Naturally, this proposal from the CRTC immediately caught the attention of the media and public. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), when they ordered the CRTC to make this announcement, knew it would draw the anger of virtually the entire Canadian population. Thus, when PMO Official Spokesman and Industry Minister Tony Clement made his announcement that the government would, if necessary, stop this ruling, the effect was to make the Harper Government appear concerned about the welfare of Canadians.
The chances of this ruling actually coming into full effect are, of course, fairly remote. There would be endless lawsuits and class action suits, which would no doubt throw out the ruling as unconstitutional. However, all this would take time, and serious damage to business and consumers might happen in the meantime.
The end result? The PMO scores ten points for presenting Stephen Harper as a real leader, concerned about his fellow Canadians, and ready to step in against Big Business when the interests of Canadians are at stake.
The Real Reason for the Internet Cap
The PMO’s decision to order the CRTC to come up with this ruling goes much deeper, however. Not only can the Harper Government take credit for standing up for Canadians, but in all the furore, the proposed Internet usage cap safely camouflages what Harper is really forcing the CRTC to do.
What the federal government wants to conceal from Canadians is a far more ominous change in regulations. Currently, media outlets in Canada are under an obligation “not to broadcast any false or misleading news.” After the proposed changes, media would be allowed to broadcast any false or misleading news they and their advertisers saw fit, as long as actual lives, health or safety of the public are not affected. What we would have, in effect is a copy of the US Regulation: § 73.1217Broadcast hoaxes.
No licensee or permittee of any broadcast station shall broadcast false information concerning a crime or a catastrophe if:
(a) The licensee knows this information is false;
(b) It is forseeable that broadcast of the information will cause substantial public harm, and
(c) Broadcast of the information does in fact directly cause substantial public harm.
For purposes of this rule, “public harm” must begin immediately, and cause direct and actual damage to property or to the health or safety of the general public, or diversion of law enforcement or other public health and safety authorities from their duties. The public harm will be deemed foreseeable if the licensee could expect with a significant degree of certainty that public harm would occur. A “crime” is any act or omission that makes the offender subject to criminal punishment by law. A “catastrophe” is a disaster or imminent disaster involving violent or sudden event affecting the public.
Basically, this rule would make it a crime to broadcast something like HG Wells’ “War of the World’s” without a suitable warning that it is fiction, but little else. It certainly does nothing to force networks to provide a truthful or unbiased coverage of events. In an American context, it gives networks such as Fox a licence to say what it wants under the guise of news – obvious falsehoods about climate change, for example, or about the President.
Given that “Fox News North”, otherwise known as Sun Media, is about to set up its own Neocon channel in Canada, what do these changes forebode?
Well-known Canadian authoress Margaret Atwood is quoted in the Globe and Mail as being against the way the government is pushing for the new cable news service, stating: “Some people signing the petition object to the expected content. I object to the process. It’s the [prime ministerial] pressure on yet another civil servant that bothers me. These folks are supposed to be working for the taxpayer, not the PM.”
She has also signed an on-line petition which states that “Prime Minister Harper is trying to push American-style hate media onto our airwaves, and make us all pay for it. His plan is to create a ‘Fox News North’ to mimic the kind of hate-filled propaganda with which Fox News has poisoned U.S. politics. The channel will be run by Harper’s former top aide [Kory Teneycke] and will be funded with money from our cable TV fees!”
Harper Government Contradicts itself in the Commons
Charlie Angus, NDP Member for Timmins-James Bay, brought the subject up in the House of Commons.
The CRTC is considering gutting journalistic standards so the media giants are going to be allowed to say anything they want as long as nobody gets killed.
Now, I have never met a journalist in this country who thought that misinformation, lying or negligence has any place in any Canadian newsroom. So, who would this benefit? Well, Conservative attack ads certainly and Fox news media definitely because, thanks to the Conservative marching orders, the CRTC has been reduced to acting like a short-order cook for the media barons.
To which James Moore, PMO Official Spokesman for Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, responded:
Mr. Speaker, I would say very simply that if my hon. colleague has a problem with the CRTC, he should address it to the CRTC. If the journalists in question have a question for the CRTC, they should address it to the CRTC. This is a question for the CRTC. The member ought to know that the CRTC does operate independently of the government and there is a process for people to make any grievances to the CRTC known. This is for the CRTC to decide and not the government.
This is an interesting response, considering PMO Official Spokesman and Industry Minister Tony Clement was promising at the same time to bring down the wrath of the government on the CRTC over Internet billing.
Harper’s Personal Involvement with Fox News and Sun Media
Lawrence Martin, a columnist for the Globe and Mail, reported that Harper, along with his former spokesman Kory Teneycke, had lunch in New York with Fox News Owner Rupert Murdoch and Fox President Roger Ailes.
Soon after this lunch in New York, Sun Media announced Mr. Teneycke would become head of their political coverage, giving his old boss significant influence in the affairs of the new news channel. For Harper, who, through the PMO, tries to control everything said by and about his government, this was a major triumph, especially as news might not, in the near future, have to be true.
Then, on September 15, a potential disaster fell upon Teneycke and Fox North. Mr. Teneycke reported that the petition contained fake names, including Homer Simpson and a character from Sesame Street. Immediately after, when it became apparent that Teneycke had absolutely no access to the names of the petitioners, and there were calls for a police investigation, Teneycke abruptly resigned from his new post.
However, just over a month ago, the Globe and Mail announced that Teneycke was indeed with the operation. Perhaps the September announcement by Harper’s former spin-doctor was indeed false or misleading, in which case they certainly contravened the then current CRTC regulations.
The biggest question: Now that it will soon be legal to publish lies described as news, will someone in the PMO be stupid (or desperate) enough to put an opposition member in the crosshairs?