Canada's broadcast regulator must decide in the coming weeks whether it will order the CTV network to stop airing appeals for public support during its newscasts, after a formal challenge was issued by the cable and satellite industry.
In a sign of the bitter fight waged between Canada's major television networks and the cable and satellite industry for the past three years, CTV was criticized Friday for broadcasting segments putting forward its side of the issue during newscasts, without seeking outside comment.
One of the parties challenging CTV in the appeal launched yesterday is Bell Canada , which is a minority owner in the network through its 15-per-cent stake in CTVglobemedia Inc., and also owns the Bell TV satellite service. CTVglobemedia Inc. is also owner of The Globe and Mail.
A consortium of cable and satellite carriers - including Bell, Rogers Communications Inc., Cogeco Inc. and Telus Corp. - told the regulator in a letter that CTV has violated terms of its broadcast licence by airing interviews on its "Save Local TV" campaign during newscasts.
CTV issued a response saying it will challenge the allegations.
The cable and satellite companies argue that news segments devoted to the campaign run afoul of broadcast rules because they don't seek outside comment. CTV station managers have been interviewed by on-air hosts to discuss the network's push to collect compensation from cable and satellite companies for their signals. The segments have said the fees are needed so that local TV stations can survive.
The cable and satellite companies argue the Broadcasting Act states that "news shall not be selected for the purpose of furthering or hindering either side of any controversial public issue, nor shall it be formulated on the basis of the beliefs, opinions or desires of management."
CTV issued a statement accusing the consortium of an "abuse of process designed to suppress freedom of speech and mislead the public." The network also cited a similar campaign it ran in conjunction with the satellite companies a few years ago about satellite-signal theft.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission normally gives 21 days for the subject of any complaint to respond. However, the cable companies want a faster response deadline, and have asked that the matter not be turned over to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, a process that could take months.
"The matter is too urgent," the consortium's letter told the CRTC, alleging that the CTV campaign "is designed to influence public opinion and to garner public support for CTV's position."
There was no clear answer Friday how the CRTC would handle such a complaint.
The spat over the news segments could be rendered irrelevant, because the CRTC has already indicated it might send the two sides to a mediator to settle the fee dispute.
CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein told the TV networks his plans a few weeks ago during private meetings. Transcripts of those meetings were recently made public.
Bell Canada's participation in the challenge is an example of how fractious the debate has become, given that it owns a stake in CTV.
The cable and satellite companies argue they already give television networks valuable places on the dial, along with guaranteed carriage, and vow to pass any new fees to consumers.