CRTC says it's too soon to judge media integration
CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein waits to appear before the Commons heritage committee in Ottawa, Thursday November 18, 2010. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, November 19, 2010 6:38AM EST
Canada's broadcast regulator says he is concerned enough about vertical integration in the media to launch public hearings next spring, but currently has no idea if it is creating a problem.
CRTC head Konrad von Finckenstein told a Commons committee Thursday that the landscape in broadcasting is changing at lightning speed.
With the advent of digital, and the Internet, the rules of broadcasting are changing and the regulations may need to adapt, he said.
Recently, Shaw bought Canwest's Global TV network, and Bell has absorbed CTV. Meanwhile, Quebecor is launching a new 24-hour cable news network.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has scheduled hearings on the issue for May 9.
"I am concerned. We don't want a situation that, just because we have the same carriers, we have the same voices," von Finckenstein said.
But he rejected suggestions at the committee hearing by the NDP's Charlie Angus that integration, which involves entities owning both the distribution and production of content, is necessarily narrowing the choices of Canadians.
"You proceed from the assumption there is a problem," he told Angus.
However, von Finckenstein said the jury is still out on the question.
In a brief interview after the committee meeting, von Finckenstein said he has not been shown any evidence that vertical integration has limited the variety of programming and voices available to Canadians.
"One of the reasons we have called the hearings is exactly that reason, to look at these issues, to see are they real, are they likely to occur, and are the tools we have sufficient to deal with the issue," he said.
In other testimony, Ontario regional commissioner Rita Cugini asked the heritage committee to amend the law to allow the CRTC to fine broadcasters who break the terms of their licences.
Under the current system, the only power the CRTC can wield against violators is to shorten or deny a licence when it comes up for renewal, which Cugini said is inadequate and ineffective.
Since licences are granted for seven years, "if they violate one of these codes in the first year, it would take another six years for us to do anything," she said.