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CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein is seen on a TV screen the regulator's hearings in Gatineau, Que., on Nov. 12, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein is seen on a TV screen the regulator's hearings in Gatineau, Que., on Nov. 12, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

CRTC ditches bid to allow fake news Add to ...

Canada's broadcasting regulator has abandoned its attempt to change a regulation that prohibits the dissemination of false or misleading news.

The decision from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission followed a meeting last week of Parliament's joint committee for the scrutiny of regulations, which ended its 10-year bid to get the regulation to comply with the law.

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The committee was concerned that the regulation violated a 1992 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, which found that the Charter of Rights provision protecting freedom of expression meant a person could not be charged for spreading false information.

After ignoring the committee's letters for years, CRTC finally relented and said in December it would consider changing the regulation to apply only in cases when broadcasters know the information they are sharing is untrue and when it "endangers or is likely to endanger the lives, health or safety of the public."

But the CRTC's call for public input on the proposal resulted in a tidal wave of angry responses from Canadians who said they feared such a move would open the door to Fox TV-style news and reduce their ability to determine what is true and what is false.

In the face of the outcry, the regulations committee, which is composed of both MPs and senators, met last Thursday and decided it would no longer pursue the matter with the CRTC. Some of the MPs on that committee, including Liberal chairman Andrew Kania, were not in politics when the issue was first discussed and said they did not agree with the decision of the committee 10 years ago to press the CRTC for the change.

"I would suggest perhaps as an option that we write back to the CRTC; we thank them for the proposed amendments but we also let them know that this version of the committee does not see the Zundel decision as an impediment to the continued operations of the current regulations, and invite them to consider whether they still wish to make changes in light of that comment," Mr. Kania told his fellow committee members.

The committee agreed.

The CRTC had not received any correspondence from the committee by Thursday of this week. But, having been made aware of the decision, CRTC Chairman Konrad Von Finckenstein told reporters late last week that the commission never wanted to change the regulation in the first place.

The CRTC had run out of stalling devices after being pressured by the committee for 10 years, Mr. Von Finckenstein said, and now that the committee has relented the commission will withdraw the attempt to rewrite the regulation.

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