ARCHIVED - Broadcasting Commission Letter Addressed to George Lee (Fairchild Radio (Calgary FM) Ltd.)
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Ottawa, 25 July 2016
Mr. George Lee
Fairchild Radio (Calgary FM) Ltd.
Fairchild Radio national inquiries:
Unit 2090 – 4151 Hazelbridge Way
Richmond, BC V6X 4J7
RE: Complaint by Devinder Shory against Fairchild Radio CHKF-FM
Complaint – Initial Submissions
This determination is in response to the complaint filed by Mr. Devinder Shory on 8 November 2015 which raised concerns about how Fairchild Radio (Calgary FM) Ltd. (Fairchild Radio) and its hosts conducted their programs on CHKF-FM during the 2015 federal election periodFootnote1 and particularly on the eve of the election. In his view, the programs were conducted in an inequitable manner and the show broadcast on 18 October 2015 was used to campaign against him and to ask listeners to vote for another candidate.
Mr. Shory’s principal concern was with the above noted program where two hosts consolidated their respective programs creating a four hour show from 7pm to 11pm on the eve of the election. He argued that the hosts and the guests openly campaigned against him and that they asked listeners to vote for a candidate who wears a turban. He took this as the hosts advocating for listeners to vote against him as he does not wear a turban.
Fairchild Radio filed a reply to Mr. Shory (with a copy to the Commission) on 27 November 2015. It included with its reply certified translated (from Punjabi to English) transcriptions of the show at issue in the complaint. Fairchild Radio replied that the complainant had been on another show on 3 October 2015 between 7pm and 8pm and that he was the only interviewee in that episode. In the one hour interview, the complainant was able to share his campaign platform and discuss his points of view on a variety of subjects. It also replied that the complainant was invited on 9 October to appear on another show, at his convenience, and that he turned down the invitation.
After having reviewed the transcripts filed by the licensee, the complainant filed a second letter, received by the Commission on 19 December 2015. He submitted that the four hour show on 18 October 2015 was the last program that South Asian listeners would hear in Punjabi before going to vote the next day. He submitted that the show was biased in favour of the Liberal Party of Canada and the Liberal candidate, Mr. Darshan Singh Kang running in the riding of Calgary Skyview, in which there is a high concentration of South Asians.
Mr. Shory submitted that the broadcaster did not, over the course of the four hours, provide balanced coverage and that the hosts put forward editorial viewpoints throughout the four hours in favour of the Liberal Party’s candidates for the Calgary area ridings. He submitted that the program did not present countervailing viewpoints or accurately present the platforms of the Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party (NDP) as he was not advised of the program nor was any guest invited who would have provided a counterbalance relative to other political parties’ record and election agenda.
Mr. Shory also pointed out that a caller associated with the Liberal Party’s campaign told listeners that Mr. Kang would win and advocated that listeners vote for Mr. Kang, and that neither of the hosts and guests provided any balance. Mr. Shory submitted that they counseled listeners on strategic voting to ensure his defeat. According to Mr. Shory, one of the hosts, during the fourth hour stated that he was talking as a spokesperson of Mr. Kang, the Liberal candidate and that he committed himself 100% to stand with Mr. Kang on stage to support the Liberal Party. Mr. Shory argued that this was a clear editorial endorsement for the Liberal Party and that no one during the four hour program spoke on behalf of his candidacy or on behalf of the Conservative Party or the NDP.
Mr. Shory argued that the program on 18 October 2015 was so far outside of equity requirements set out in the Commission’s Guidelines that his previous appearance or that of other Calgary Conservative Party candidates during the election period was completely undermined, contrary to section 3 of the Broadcasting Act (the Act), by the four hour attack.
Commission Staff Letter
After reviewing the complaint and transcripts, staff sent a letter to Fairchild Radio asking it, among other things, to demonstrate how its conduct during the election period, and during the four hour 18 October 2015 program, met the Commission’s policy on equitable treatment and how it was in compliance with section 6 of the Radio Regulations, 1986 (the Regulations).
On 28 January 2016, Fairchild Radio submitted that it had discharged its on-air responsibilities with regard to the provision of Punjabi-language public affairs programming during the 2015 federal election. The licensee submitted that the Commission’s balance policy is not examined over a single program but over a reasonable period of time, depending on the circumstances of each case.
With its response, it filed a summary of the coverage by the station of the 2015 federal election for its Punjabi audience. Fairchild Radio submitted that this summary reflected the station’s efforts to provide varied electoral coverage to its Punjabi audience by providing electoral candidates an opportunity to participate in its on-air programming. The licensee also filed a transcript of the one hour interview conducted with the complainant on 3 October 2015, where he discussed his ideas and those of his party on a number of issues. The licensee submitted that at the beginning of any Punjabi-language program where candidates were interviewed on the station during the campaign, the interviewer invited any candidate, on the phone or personally in the studio, to discuss their policies. The licensee also pointed out that the host indicated to Mr. Shory twice during the interview that the station would invite him back to the station. He was invited on 9 October 2015 for another interview and declined the invitation.
Fairchild Radio also submitted that during the four hour program at issue, the candidate for the Democratic Advancement Party of Canada (DAPC) was interviewed by phone and that one of the co-hosts identified himself as an NDP supporter. The licensee also filed a letter from the Conservative Party candidate of another riding covered by the station mentioning that he was interviewed by the station and that, in his view, the coverage of the station was unbiased and fair.
In response to staff’s question on measures taken by the licensee to ensure compliance with the Commission’s policy and Regulations on equitable treatment, the licensee filed an email sent on 4 September 2015 by its Coordinator of Ethnic Programs to all CHKF’s producers and brokers. This email provided a link to the Commission’s Broadcasting Information Bulletin CRTC 2015-354 with an explanation of the requirements of the Information Bulletin and its Guidelines. The Coordinator also met in person the various producers to discuss these Guidelines. Since the complaint, the licensee also explained that the President of Fairchild Radio also met with each of the Punjabi producers involved in the programming complained of to reiterate and expand on the responsibilities of all those involved in the provision of on-air information programming during an election.
The Commission’s analysis
The Commission has analyzed both parties’ submissions, including the transcripts provided by the licensee, in light of the relevant policy objectives set out in the Broadcasting Act, section 6 of the Radio Regulations, 1986 and the Guidelines for broadcast licensees during an election.
Based on this regulatory framework, the Commission has identified the following issues:
- Did Fairchild Radio, during the election period, allocate time on an equitable basis to political parties and candidates in accordance with section 6 of the Regulations?
- With the program aired on 18 October 2015, did the licensee provide a balance of information in its overall election-related programming during the election period within the meaning of sections 3(1)(i)(i) and 3(1)(i)(iv)of the Act and was it of high standard within the meaning of section 3(1)(g) of the Act?
Issue 1: Did Fairchild Radio, during the election period, allocate time on an equitable basis to political parties and candidates in accordance with section 6 of the Regulations?
Under section 6 of the Regulations, during an election period, licensees shall allocate time for the broadcasting of programs, advertisements or announcements of a partisan political character on an equitable basis to all accredited political parties and rival candidates represented in the election. Equitable allocation of time is assessed on the basis of the entire election period.
The four hour show complained about was in majority in the Punjabi language and addressed to Punjabi listeners. The Commission has examined Fairchild Radio’s account of the station’s coverage for its Punjabi audience during the election period. According to the licensee’s description of various shows, hosts discussed the federal election and politics in general and conducted interviews with electoral candidates from the Liberal Party, the DAPC, the Conservative Party and the NDP.
During that period, two candidates for the Liberal Party appeared on air for a total of fifty-five (55) minutes, the candidate of the DAPC for ninety (90) minutes, the candidate for the NDP for thirty-five (35) minutes and the two Conservative Party candidates for at least fifty (50) minutes. Before, during or after each interview, the hosts had a practice of inviting any other candidate wanting to appear on their shows to discuss their various platforms to contact the station. In addition to this document, the licensee also filed a letter from Mr. Obhrai, the Conservative Party candidate of another riding covered by the station, mentioning that he was interviewed by the station and that in his view the coverage of the station was unbiased and fair.
With regards to Mr. Shory, the station interviewed him for fifty (50) minutes and further invited him twice to come back to the station. The Commission considers that the licensee made reasonable efforts to provide opportunities to Mr. Shory to participate in the station’s programing during the election period to discuss his campaign and the Conservative Party platform.
In light of the above, the licensee gave an opportunity to all candidates and political parties to put forward their views, including to Mr. Shory, and provided a varied electoral coverage to its Punjabi audience. Therefore, the Commission is of the view that the licensee allocated time to the various candidates and parties on an equitable basis in accordance with section 6 of the Regulations.
Issue 2: With the program aired on 18 October 2015, did the licensee provide a balance of information in its overall election-related programming during the election period within the meaning of sections 3(1)(i)(i) and 3(1)(i)(iv)of the Act and was it of high standard within the meaning of section 3(1)(g) of the Act?
The policy objectives set out in paragraphs 3(1)(i)(i) and (iv) of the Act mention that programming should provide a balance of information and a reasonable opportunity for the public to be exposed to the expression of differing views on matters of public concern. In addition, paragraph 3(1)(g) sets out that programming should be of high standard. There is no doubt that election-related programming is a subject of public concern.
Whether programming meets the policy objective of balance or of high standard is assessed by the Commission on a case-by-case basis. Also, the Commission agrees with the licensee that balance in the election-related programming is not, as a general rule, examined over a single program but must be assessed in light of the overall programming during the entire election period.
During the four hour program on the night before the election, the hosts discussed with guests and took various calls from listeners. The hosts, guests and callers mainly talked about what they disliked about then PM Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party. It was noted during the program that there were guests speaking from other political viewpoints. There was also a phone interview with a candidate of the DAPC. However, the platforms of the NDP and the Liberal Party were not discussed at any length and the discussions were primarily centered on the reasons why not to vote for the Conservative Party and on strategic voting, i.e. why voting for the Liberal Party was the way to make the Conservative Party lose the elections.
Moreover, again as noted by Fairchild Radio, the assessment depends on the circumstances of the case. In the present case, the circumstances are very particular, and important. In this regard, the Commission is mindful of the fact that the night before an election is a more sensitive period than any other day of an election period. During this night, the election is on most people’s mind and the media in general will make a summary of all that went on during the campaign. It is not comparable with the start of the election where voters do not generally pay as much attention as they would the closer they approach the election. For candidates, the night before the election is particularly sensitive as they do not have an opportunity to reply to partisan views before the election.
In the case at hand, while the overall programming during the election period was generally balanced, the licensee aired the show from 7pm to 11pm while polls opened the next morning. The station broadcast political comments against a particular party and discussed voting strategies aimed at a specific outcome the night before the election when there was no time to provide opposing views on these comments. The station knew that candidates or political parties affected by the comments would not have time to reply to the hosts’ and guests’ strong partisan views. While the show was also a call-in show and Mr. Shory or any other candidate could have called in to set out their views and describe their ideas to the listeners, these candidates, however, would not necessarily have been aware of what was being broadcast at the time.
Because of the voting strategies discussed and because the hosts and guests indicated strong partisan views through a majority of their statements being made against a particular party and candidate, the show did not expose the public to the expression of differing views and was not internally balanced. Normally, a single unbalanced public affairs program can be remedied by a licensee providing future programing that redresses the imbalance. For example, in this case, even if unbalanced, if the show had been broadcast at the beginning of the election period, the licensee would have had the opportunity to balance it with future programming. Even though other balanced programming had been broadcast before the show in question, it was insufficient to offset the impact of the program broadcast the evening before the election given that there was no opportunity to correct the imbalance created by that show.
For electoral programming to be balanced throughout the election period, the closer to Election Day the programming is aired, the more internally balanced that programming must be, given the lack of time to rebalance the overall content broadcast.
In light of the above, the Commission considers that the licensee did not recognize the particular characteristics of the time-slot of the program complained about and the broadcast of this internally unbalanced program the night before the election, in the knowledge that it cannot be balanced by subsequent programming, resulted in the licensee not fulfilling the policy objective set out at paragraphs 3(1)(i)(i) and (iv) of balance. With respect to programming of high standard (s.3(1)(g) of the Act), public affairs programming requires a full, fair and proper presentation of the issues in a balanced fashion in order for it to be of high standard. As a result, the Commission also considers that the licensee did not provide programming of high standard as regards the program on the night before the election.
The Commission notes that the licensee took several measures during the election period to provide guidance to its various brokers and hosts in understanding the station’s obligation during the election period. Also, subsequent to this complaint, the licensee has taken further measures to ensure compliance with its obligations relating to election coverage including having the licensee’s president meet with each of the producers involved in the programming complained of to reiterate and expand on the licensee’s responsibilities during an election. The licensee has demonstrated that it understands its obligations, that it takes them seriously and that it has proactively taken measures to avoid future problems.
For the above reasons and recognising the licensee’s measures dealing with balance, the Commission considers the appropriate measures to take in the circumstances of this case are the issuance and publication on the Commission’s website of the present letter. This being said, the Commission reminds the licensee that it has the responsibility at all times to ensure it is in compliance with its regulatory requirements and that the Commission could impose measures, in the future, if it receives substantiated complaints regarding the licensee’s programming.
This letter and related correspondence will be added to the licensee’s file.
cc. Mr. Devinder Shory, by email email@example.com
- Footnote 1
The election period was from 2 August 2015 to 19 October 2015.
- Date modified: