Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The CRTC chair speaks

Lawrence Martin's column of August 19th produces a significant reaction, albeit delayed:
I read with consternation Lawrence Martin's column Is Stephen Harper Set To Move Against The CRTC? (Aug. 19) calling into question the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's independence as a regulatory body. The column stems from Quebecor Media's application to launch a TV news service called Sun TV News.

I would like to categorically state that no one at any level of government has approached me about the Sun TV application, the appointment of the CRTC's vice-chair of broadcasting, or my own mandate.

Quebecor's application is being treated according to the CRTC's well-established processes. The application was published on Sept. 1 for comment, and a public hearing will be held in Gatineau, Que., starting on Nov. 19. The CRTC will then make a decision on the basis of the evidence on the public record.

Konrad von Finckenstein, chair, CRTC, Gatineau, Que.
Martin's column has required von Finckenstein to state on the public record that the Sun Media TV application will follow the "CRTC's well-established processes" in reaction to rumours about possible Harper government interference. And you'd expect nothing less from the Chair of the CRTC. The "i's" will be dotted and the "t's" will be crossed. Reassuring to hear it. But for Martin's column, it's doubtful such a public statement would have been made. Whether von Finckenstein purposely delayed a response or not, as Norman Spector is wondering today, who knows? What an interesting few weeks it's been though.

Spector is also taking a bit of a lecturing pose on the repercussions from Martin's column:
Think of all the ink that’s been spilled based on the premise of Mr. Martin’s column, published nearly three weeks ago – not to speak of the frenzy it unleashed in the blogosphere. OMG, even literary lions like Margaret Atwood took the story seriously enough to base entire tweets on it. Not to speak of having signed a U.S. petition against the new service, citing the presumed “government meddling” as justification for interfering with free expression – normally sacrosanct to folks like her – notwithstanding that the column was based on information provided by an anonymouse or two.
Wouldn't be the first time a columnist was wrong about an issue, if Martin was indeed wrong or misled by sources perhaps. Persichilli was wrong the other day. And yes, we sure do get frenzied in the blogosphere from time to time too. Sometimes, this is all for very good reason.

Here, we have a Prime Minister who has a long track record with officers of Parliament and independent officers, not of the healthy democratic variety. That will indeed lead many to surmise that yes, it is plausible to think that the head of the CRTC could be nudged out or that the CRTC process might be pressured. And it's not just Martin who has offered up the possibility that there might be some kind of political resolution to the licensing.

Just this weekend, we read news as well that Harper has received briefing notes on the Sun TV CRTC request, something which he's directly conflicted in, with his former Director of Communications now heading up the Sun TV bid. Should he be staying informed if he has such a conflict? No. Appearances matter. Chinese walls required. Otherwise people do wonder.

And yes, Harper did meet with Rupert Murdoch in New York, along with Teneycke, disclosed to no Canadian and only learned about through Ari Fleischer's U.S. filing.

Such facts have justifiably led many to wonder about the integrity of this process, a perfectly legitimate issue to probe given all of the facts at hand. The independence and integrity of our national broadcasting regulator and its licensing process are worth the price of pushing some limits.

So now that von Finckenstein is on the record, prompted by Martin's column, we can expect no less than independent scrutiny of the Sun Media TV application with all the rules being followed. And of course, we should also expect that the Harper cabinet will respect the independence of the CRTC and let its expertise prevail.