to other news.|
|The amended nature of service condition of licence for Newsnet and LCN, which is set out in the appendix to this decision, supersedes any previous nature of service condition of licence and any other Commission interpretation of such a condition.|
|The Commission's majority is satisfied that this amended condition provides Newsnet and LCN with the necessary flexibility to continue to provide credible and viable services, while ensuring, most importantly, that they deliver their news in a format that offers diversity to viewers and remains complementary to existing services.|
|This decision is to be appended to each licence. It is available in alternative format upon request, and may also be examined at the following Internet site: http://www.crtc.gc.ca|
* English-language in the case of Newsnet, and French-language in the case of LCN.
† Proposed amendments to the original conditions of licence are in bold.
Appendix to Decision CRTC 2001-711
Amended condition of licence pertaining to the nature of service provided by Newsnet and Le Canal Nouvelles
|1. (a) The licensee shall provide a national* …specialty service and shall draw its programs exclusively from category 1 (News) and category 3 (Reporting and actualities) as set out in item 6 of Schedule I of the Specialty Services Regulations, 1990.|
|(b) Subject to 1. (d), the licensee shall maintain a "headline news" format as described in its application presented in a continuously-updated fifteen minute wheel.|
|(c) Subject to 1. (d), in any broadcast week, no fifteen-minute period shall elapse without the broadcast of a headline news segment of a minimum of two minutes duration (excluding commercials). The headline news segment must contain a comprehensive news bulletin that includes such programming elements as news, weather, sports and business reports.|
|(d) The licensee shall be deemed to be in compliance with this condition provided there are no more than of 25 occurrences, during any broadcast week, in which more than 15 minutes elapse without the broadcast of a headline news segment, as described in 1. (c). For the purposes of assessing compliance with this requirement, each 15-minute period that elapses without the broadcast of such a headline news segment shall count as a separate occurrence.|
|(e) During any occurrence in which more than 15 minutes elapse without the broadcast of a headline news segment, the licensee must provide an onscreen display of the headline news items.|
|(f) For the purpose of this condition, a "broadcast week" shall be defined as the period of seven consecutive broadcast days, beginning on Sunday.|
|* English-language in the case of Newsnet, and French-language in the case of LCN.|
|Dissenting opinion of Commissioner Stuart Langford|
|I disagree with the majority. In my view, its decision constitutes an inappropriate exercise in micro-regulation and, in the long run, is highly unlikely to solve the problem underlying this matter.|
|What is the problem?|
|Newsnet and LCN were licensed in 1996 as "headline news" specialty services, distinct, so the Commission determined at the time, from the comprehensive news services offered by the CBC/SRC's specialty channels, Newsworld and RDI. For clarity and simplicity purposes, I intend to refer in this dissent to Newsnet though what I have to say about that English-language specialty service applies equally to its French-language counterpart, LCN.|
|In September 1997, Newsnet began broadcasting. Almost immediately, the CBC complained that the new CTV-owned service was not adhering to the headline format that with CTV's concurrence had been imposed upon it by conditions of licence (COLs). More complaints – lengthy letters detailing dates and times of alleged transgressions – have arrived at the Commission's offices on a regular basis ever since. Paragraphs 1 to 8 of the majority decision provide an accurate skeletal summary of the background to today's dissent. Missing, for legitimate reasons of economy, is a sense of the sheer volume of paper this ongoing matter has generated.|
|No one would question the right of any broadcaster or citizen for that matter to lodge a complaint about what it sees as the transgressions of a licensee. Motivation is not an issue. Still, one cannot help but wonder. The CBC, in its many complaints, continually stresses that it is chiefly motivated by a desire to protect the public interest and the integrity of the broadcasting system. Perhaps, but the zeal with which the CBC has worked to expose Newsnet's alleged shortcomings does seem to point to a less than purely public-spirited driving force.|
|The investment of time and effort made by the CBC to monitor Newsnet and record each and every alleged transgression made by it over the past four years must have been considerable. When a publicly funded institution, one that constantly reminds Canadians that it is not publicly funded enough, invests so much time and effort in exposing the transgressions of a perceived competitor, it may be time to recommend that the CBC revisit its own sense of mission and purpose rather than concentrating scarce resources on Newsnet's alleged shortcomings.|
|The pith and substance of the CBC allegation is that Newsnet, over the past four years, has violated COLs that limit its programming format to the presentation of news and information in fifteen minute wheels, segments or blocks, updated and repeated, 24 hours each day.On the record and by CTV's admission, it is clear that this allegation is quite correct. Had matters ended there, then very likely this would have been a far slimmer file. As this Commission has following earlier CBC complaints, it would simply have issued an appropriate order aimed at correcting the problem.|
|Not just another complaint|
|However, though prompted by four years of CBC complaints, this file has evolved into something quite different. On June 6th, 2001, acting upon its conclusion that "…there may continue to be some misunderstanding on the part of the licensees concerning the requirements of their nature of service conditions of licence.", the Commission issued Public Notice CRTC 2001-65 (PN 2001-65) calling for comments on a proposed amendment to those COLs. What began as a process of complaint resolution was thereby transformed into a far more fundamental initiative, the assessment of the appropriateness of Newsnet's COLs themselves. PN 2001-65, in effect, put this question to Canadians: "What do you think of the COLs constraining Newsnet to a restricted headline news format?" Canadians answered by the hundreds.|
|A total of 496 interventions poured through the Commission's mail slot and e-mail portal. A good many of these, it is true, appeared to respond not to the question posed by the public notice but to some apprehended fear that CTV news correspondent, Mike Duffy, might lose his job. The Duffy canard aside, the response to the questions posed by PN 2001-65 was both substantial and, with only 12 exceptions, supportive of Newsnet and journalistic freedom and flexibility generally.|
|Limiting live coverage|
|PN 2001-65 not only provided Canadians the opportunity to comment on the broad question noted above, it also put a specific proposal forward and invited reaction to it. It suggested that the Newsnet COLs at issue be amended to maintain the 15-minute wheel, headline news format but to include guidelines governing when Newsnet might be allowed to break away from the constraints built in to such rigid programming parameters. "In exceptional circumstances, programming may depart from the headline news format for the coverage of events. When this occurs, the service must provide a break following no more than 15 minutes of such event coverage, excluding commercial time, to broadcast 'headline news'…"|
|The Commission's suggested formula found little support among the hundreds of Canadians who took the time to respond, though it did produce one rare product, agreement between CTV and CBC. They both hated it, though for far different reasons. CBC saw it as too flexible, too loosely defined and suggested that any flexibility accorded Newsnet would inevitably be abused: "Any lack of clarity is only likely to result in non-exceptional circumstances being treated as exceptional, which would re-create the very problem that the Commission's proposal is intended to resolve."|
|CTV found the Commission's proposal unacceptable for far different reasons. It saw the proposed COL amendment as severely limiting its existing right to cover live breaking news, thereby "…taking away from Newsnet something it is currently permitted to do." Such a development, it predicted, would be the undoing of its service because it would prevent Newsnet from delivering the very product viewers want. "Live, breaking news is headline news. It is essential to the viability of the channel. It is an element that our viewers and the public expect and appreciate."|
|What was said|
|Judging by the interventions in this proceeding, it would appear that CTV's assessment of viewer expectations is accurate. The following is a sampling of opinions on the record of this proceeding:|
|"I am in support of Newsnet's ability to broadcast events continuously and without constraint. Anything less would be a step backwards in ensuring the diversity of choice we now enjoy." (Paul Bates, intervention # 163)|
|"As a source for breaking news for the Canadian public, Newsnet's coverage of live news should not be restricted to "exceptional circumstances." Such a restriction would leave troublesome questions such as who defines "exceptional circumstances" and according to what criteria. The proposed change to CTV Newsnet's conditions of licence would have the effect of limiting the diversity of voices in Canada." (Hilary Elliott, intervention #332)|
|"I wish to express my desire to see the news services licensees held to maximum 15 minute segments with the breaks. This will prevent these licensees from showing ongoing "coverage" of events that are not within the category of reporting news. It will prevent endless hours of speculation and commentary – creating "news", from occurring." (Brian Rushfeldt, intervention #006)|
|"While I am a proponent, viewer and listener to the CBC/CBC Newsworld, I am also concerned that limiting the number of news broadcasters may serve to impede the open and free expression of as many viewpoints on the news as possible." (Steve Sherman, intervention #355)|
|"The proliferation of television channels that broadcast live news programming in the United States and Canada have, in our view, only improved the quality of coverage and helped enormously to inform the public more rapidly, thoroughly and accurately of news events. We see absolutely no obvious downside for the CRTC to encourage a greater competitive environment in this country by permitting Newsnet to carry live programming." Canadian federation of Independent Business, intervention #375).|
|"I believe that this decision will weaken the forum for political debate in this country by giving a virtual monopoly to CBC in the area of live news coverage. I see this as a threat to our democratic process – when only one opinion is available to be heard by the general public." (Andrew Telegdi, MP, intervention #012)|
|"Canadian broadcasters should be applauded for efforts to make Canadian programming more interesting to viewers and for investing in higher-cost live events. The anticipated CRTC decision to curb the audience of CTV Newsnet in order to re-inforce a predetermined division of market share will deliver less interesting, less current, and less informative programming to the viewing public." (Albina Guarnieri, M.P., intervention #380)|
|"In my view, there should be no restrictions on any television news service – local, national or international – seeking to depart from a scripted newscast to provide live coverage of breaking news stories. When headlines are in the making, Canadians should have access to the news as it unfolds. And journalists must be allowed to exercise their full professional discretion in determining which events merit live coverage. To dictate otherwise would be to limit the diversity of news programming available to Canadians." (Hon. Peter Lougheed, intervention #461)|
|"It would not, in my opinion, be an exaggeration to say that the decision before the CRTC is a decision of great importance to the nation as a whole. The need for the public to be informed at all times is crucial to the proper execution of our democracy, and any deliberate attempts by a government agency to limit the free exchange or reporting of information would hamper our development as a free society." (Dr. Elsie E. Wayne, MP, intervention #465)|
|"A healthy democracy, a healthy public policy context requires and demands a broad diversity of voices. Anytime the CRTC acts to limit that diversity, it acts in a fashion that is profoundly not in the national interest." (Hugh Segal, intervention #042)|
|Better but not by much|
|Unfortunately, though the amendments to Newsnet's COLS set out in the majority decision are more easily policed than the proposal made in PN 2001-65, they are not more defensible in a free and democratic society. The vague and unworkable "exceptional circumstances" test has been dropped. In its place, however, the majority decision has inserted another form of control. Newsnet continues to be confined to a headline news, 15-minute wheel format. Every 15 minutes a headline news segment of at least two minutes must be inserted into whatever is being broadcast. As many as 25 times per week, Newsnet may violate the two minute news rule but if it does so, it must overlay whatever it is broadcasting with an "onscreen display of headline news items" – presumably employing a split screen or scrolling ticker-tape-like device to achieve this effect.|
|Short of actually telling Newsnet what stories to cover, it is difficult to imagine how the majority decision could be more intrusive. It is equally difficult to comprehend precisely what benefits the edicts in the majority decision are designed to accomplish. It is true that, under the bombardment of CBC complaints and the threat of losing completely the ability to cover live events, the CTV itself proposed something similar to the majority decision's COLs. An 11th hour offer such as that, however, an offer made in an effort to avoid the consequences of what a party sees as a disastrous proposal is rarely something its proponent truly wants. It is more akin to a last ditch effort to avoid total defeat than an ideal resolution.|
|What CTV Newsnet genuinely wants is the flexibility and journalistic freedom to deliver hard-hitting news to Canadians in a timely and attractive fashion. In the 21st century that means using the latest technology to "go live". "Being ‘fresh' and ‘up to the minute' and ‘fast breaking' is all about broadcasting news when it happens. To bring Canadians the latest developments on major stories, Newsnet needs to go live, and to return to breaking news stories several times to ensure that developments are updated and placed in context." It is unlikely to be in a position to do that with the CBC and CRTC looking over its shoulders, stopwatches in hand. The majority decision refers to the Commission's "…policy objectives of complementarity and diversity…" Handicapping Newsnet's programmers by burdening them with a pre-cast, rigid and formulaic format is unlikely to achieve either goal.|
|Newsnet does not have to be forced to be different; it is different. A Bowden Media study completed in the month of May, 2001, demonstrated that: "Even when both services present live breaking news, they were different roughly 93% of the time." One has only to review Newsworld's schedule to understand that in a very real sense it is no longer a pure news service at all. Programs like Fashion File, Antiques Road Show, Hot Type, Rough Cuts and Culture Shock may be good television but they are not news by any measurement. "CBC Newsworld is a program-based information channel. In contrast, Newsnet has no programs at all. It is not even listed in TV guides since its programming is simply and continuously news, in a 15-minute format."|
|If the intention of the majority truly is to guarantee diversity and complementarity to the benefit of Canadian viewers, the surest way to attain those objectives would have been to remove all constraints on Newsnet's freedom to produce news programming. That is what hundreds of Canadians who intervened called for, and they were right.|
|Newsnet is not a threat to CBC Newsworld. Newsworld exists in a rarefied and privileged position as a specialty service. All Class 1 and Class 2 cable systems are obliged to carry it on the basic tier. It is financed by a substantial subscription fee, one that was recently raised by 8 cents to 63 cents per month. It is free to carry a broad range of programming categories and it is allowed considerable flexibility when it comes to scheduling commercials. In contrast, Newsnet is forbidden from doing long form programming, its subscription rate is a mere 8.5 cents per month, it may air programs in only two categories (Category 1, News and Category 3, Reporting and actualities) and no cable system is obligated to carry it on basic. If Newsworld feels threatened by Newsnet, its problems are internal and far more fundamental than can be cured by any Commission ruling that limits the flexibility of a perceived competitor.|
|Fine tuned folly|
|Instead of seizing the initiative and making a bold decision to strengthen Canadian news broadcasting, the majority has attempted to resolve this matter by making minor adjustments to what are, essentially, unworkable COLs. By fine tuning the status quo in an attempt to maintain an artificially structured difference between Newsworld and Newsnet, it has missed the opportunity to strengthen and improve Canada's second specialty news service. It has rejected the option of sweeping change, change reflecting the thirst of viewers for relevant and competitive Canadian news programming, in favour of a disappointing exercise in micro-regulation that will leave that thirst unslaked. Instead of freeing CTV to marshal its considerable news-programming resources for the benefit of viewers, the majority has made it more difficult for Newsnet to deliver the product Canadians have told us they want.|
|There is an enormous appetite for news in Canada. The Broadcasting Act is clear in mandating this Commission to ensure that, as much as possible, that appetite is fulfilled "…by offering information and analysis concerning Canada and other countries from a Canadian point of view." We do not fulfil that mandate by handicapping one Canadian broadcaster at the insistence of another.|
|No doubt, the original format proposed by CTV and licenced by the Commission in 1996 was more like that contained in the majority decision today than the laissez-faire approach I see as preferable. So what?|
|CTV made its headline-news application in good faith and has, by and large, adhered to its COLs despite the fact that the service has consistently under-performed financially: "Newsnet is not a profitable specialty service. It is highly unlikely that it will ever be profitable if it is forced to accept the rigid format proposed in the Public Notice." Now, it seeks the flexibility to take advantage of the opportunities opened up by new technologies to modernize and revitalize its programming with more live content. The COLs imposed by the majority, like those proposed in PN 2001-65, will make that goal difficult if not impossible to attain: "Under the proposal, Newsnet would be rendered second-rate instantly. Driven out of live, breaking news coverage, it would be relegated to old technology and a reliance on a studio-based, computer server-driven newscast format that would depend on scripted material Canadians could otherwise obtain faster through other news channels or the Internet."|
|By its decision, the majority continues to hamper Newsnet's ability to perform both as a news broadcaster and a commercial enterprise by forcing it to adhere to a format that is anachronistic and essentially unworkable. To what end? Sadly, the result, as more than one intervention predicted, may be to drive Canadian viewers to foreign news sources: "If you limit CTV Newsnet's ability to broadcast live news, you will simply divert viewers to the American channel, CNN Headline News. What has that to do with promoting Canadian content and Canadian news?" I could not have said it better. I disagree with the majority decision and would have preferred to free Newsnet to do its best for Canadians by programming news coverage as its professional journalists rather than as we the regulators think best.|
1Newsnet, then called CTV N1, Headline News, was licensed by Decision CRTC 96-597 and was defined therein as follows: "CTV N1 will provide viewers across the country with news, weather and sports reports, as well as business, consumer and lifestyle information; the service will be based on a 15-minute wheel that will be continuously updated 24 hours a day. The licensee will not engage in any long form programming."
2Public Notice CRTC 2001-65, paragraph 9.
3"For goodness sake, why is it necessary to prevent Mike Duffy reporting live news? If CBC can't stand the competition, then it should retire gracefully and permit those who can do it to do it." Betty Douglas, Intervention # 198.
4Public Notice CRTC 2001-65, paragraph 11.
5CBC response of July 6, 2001 to PN 2001-65, paragraph 26, page 6.
6CTV Reply to Comments, August 15, 2001, page 1.
8Majority decision, paragraph 16.
9CTV Response to PN 2001-65, July 6, 2001, page 5
10 Majority decision, paragraph 13.
11 CTV Reply to Comments, August 15, 2001, page 3.
12 CTV Response to PN 2001-65, July 6, 2001, page 8.
13 Decision CRTC 2000-3.
14 Decision CRTC 96-597, pages 2 & 3: "The licensee will not engage in any long form programming."
15 Broadcasting Act, 1991, c.11, s.3 (d) (ii)
16 CTV Response to PN 2001-65, July 6, 2001, page 4: "CTV has advised the Commission that, on six occasions in two years, it missed its required newscast in a quarter-hour block. To put matters in perspective, these errors occurred amid some 52,416 quarter-hour occasions for newscasts, meaning a 99.98% compliance rate."
17 CTV Reply to Comments, August 15, 2001, page 6.
18 CTV Reply to Comments, August 15, 2001, page 9.
19 Angus J. Kinnear, intervention # 474.
|Dissenting opinion of Commissioners Cindy Grauer and David McKendry|
|The time has come to cease regulating the format of news on Canadian speciality television news services.|
|A compelling and profound reason must exist to justify the regulation of news formats in a society that places a high value on a free press and the freedom of expression. The record of this proceeding does not provide such a reason.|
|According to the majority of Commissioners (the majority), a condition of licence for Newsnet and Le Canal Nouvelles (LCN) is necessary to ensure news format diversity: "The Commission's majority is satisfied that this amended condition provides Newsnet and LCN with the necessary flexibility to maintain credible and viable services, while ensuring, most importantly, that they deliver their news in a format that offers diversity to viewers and remains complementary to existing services."1 The regulation of news formats is not necessary nor desirable to ensure diversity of news formats.|
|Many diverse sources|
|Canadians have many diverse, perhaps countless, sources of Canadian and international news delivered in diverse formats: speciality and conventional television broadcasters, radio broadcasters, newspapers, magazines, books, newsletters, and the Internet, including list servers, Web sites, and email alerts. Apart from Canadian speciality news services, the news formats of these services are not regulated. Broadcasters, publishers, and others have woven the chaos of unfettered ideas and competition into one of the fundamental pillars of our society: a free press.|
|A tour of the television dial reveals private and public news sources ranging from cable television community channels to CPAC to Newsworld to CNN. One can read almost any newspaper on the Internet and watch television news from Canadian and international sources. On the Internet one can achieve the ultimate in diverse news formats: news that is formatted to suit one's individual interests.2|
|Difficult burden on the regulatory process|
|As an aside to our view that regulation of speciality news formats is not necessary nor desirable, we note that ensuring compliance with format conditions of licence is difficult and time consuming at best, particularly in Canada's dynamic and competitive broadcasting environment where many Canadians receive dozens of Canadian and foreign channels. As the majority notes, Newsworld and RDI, speciality news broadcasters, have made several complaints since September 1997 about Newsnet's and LCN's formats.3 The Commission attempted to resolve the issue in March 1999.4 However, complaints continued to be filed with the Commission by Newsworld and RDI. After issuing a public notice, the majority decision has responded to these complaints with more detailed regulation of Newsnet's and LCN's formats. Canadian broadcasters, however, need news format flexibility in order to respond in a timely way to intense competition for viewers from an array of foreign and Canadian news sources. The regulation of news formats is at odds with Canada's broadcasting environment, placing a very difficult – and unnecessary – burden on the regulatory process to supervise compliance.|
1 Majority decision, paragraph 19.
2 In March 2001 68 per cent of all Canadian households had access to the Internet. Eighty-three per cent of households with a head between the ages of 18 and 34 had access to the Internet. Broadcasting Policy Monitoring Report 2001, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, p.74.
3 Majority decision, paragraphs 4, 6.
4 Majority decision, paragraph 5.
|Dissenting Opinion of Commissioner Martha Wilson|
|I disagree with the majority decision in this matter. At a minimum, I would not have made any amendments to Newsnet's and Le Canal Nouvelles's (LCN's) conditions of licence at this time, and, in an ideal world, would have initiated a process to examine whether or not the principles of genre diversity and complementarity are still relevant with respect to the delivery of news in a regulated broadcasting environment.|
|Commissioners Grauer, McKendry and Langford have expressed eloquently and convincingly the substantive reasons why the majority might have taken a different approach to resolving this dispute and I won't reiterate those arguments here. I would add only that, in my view, the principles of genre diversity and complementarity upon which the majority base their decision were created and relied upon in large measure to protect and nurture the specialty television industry in Canada in its nascent stages. Those principles may no longer be appropriate to the genre of news in this country.|
|That was then. This is now.|
|Due to the economic challenges facing Canadian specialty services in the early days, it was necessary for the Commission to place the principles of genre diversity and complementarity above the larger principle of the unfettered delivery of news in a free and democratic society. There were good reasons for this approach in the early days of specialty television in Canada. The Commission wanted to ensure that the specialty television industry would have the opportunity to be sustainable in the face of competition from other sources of programming, primarily foreign. I would argue, however, that those reasons no longer exist with respect to the genre of news.|
|As Commissioners Grauer and McKendry state in their dissent, in today's broadcasting landscape, "Canadians have many diverse, perhaps countless, sources of Canadian and international news delivered in diverse formats…". Through television alone, Canadians can source news and public affairs programming from all the Canadian conventional broadcasters; the U.S. 4+1 stations (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and PBS); Canadian specialty channels such as Newsworld, RDI, Newsnet, LCN, CITY TV's Pulse 24 (where available) and ROBtv; U.S. specialty channels such as CNN, CNN Headline News and CNBC (in some markets); CPAC and cable community channels; and, in digital television, MSNBC, FoxNews, and, when they launch, a variety of Canadian regional news services applied for and approved by the Commission during its licensing process for digital television services last year.|
|Those who watch news (sometimes to the exclusion of almost anything else on television), demand the multiplicity of news sources. They are not satisfied to be offered a single point of view or way of watching news. In fact, this notion is directly contradictory to the very nature of the role that news plays in our society. In a free and democratic society, viewers of news sample a range of presentations of issues and concerns and endeavour to draw their own conclusions. This is part of the foundation upon which democracy is based.|
|Do Newsworld and RDI really need continued protection?|
|As Commissioner Langford points out in his dissent, both Newsworld and RDI, when licensed in 1987 and 1994 respectively, were granted significant regulatory support to ensure their survival. In addition to genre protection, they were granted basic cable carriage in their respective markets and generous wholesale rates. They are also widely carried in each other's markets: Newsworld is received in almost 9.2 million Canadian homes, more than 2 million of which are in Quebec; RDI is received in more than 8 million Canadian homes, 5.9 million of which are outside Quebec.1 Today, Newsworld receives from cable and DTH 63 cents per basic subscriber per month in Anglophone markets and RDI receives $1.00 per basic subscriber per month in Francophone markets. Newsnet, licensed nine years after Newsworld, receives 8.5 cents per subscriber per month and LCN, licensed two years after RDI, receives 30 cents per subscriber per month. Neither service is guaranteed basic carriage. Indeed, in January 2000 (Decision CRTC 2000-3) Newsworld was granted an 8-cent per month increase in its subscriber wholesale rate, an amount almost equal to the entire rate for Newsnet. RDI was granted a 10-cent per month increase, an increase that represents fully one third of the entire rate for LCN.|
|Surely Newsworld and RDI are mature enough now and enjoy enough regulatory advantages to enable them to continue doing the excellent job they do without spending the time and energy to fetter not just "the little guys" – Newsnet and LCN – but, more importantly, the very principle of access to and delivery of Canadian news in a free and democratic society.|
|In my view, the principles of genre diversity and complementarity, which were introduced to ensure the survival of Canadian specialty services in the early days of this industry, were placed above the overarching principle of freedom of the press for regulatory reasons, and this rationale was used to justify the fettering of the delivery of news in a regulated broadcasting industry. It was an approach that was appropriate 7 or 14 years ago, but it is my view that this approach is no longer valid for the genre of news and should be revisited by the Commission.|
|1 Source: Mediastats, August 31, 2001|
Date Modified: 2001-11-23
- Date modified: