Cablers’ unkind cut

First time commission imposes condition on distribs

TORONTO — Canada’s cable lobby group is concerned at being asked to censor Arab news service Al-Jazeera, one of nine foreign-language specialty channels passed for carriage in the country.

They say the measure, demanded by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on July 15, could even keep Al-Jazeera off local airwaves

“You have to ask yourself is it appropriate for a cable company to interpret the law when it comes to abuse and hate and apply them in a censorious fashion,” Canadian Cable Television Assn. prexy Michael Hennessy tells Variety. “And I’d say, ‘No’. I don’t think most Canadians would want us to be the gatekeeper.”

Hennessy is concerned that if the CCTA tries to prohibit the distribution of abusive comment, it will be asked to censor other foreign channels.

This is the first time the commission has imposed such condition on distributors. It called the safeguards necessary because it says Al-Jazeera is a contentious network that has aired anti-Semitic opinion.

Being a foreign service, Al-Jazeera is not subject to Canadian regulations.

Hennessy says the administrative burden this puts on distributors could prevent them from carrying the service at all.

Although the CRTC does not outline how to keep abusive commentary off the air, Hennessy suggests the only way to guarantee such an outcome is to put the channel’s feed on a time delay and monitor content.

“For a 24/7 news service in another language, in practical terms,” he said, “it is extremely complex.”

CRTC has said there are a handful of avenues to fulfill the condition, and that it trusts carriers to find one that works for them.

“They were trying to say, ‘Let’s make it administratively easy,’ ” Hennessy said, “but people are missing the point about censorship, free flow of information and the role of the distributor. It needs some re-thinking.”

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