CBC Apologizes, but Appeals CRTC Decision Calling it an “Interference in its Journalism”

The CBC is not happy that the CRTC didn’t safeguard their speech. While it apologized as ordered, it is appealing.

One of the long running arguments for Bill C-11 supporters is that Canadian regulator, the CRTC, would be a good choice to safeguard freedom of expression. Critics have long argued that the CRTC is a terrible choice to safeguard freedom of expression as it goes about regulating speech online. That part of the argument more or less reached a standstill until rather recently. Earlier this month, the CRTC overruled the Charter and said that the CBC violated the Broadcasting Act when one of its journalists on a radio program used the N-word.

For context, the word was used when discussing an apparently controversial book that had that word in the title. So, the word use was in the context of talking about the book and the ensuing debates it sparked. A CBC ombudsman said that the program didn’t violate journalistic practices and found nothing wrong with the program. The complainant appealed the decision to the CRTC. The CRTC overruled the Canadian Charter and the CBC and ordered the CBC to apologize.

On the one hand, its actually rather easy to side with the CBC on this one. After all, saying that there is this book called [insert title here], here’s how its controversial, lets discuss whether or not society should tolerate it or not is not something that should be subject to condemnation that I am aware of. After all, listeners who don’t like that particular subject can tune out. On the other hand, this whole controversy laid bare the pure hypocrisy of the big publishers position that the CRTC can be trusted to safeguard freedom of expression in the context of Bill C-11.

For years now, large media outlets have been minimizing and trivializing the opposition to Bill C-11. Often, it is how there is this small number of vocal people or a single person raising concerns with the legislation which is paired with numerous paragraphs of government talking points. The reality is that there is a massive chorus of people opposed to the legislation and the government has been largely isolated to its core proponents including big publishing and broadcasters actively pushing this legislation forward. Part of the talking points is how the CRTC can be trusted to safeguard free speech and that this concern about free speech is a non-issue.

Now that the CRTC has made this ruling, big broadcasters and big publisher are up in arms over it. There was a massive call to condemn the CRTC for… failing to safeguard free speech. Many longstanding proponents of the legislation found themselves either second-guessing their position or taking opposite stances. For Bill C-11 opponents, the question was whether or not these proponents are finally seeing the error of their ways or are actively pushing for an exception so that only they can enjoy freedom of expression. That isn’t necessarily clear as one could go both ways on that.

Apparently, the CBC did follow through with what they were ordered to do by the CRTC. They issued an apology. However, they couched that with how they also still disagree with the ruling and are appealing the decision. From the CBC:

CBC/Radio-Canada has apologized for the repeated use of the N-word on a Radio-Canada program in 2020, but will appeal a CRTC decision linked to the segment, saying the regulator has overstepped its authority.

“We consider that the CRTC has overstepped its authority with respect to the independence of the public broadcaster,” it said in a statement.

“Its decision of June 29 poses a threat, because the Commission has attempted to give itself the power to interfere with journalistic independence.

“That was a serious error. We simply do not accept the CRTC’s interference in journalism in Canada.”

It’ll definitely be interesting to see how the appeal goes, though it would be a surprise if the CBC lost in this case. The medium term implications in all of this is that it puts large publishers and broadcasters in the awkward position of supporting Bill C-11, while at the same time, actively fighting against the very system that they are defending in court. Assuming that this case is still ongoing later this year (given how slow this process is in the first place, that is a very safe bet), you are probably going to be seeing this case play out as Bill C-11 is actively being pushed at the senate. It’s amusing in and of itself, but you also have the Americans who are not happy with this bill to also contend with. Will that same momentum seen before the break continue after? That’ll also be interesting to see.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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