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What’s Different about Christian Broadcasting in Canada?
Religious broadcasters deserve fair treatment. They have been subjected to unfair and unnecessary restrictions imposed in the 1930s.

Christian broadcasting is different from other Canadian broadcasting – whether on radio or television. The reason it’s different is because the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has a separate set of standards that differentiates between religious broadcasters and all other broadcasters.

…a Christian broadcaster was required to provide a stipulated number of hours…to programming expressing the perspective of another faith…

On September 21, 2007, I had the privilege of appearing on behalf of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) before the CRTC at a hearing concerning the “Diversity of Voices” in Canadian broadcasting. I made a presentation about the undue restriction on freedom of expression placed on individuals and organizations involved in “single faith broadcasting” and the additional expense that single faith broadcasters are required to bear to meet CRTC requirements.

To explain the restrictions, a little history is required. In the 1920s and 30s – yes, before television – enterprising Christian broadcasters had secured a place on radio. Some of the broadcasters from varying expressions of Christianity chose to use their broadcast privileges to verbally attack those of a differing faith perspective. As tension escalated, the federal government stepped in. Regulation of what could be broadcast over the air and who could hold a broadcast license began.

For over half a century no faith based broadcasters were licensed by what became the CRTC. In 1983, the CRTC established strict requirements under which they would consider licensing faith based broadcasters and in 1987 the first multi-faith broadcaster was licensed, Vision TV.

By 1993, the CRTC was prepared to amend its requirements and take a chance on single faith broadcasters. However, the CRTC also chose to interpret the Broadcasting Act’s requirement for “balance” in “programming provided by the Canadian broadcast system” in such a way as to require single faith broadcasters to provide balance on each single faith station. That meant that a Christian broadcaster was required to provide a stipulated number of hours at times determined by the CRTC to programming expressing the perspective of another faith group. For non-religious broadcasters (e.g. CBC, CTV, Global, etc) the balance requirements were deemed to be met through the other broadcasters in the system. Only religious broadcasters were, and are, required to meet the balance requirements on a station by station basis.

Additionally, to meet the balance requirements, many Christian broadcasters face a multi-faceted financial issue. To provide air time to other faith groups, Christian broadcasters are often required to help finance that programming. The other groups might be willing to provide programming but may lack the facilities to do so. The result – they use the Christian broadcaster’s facilities. Sometimes they can provide volunteer staff but at other times the Christian broadcaster has to pay their staff to run the equipment, either because the other faith group cannot afford to do so or because of insurance requirements or other reasons. The other group might have a program to offer but that faith group is not in the target audience for the Christian station’s usual advertisers. The other group might have advertisers but those advertisers do not wish to pay a Christian organization for advertising privileges. Time slots are sacrificed to what would otherwise be full cost paying programming.

As a result, in addition to the basic injustice of being treated with a different standard, single faith broadcasters also take the double financial hit of covering the costs for the other faith group (or groups) and not being able to put cost paying programming in that time slot.

One of the CRTC commissioner’s noted that this offering of air time and production costs, primarily by Christian broadcasters, is Christian charity. A good point. However, charity is giving from freedom of choice. Freedom of choice is lost when a broadcaster is required by regulation to “give” in order to remain on the air. Additionally, how many broadcasters – other than Christian broadcasters – does the CRTC ask to make this type of “charitable” commitment? Clearly, the standards are different for single faith broadcasters than they are for all other players in the broadcast arena.

Canadian Christian broadcasters contribute a lot to the broadcast system and the country. Christian broadcasters provide Canadian artists exposure that would otherwise not be available to them. Christian bookstores have noted the increase in sales of Canadian music when a Christian radio station goes on the air in their community. Many artists get their first exposure on Christian radio or television. Christian broadcasters provide Canadians with access to religious broadcasting from a Canadian, rather than American, perspective.

Hence, the EFC’s submissions to the CRTC – a written presentation [PDF] in July and verbal presentation [beginning at line 8271] on September 21.

Christian broadcasters, or other single faith broadcasters, should be permitted to accommodate programming from other faith groups, but not required to do so. Such a decision should rest with the broadcaster.

The Canadian broadcast system has plenty of balance for single faith broadcasters without requiring each station to make a financial sacrifice in the effort to remain on the air. Balance for religious broadcasters is provided through the wide variety of multi-cultural, multi-faith and other specialty stations now available on television and radio, and through the religious broadcasts that take place on general broadcast stations.

Single faith broadcasters should not have their freedom of expression determined by CRTC requirements for station by station balance. These broadcasters should be subject to the same regulation and standards to which every other broadcaster in the system is subject. A similar recommendation is made as 11(h)-1 at page 265 of the August 2007 Dunbar-Leblanc Report [PDF] commissioned by the CRTC. The EFC’s recommendation is solidly in line with the Dunbar-Leblanc Report.

It’s time the CRTC revised the requirements for single faith religious broadcasters in order to provide fair and non-discriminatory treatment to all Canadian broadcasters.

Don Hutchinson is General Legal Counsel for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

 

 
 
 
 

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