The CRTC last week quietly proposed a significant change to the rules on false or misleading news broadcasts on radio or television. The law currently provides that a broadcast licensee “shall not broadcast any false or misleading news.” The CRTC is proposing to amend the law with respect to television and radio by lowering the standard to “any news that the licensee knows is false or misleading and that endangers or is likely to endanger the lives, health or safety of the public.” In other words, it would perfectly permissible for a broadcaster to air false or misleading news, provided that it not endanger the lives, health or safety of the public.
If enacted, the changes would move the Canadian broadcast framework closer to that found in the U.S. The Federal Communications Commission has a limited rule against broadcast hoaxes that provides:
No licensee or permittee of any broadcast station shall broadcast false information concerning a crime or a catastrophe if:
(a) The licensee knows this information is false;
(b) It is forseeable that broadcast of the information will cause substantial public harm, and
(c) Broadcast of the information does in fact directly cause substantial public harm.
Any programming accompanied by a disclaimer will be presumed not to pose foreseeable harm if the disclaimer clearly characterizes the program as a fiction and is presented in a way that is reasonable under the circumstances.
The move toward U.S.-style regulation comes as there is mounting debate in that country over the tone and rhetoric of broadcasting from across the political spectrum. The proposed CRTC changes are currently open for comment until February 9, 2011. It plans for the new rules to take effect on September 1, 2011.