Canada moves to formally ban RT from TVs

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A Canadian regulatory agency has decided that RT, a Russian state owned TV network, can no longer be carried by TV providers in its country.

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission moved to block the network from airing in the country in the weeks following Russia’s unprovoked attack of Ukraine.

“Freedom of speech and a range of perspectives are a necessary part of our democracy. However, it is a privilege and not a right to be broadcast in Canada,” the decision reads.

The CRTC was asked to review the matter on an expedited basis to determine if RT’s English and French language channels should still be permitted on Canadian screens following the invasion.

Most of Canada’s largest TV providers, including BCE, Rogers, Telus and Shaw announced they would drop RT networks on Feb. 27, 2022, so the ruling is largely simply a formality of officially banning them from carrying the channels.

RT’s American network, RT America, was dropped by DirecTV and Roku, the only major U.S. carriers to still feature the network, leading the network to cease American operations and layoff most of its staff.

Canadian law gives CRTC broader authority over a variety of broadcasting, including cable. It notably requires licenses for cable channels to be carried in the country, something the U.S. doesn’t do — something that has stalled efforts for channels including Fox’s right leaning commentary network and Al Jazeera from entering the market, though both were eventually allowed to launch in the country.

CRTC does take choice and diversity of content into consideration when it considers licenses for foreign networks, but it also has to ensure that these don’t violate the “abusive comment” rule in the country’s broadcasting act.

There are some who raised concern over the CRTC decision and felt it was rushed and could be seen as censorship, though at least some of these issues appear to have been addressed by the commission’s preliminary comments that RT may violate the abusive comment rule and does not appear to serve the public interest, especially. That argument was likely bolstered by the fact that RT is state owned media and has a record of broadcasting misleading information and ignoring stories critical of Russia and its leaders.

CRTC’s authority over streaming video is still up in the air thanks largely to the rapidly evolving nature of the industry and differing viewpoints on how or if such content should be regulated. As recently as February 2022, Canadian lawmakers are still considering the issue.

One of CRTC’s defined mandates is to ensure there is no negative impact on the availability or diversity of Canadian content.

In the U.S., over the air broadcasters are required to be licensed by the FCC, but there’s much less regulation over cable and satellite channels. For example, the FCC doesn’t license cable networks nor does it have the same authority to investigate content violations as it does for shows aired on OTA channels.