Ottawa seeks ways to block Russian broadcaster RT

Vehicles of the Russian state-controlled TV channel Russia Today (RT) are seen near Red Square in central Moscow, Russia June 15, 2018.GLEB GARANICH/Reuters

The minister who oversees Canada’s broadcasting system has said Ottawa is exploring “all options” amid calls to cut a Russian state-funded TV station.

The Kremlin-controlled RT television network, formerly known as Russia Today, is carried by BCE Inc., Rogers Communications Inc., Telus Corp. and Shaw Communications Inc., according to RT’s website.

Canada’s official opposition called the broadcaster a Moscow tool that spreads “disinformation and propaganda”, while a January report from the US State Department said the channel had been used to try to influence public opinion on Ukraine in Europe, the United States and even as far away as Latin America.

Ihor Michalchyshyn, CEO of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said Moscow is using RT to justify its war on Ukraine, which makes its ban on all Canadian-regulated broadcasts even more crucial.

The Globe reported in 2017 that some of the country’s biggest TV providers were being paid by RT to carry the channel. Such arrangements are unusual in the television distribution industry, as cable and satellite companies typically pay specialty television channels for the right to distribute them.

“It really is a moral question: should our cable companies make money off the airing of what is clearly a propaganda channel?” said Barry Kiefl, president of Ottawa-based research firm Canadian Media Research Inc.

Mr Kiefl called on Canadian cable and satellite companies to voluntarily stop broadcasting the channel despite the financial blow, noting that Canada’s airspace has been closed to Russian aircraft operators and Russian alcohol has been removed from the shelves of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario ( LCBO).

Failing that, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) could remove RT from its lists of satellite services eligible for distribution, Kiefl said.

A Telus spokesperson said that as a third-party content provider, the telecom “does not exercise editorial control” over the channels it makes available to its customers or what they choose to watch. look.

“We fully adhere to the standards and guidelines set by our regulator, the CRTC, and in the event the CRTC asks Canadian broadcast distributors to remove Russia Today, we will comply immediately. In order to keep our customers informed, we have added a Ukrainian category on Channel 3000 for free until at least March 28, 2022,” Richard Gilhooley said in an email.

Spokespersons for BCE, Rogers and Shaw did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

After the Globe reported in 2017 that Canadian TV providers were being paid to broadcast RT, opposition MPs called for more transparency in the deals.

At the time, Mélanie Joly, who was then Minister of Heritage, had declined several interview requests on the subject, affirming that the regulation and supervision of the Canadian broadcasting system was the responsibility of the CRTC. The regulator also refused interview requests at the time, saying in an emailed statement that the deals with RT were “competitively sensitive”.

Although the CRTC operates at arm’s length from government, the portfolio of the Minister of Heritage includes setting policies that affect how the regulator monitors the industry. Ms. Joly had previously used this power. For example, earlier in 2017 she referred a number of television license renewals to the watchdog, asking it to reconsider spending requirements it had set for original Canadian programming.

Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen called on Ottawa to issue an “ordinance of general application directing the [CRTC] adopt a new broadcasting policy “that revokes the licenses of these outlets” so that Russia Today (RT) is removed from the Canadian airwaves”.

Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said on Saturday that the federal government was “examining all options.”

“I share the concerns of many Canadians about the presence of Russia Today in our broadcasting system,” Rodriguez said on Twitter.

Mr Kiefl argued that the channel’s removal from the Canadian broadcast system did not constitute censorship, as those who wish to watch RT can still do so online. “You’re not saying the channel can’t exist, you’re just saying ‘I’m not going to distribute it,'” Mr Kiefl said.

He added that the channel takes up space that could go to local broadcasters. “The satellite has limited space – it can only broadcast a limited number of channels.”

On Sunday, RT remained available to Canadian TV subscribers, showing headlines such as “Ukrainian army reportedly intensify artillery fire on residential areas” and “Russian TV channels including RT banned in Poland , Finland and Australia”.

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