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BCE Inc., Rogers Communications Inc., Telus Corp. and Shaw Communications Inc. all said on Sunday that they would no longer distribute RT.DADO RUVIC/Reuters

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will ask the country’s broadcast regulator to officially review the presence of a Kremlin-controlled news channel on Canadian TV, one day after the country’s largest TV providers confirmed they would pull RT from their channel lineups amid Russia’s military offensive against Ukraine.

BCE Inc., Rogers Communications Inc., Telus Corp. and Shaw Communications Inc. all said on Sunday that they would no longer distribute RT. Also known as Russia Today, the channel was referred to as a “critical” part of “Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem,” in a U.S. State Department report last month.

“The CRTC is an independent body and we will be asking them to begin the process to review Russia Today’s presence on Canadian airwaves,” Mr. Trudeau said on Monday, referring to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

He added that “the rigorous process is important when it comes to the independence of media in our country.”

RT is included in a list non-Canadian channels authorized for distribution. If it were to be removed from that list, TV providers would not be permitted to carry it in the future.

“The CRTC has received complaints about RT from citizens and is analyzing the situation,” spokesperson Eric Rancourt wrote in an e-mail. “We are also aware of the Prime Minister’s comments and are awaiting further information.”

For years, RT’s priority has been to secure the widest distribution possible, including in Canada. While many cable channels make money by earning a per-subscriber fee from distributors, RT did not charge one. In 2017, The Globe and Mail reported RT paid some major Canadian TV providers to carry the channel. In other cases, RT provided the signal for free. This meant many Canadians received the channel automatically in their TV packages, until the decisions this weekend to pull it off the air.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said on Monday that he believes there should be more transparency around such deals.

“I think the cabinet should issue an order to the CRTC requiring Canadian TV providers to disclose payments they receive from foreign state-controlled broadcasters,” Mr. Chong said. “In an age of disinformation, transparency and information are effective ways counter propaganda from authoritarian states.”

Rogers, Shaw and Telus did not respond to questions on Monday about whether they received payments from RT for carriage, and how many households received the channel before it was pulled. Bell declined to provide that information. Independent Toronto-based telecom VMedia, which announced it was also pulling the channel on Monday, said it received RT for free.

The CRTC’s Mr. Rancourt wrote in his e-mail that the regulator does not disclose information such as rates paid for carriage and other “commercially sensitive information” that is filed confidentially.

Despite the changes to its TV distribution, RT’s content is still available for free online to Canadians who seek it out, including on RT’s own website and on YouTube, where some videos display the label, “RT is funded in whole or in part by the Russian government.”

YouTube, which is owned by Google parent company Alphabet Inc., has indefinitely suspended the ability for channels affiliated with Russian state-funded media, including RT, to make money from ads.

“We also significantly limited recommendations to several channels, including Russian channels affiliated with recent sanctions,” YouTube spokesperson Lauren Skelly wrote in an e-mailed statement. “And in response to a government request, we’ve restricted access to RT and a number of other channels in Ukraine. We will continue to monitor new developments and may take further actions.”

In his remarks, Mr. Trudeau highlighted “a significant amount of disinformation circulating from Russia, including on social media,” during the crisis.

The Russian embassy in Canada warned on Monday that Russia could retaliate with reciprocal countermeasures, but it did not specify what those would be.

“It’s obvious discrimination against Russian media and also is a violation of the principle of the freedom of press and right of people to have access to the various sources of information in a pluralistic manner,” the embassy said in a statement to The Globe. “It shows that in Canada a right to different opinion can be undemocratically suppressed.”

VMedia co-founder George Burger said in an interview Monday that the decision to pull the channel was difficult because the company supports free expression and non-interference in content. But he drew the line at a state-owned “propaganda outlet” broadcasting during an armed conflict.

“It’s very hard to watch what’s going on and not have the feeling that by carrying it, we’re in a very indirect way, aiding and abetting. That’s just intolerable to us,” Mr. Burger said.


With a report from Alexandra Posadzki

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