CRTC Proposes to Change Standard for Broadcasting False or Misleading News

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.


  1. “Public Harm” a better formulation
    Significant financial loss, among other things, would not be caught by “lives, health or safety” where it would by “public harm.”

  2. Free Speech
    While I understand generally the principle of free speech, what is the specific reason that even the strongest advocate for free speech would think its a good idea to be able to broadcast false or misleading news? Are there any circumstances under which it could be a good thing?

  3. Stephen Downes says:

    The Santa clause
    The law as it is currently written makes it illegal to broadcast as news reports of Santa’s journey from the North Pole on Christmas eve. While I personally find such broadcasts distasteful, I’m not convinced they should be illegal. So I would agree in principle to a stipulation that some harm has to result.

    The problem, though, in the depiction of ‘harm’ is that one person’s “harm” is another person’s windfall. Thus the “economic loss” postulated by Albin is not actually a “harm” if it all balances out. Additionally, I woiuld consider false news that resulted in the election of a certain political party to be “harm”, however, we have ample evidence that supporters of that party would not consider it to be harm at all.

    So while I agree that there ought to be a Santa clause allowing for certian harmless broadcasts of false news, the prohibition ought not be defined in terms of ‘harm’ unless stipulating that ‘harm’ amounts to ‘the formation of beliefs or carrying out of actions based on the false information’ (rather than the very narrowly defined terms in the proposal).

  4. ….
    Very good. We could then have some serious economies made – who would need field reporters when we could just make up some news every morning in the studio.

    And how about “financial loss”. Like in making me lose money on their fake news. That would be OK, right?

    CRTC should be dismantled.


  5. David Allsebrook says:

    Truth in broadcasting
    I look forward to a lucrative career manipulating the stock market.

  6. Rebel
    So how do we go about petitioning against this?

  7. Tell the CRTC you’re opposed
    They have a contact or you can call them.

  8. Santa Clause
    I happen to think the Santa Claus lie is one that kids would be better off without, since it trains them that behaviour is only about reward/punishment (basically religion with training wheels) instead of actually doing good for goodness sake.
    However, I recognize that my view on this might be the minority.

  9. Stephen Downes: well put.

    General comment: From what I’ve seen a lot of the problems being currently seen in the US are not the result of news programming but rather “current events” and “opinion” programming. In Canada this is not unlike shows like CTV’s “Question Period” and TVO’s “The Agenda”.

    The other issue is that under the current regulations one could argue (although it would be a stretch) that shows with a news format such as The Mercer Report, 22 Minutes, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report could make the broadcaster liable. As I said, this would be a stretch.

  10. Parody
    Of course there should always be an exception for comedy/parody, as with copyright. (and of course Jon Stewart has more truth in his show then most cable news programs 😉

  11. Free Thinker says:

    So much for journalistic integrity…
    More clarity is perhaps a good thing, but the wording basically absolves broadcasters of any responsibility for journalistic integrity. I’m guessing that they don’t want to get caught dealing with defamation, which probably does belong in the civil courts.

    I for one think that there should be some added responsibilities for licensed broadcasters. They are using a limited public resource and profiting from it. If they don’t want to meet a higher journalistic standard, they can publish a blog, like any other Canadian.

  12. Submit an intervention
    There is no petition. Go here: and click submit for 2011-14. There you can tell the CRTC that you oppose the change.

  13. Is this to allow sun news?
    I bet this is to shield sun news from litigation.

  14. It amazes me the crap out governemt will spend money on!!!

  15. there is a reason why news is news and fiction is fiction. Who is this going to benifit? I agree with poor kory.
    I work in television news and this totally underminds the job. Grose!
    BTW the issue is not with the CRTC, it’s stephan harper that is pushing for this, pushing to take over the CRTC and create “fox news north” or “sun news” so he can blast his american style conservative rhetoric and scare tacticts to keep all us canadians in line.
    I’m not happy and will be telling the CRTC this. 😐

  16. CommenTATOR says:

    My Comments to the CRTC
    Here is what I wrote to the CRTC:

    Broadcasters must be completely accountable for what they say, they have a responsibility to the public to be held accountable for everything mentioned on their programs.

    United States style laws such as the one that you are proposing would allow characters like Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Ann Coulter, & Bill O’Reilly to disguise themselves as news. They spew nothing but hatred, and only serve to incite and inflame emotion and action (like the recent slaying of that 9 year old girl in Arizona which I would hold them completely accountable for). Moderate news, based entirely in fact maintains an informed population, capable of making decisions for themselves instead of regurgitating biased opinion from psychotics that managed to get air time.

    Fact based, accountable programming is part of what makes Canada great, and separate from the United States. Please do not allow us to sink to their level.

    I would like to end my complaint with: Please get Kevin O’Leary off of Canadian TV. That man is greed incarnate, and would sell his own family to make a buck, I find in no way is he relevant to your average Canadian’s interest.
    Thank you,

  17. So what about CBC then? Should we use taxpayer money to produce and broadcast fake news?


  18. Great 0_o
    So now Fox north can legally broadcast here 😉

  19. Oh well, look on the bright side. Perhaps news might be more interesting now. LOL Really though, what are they trying to achieve by adding a little bit of fantasy in to the mix. It gives the government controlled news outlets the power to publically lie, without much risk of reprisal. Imagine where C-32 would be right now if the news media weren’t theoretically compelled to be honest. Lying about copyright issues puts no one in danger so would pass the proposed limitations. The whole situation would have degraded in to such a sh1t throwing match by now that no one in the public would be able to distinguish reality from fantasy. So total American-style media chaos. An ideal situation for a megalomaniac government such as Harper’s. Even now we’re getting so much retoric which is boarder-line lying. What will we get when there’s no consequence for lying. Might as well watch reality TV, they never lie to us there.

    Perhaps Harper’s just trying to steal the worst prime minister title from Brian Mulroney.

  20. Title
    This is bad… But I don’t watch the news. Nobody I know under the age of 30 watches the news. It’s all old Internet news anyway.

  21. I don’t see why the CRTC makes this proposal. Does the current law happen to be bad for the public, unenforceable, unclear or unethical? Do we need false news and misleading informations?

  22. @name – Not watching the news is for the younger generation….If look at the voting records you will see that the majority of the voters are the elderly and almost retired non-technical groups. I consider myself old but still follow technology and watch the news at least the normal news, not like FOX or other enquire like rags. I think changing the level of requirements or standards that broadcasters in Canada need to follow would be a detriment and would just make Canadian news as crap as they have in the states now….more like the “found a UFO in my backyard” that the major US broadcasters spout. One thing I like about the news here in Canada is the fact that they actually tell the facts and don’t make them up.

    Don’t change what is not broken CRTC….PLEASE

  23. Gary Schoenfeldt says:

    This is outrageous. There is no justification to allow broadcasters to disseminate false or misleading information under the heading “news”. Current laws do not in any way restrict citizens from challenging Canadian institutions by means of satire, parody, comedy or works of fiction, but the proposed changes will allow liars to broadcast propaganda and falsehoods whenever they want. We must protect ourselves and future generations from such irresponsible legislation.

  24. “Be very, very careful what you put in your head, because you will never, ever get it out.”
    Regarding points 1, 4, 6, 10:
    “that contains 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.”

    I am opposed to this amendment. I don’t think we should be absolving news broadcasters of the responsibility of ensuring that information is correct and not misleading.

    To quote Thomas Cardinal Wolsey (1471-1530), “Be very, very careful what you put in your head, because you will never, ever get it out.”

    News broadcasters have a lot of power to change public perceptions and as such they have a huge responsibility. Ignorance is not an excuse for broadcasting false or misleading information.

  25. No Wiggle Room Allowed with Broadcasting theTruth says:

    A simple submission to CRTC
    I object to the proposed changes to:

    – Paragraph 3(d) of the Radio Regulations, 1986
    – Paragraph 5(1)(d) of the Television Broadcasting Regulations, 1987
    – Paragraph 3(2)(c) of the Pay Television Regulations, 1990
    – Paragraph (3)(d) of the Specialty Services Regulations, 1990

    I object to the proposed changes to those paragraphs which would replace the current language of the law to not broadcast any false or misleading news with the proposed new ambiguous language “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.”

    The proposed amendment would allow broadcasters to broadcast lies and misleading information to the public knowingly or
    negligently if they can argue that that there was a reasonable doubt that they did not endanger the public.

    Even give the difficulty often of proving that the broadcaster or any of its owners knew that the information was false, proving harm and endangerment can be especially difficult to do since the harm or danger can occur distant in time and location from the broadcast event.

    Studies have shown that false information once broadcast propagates faster and more persistently than any corrections and takes on a life of its own, making it impossible to undo the harm or danger caused by the false information.

    Therefore it is of utmost importance that no false or misleading information ever be broadcast as truth. Harm prevention is always better than attempting to repair harm done. Relaxing the language of the law to allow the possibility of deliberate or negligent broadcast of lies and misinformation as truth, and the opportunity for a broadcaster to successfully argue that they did no wrong,
    will do long-term irreparable harm to the Canadian public and Canada’s individual citizens and businesses. Broadcasters need to remain fully responsible for confirming the truth of what they broadcast before it is ever broadcast.

  26. Peter Whittaker says:

    My submission – in opposition
    I oppose the changes proposed for two reasons: 1) they would permit the broadcast of false information, even if the information is known to be false, and 2) they would create an unbalanced system where the ordinary citizen would have limited recourse against corporations or wealthy individuals that make false statements.

    The current regulations prohibit false statements (“any false or misleading news (SOR-86-982)”). The proposal limits to this to statements known to be false and that endangers or is likely to endanger lives, health, and/or safety.

    This would allow moneyed interests to make false – and potentially libellous – statements about their opponents, with impunity, if they know the opponents to lack the resources to pursue court action.

    Under the current framework, the making of a false statement can be acted upon by any concerned citizen, simply by registering a complaint.

    This is a good thing.

    Under the proposed framework, absent real or possible physical injury, only those capable of mounting court actions would be able to effectively register their opposition to the falsehood, because the avenue of “simply registering a complaint” would no longer be there: The CRTC would be able to ignore complaints made regarding falsehoods that did not endanger anyone.

    This means that a false statement made about an individual could be pursued only as libel, which requires the wherewithal to pursue court action.

    This creates an imbalance in society whereby the average citizen – not to mention the disadvantaged – simply as no means of effectively correcting false information.

    The current regime works. It is not broken. It does not fixing, at least not in this manner.

  27. I am not sure what difference this makes. Presently the media just creates stories that are a series of quotes when they need to get around the truth thing. The autism/vaccine thing is a good example of this. All they have to do is create a controversy and then report on it.

  28. Barry Kentner says:

    Never going to happen and here is why !
    Who said if it is PLAUSIBLE it is fair game (Tom Flanagan ) still a problem ti with spin one could say the polls say xxx party will win , but not mention it was a poll of 5 people locally. could use negative intonation as in the anti copyright law spots! what about anonymous sources ! What about sock puppet postings Its not what words say , but what you make them say ! Would be a night mare to enforce and unworkable ! Plants will still be able to join party’s and help to elect an easy to vilify candidate , spread mistrust and divide . The TRUTH will never be able to be reported ! Radio and TV would loose sponsors !

  29. If it’s false, what’s the point of calling it “news”? I strongly disagree with them on this proposal, and I sincerely hope the proposal is shot down.

  30. @apples: I get a giggle out of all of the hoopla surrounding the Sun-TV application and the “Fox News North”. In particular since a lot of it resembles an attempt to censor the “right” side of the political spectrum. I don’t agree with the idea of the creation of a Fox News North, however the idea of the creation of right-leaning news and information shows is not a problem for me; after all we already have left-leaning news and information shows on the schedule. The idea is to get a broader spectrum of viewpoints presented to the Canadian people so that they can make informed decisions when voting. For that we need real information (not the rhetoric spread by all parties). If a single place is not willing or able to provide this, then we need to allow other viewpoints to be heard.

    @bwalzer: Correct. At the same time they can create a story and air it with incomplete research in the name of getting a “scoop”. If an update is ever done, it tends to be a footnote late in the broadcast. And rarely, if ever, is anything actually done about it. While I don’t necessarily support these changes, if the CRTC isn’t going to enforce the regs they have, they may as well change it to what they are able to enforce.

  31. Complaint
    Here is the link to the CRTC to complain.

    I hope that people will contact their MP and see exactly why they are silent on this issue.

  32. I sent submission

    Thank You for Your Submission
    Your comment was successfully submitted to the CRTC.
    You are commenting on the Notice #: 2010-931-Call for comments on amendments to the Broadcasting Distribution Regulations
    Reference Number: 140311
    Date submitted: 2011-01-15

    Request to appear at the hearing: Do not want to appear

    Intervention-Comment: Opposition
    Strongly disagree with amendment to 3 d I don’t believe it should be permissible for a broadcaster to air false or misleading news, provided that it not endanger the lives, health or safety of the public. I would prefer 3 d not be changed in this manner As an aside I also take issue with 3 c as it stands. Seems prohibition of profane speech is contrary to CANADIAN CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS

  33. Laurel L. Russwurm says:

    Paving the Way for Fox News North

  34. Get Ready For Fox News North
    An absolute joke

  35. Jeff Tiffany says:

    In the end it is the corporations that decide what is true news and what isn’t. This has always been the case..The news usually revolves around the profit advertising relationship the corporation has with the news media outlet.Please Google Monsanto/Fox news..Or better yet watch the documentary “The Corporation”.What a sham this world is becoming…This is just to force all the little independent news agencies to the using the same fabricated propaganda as the big news outlets.Fascism at its finest

  36. CP coverage
    “The committee feared the sweeping ban on false and misleading news was too broad and vague and wouldn’t withstand a challenge under the Charter of Rights. Its concerns were based on a number of court rulings at the time involving freedom of speech.”

    This is pure BS. The Charter of Rights states that you’re allowed to express your OPINIONS. We are talking NEWS here which are supposed to be reasonably accurate descriptions of events.

    You can still express your opinions, whatever they are, under the current CRTC regulations. Just don’t try to present them as NEWS.


  37. CP coverage again
    “For the same reason, the committee urged – and the CRTC is now also proposing – to narrow the scope of the current sweeping ban on programming that contains “obscene or profane language.””

    More prude BS. The question here is if the audience agrees or not with the use of such language. There should be a distinction made between “general audience” programming (where we expect all the rules of politeness being observed) and “consenting adult audience” programming (where I could watch a movie with “coarse language” after being warned of this).


  38. CP coverage
    What does “news” mean?

    1. current events; important or interesting recent happenings
    2. information about such events, as in the mass media

    News is not fiction.

    If a broadcaster wishes to broadcast fiction under the guise of news, then it should be mandatory that before each segment (after the ads) there should be a mandatory warning that the following segment bears no relation to the facts or some such disclaimer. Or better yet if a broadcaster wishes to manufacture news they should not be allowed to call themselves news. Perhaps “Manufactured News” or “Faux news” would be better.

    In the states it is worse than stated above. A court in the US decided that a network has no responsibility to be factual and can deliberately manufacture news to further a political agenda..

    Bears no harm is a ridiculous criteria. So the false news manufactures a story that convinces a majority to vote for a party that in turn bankrupts the county, starts a war… where real news could have alerted persons to the dangers of a specific party.

    I think we expect “News” to be truthful or an attempt to be truthful. I think the solution is you can’t call yourself “News” if it is manufactured news.

    The Lies at 6 pm. And again at 11 pm.

    In fact that should be the mandatory term for manufactured news. The Lies.

  39. publicnotice says:

    The CRTC is trying to make their own fake news legal
    The CRTC has issued press releases saying the abuse of the NDNCL is an “urban legend”. They know this to be false, and continue to suppress the facts:

  40. Heather Malcolm says:

    are you kidding me
    we all live in this world together, why don’t we share it together? unreal.

  41. David Chappel says:

    charter and free speach
    I have a question for you mr. Geist;

    In the US, corporations assuming the status of citizen. (For worse or for much worse) Is this happening in Canada too? I understand that the CRTC heard from petitioning lawyers that their current regulation w.r.t. truthful news broadcasts would not withstand a charter case, but this assumes that corporations (news organizations) have free speech rights even though they are corporate entities correct?


  42. Andrew Fiori says:

    Anyone concerned should sign this petition…
    I’ve set up a petition at my new blog, – take a minute, read some of the posts and make your voice heard. The petition will be submitted before the CRTC commenting deadline on Feb. 9th.

  43. CRTC not worth the expense
    Sneaky and underhanded. The CRTC doesn’t represent the interest of the public like I once imagined. Canadians think they have government entities that represent them, but they are smoke screens that represent the interests of big business. Democracy can be elusive in Canada. Capitalism is just what it implies.

  44. My response to the CRTC
    I noticed that the deadline is today, so last night I penned a response for the CRTC. I posted the full text here:

  45. Anon-K
    CTV, Canwest, Global are left leaning? You strain credibility more than Harper.

  46. Anon-K In particular since a lot of it resembles an attempt to censor the “right” side of the political spectrum

    If lying and “right” is synonymous then yes I wish to censor liars (or the right).