Canada may pull the plug on Fox News
Back in March, before Tucker Carlson tried to convince America to invade Canada, and before he was fired in the fallout from the $787 million Dominion settlement, he did a segment that could see Fox fade to black in Canada.
In the rant — about a school shooting in Nashville, where a transgender man killed three children and three adults — Carlson warned about “trans terrorism,” saying Christans should prepare to be targeted for violence by the trans movement, a “deranged and demonic ideology.”
In the United States, with its strong First Amendment protections of free speech and weak broadcast regulation, Carlson’s rant was just another salvo in the culture war. But in Canada, it could have regulatory consequences, because Carlson attacked Egale, a Canadian LGBTQ organization, saying it was lying about violence against trans people, which it wasn’t.
A week after the broadcast, Egale sent a complaint to the CRTC — the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (Canada’s version of the Federal Communications Commission) — asking that it ban Fox News.
“To position trans people in existential opposition to Christianity is an incitement of violence against trans people that is plain to any viewer,” wrote Egale.
Egale has a case. Canadian law forbids broadcasting material that “is likely to expose an individual or a group or class of individuals to hatred or contempt.” Describing trans people as “demonic” would seem to qualify.
The regulator, which is run at arm’s length from the government, has banned other channels. Last March, after Russia invaded Ukraine, the CRTC announced that RT and RT France — which are controlled by the Russian government — could no longer be carried by Canadian cable outlets.
“Foreign channels can be removed from the authorized list should their programming not be consistent with the standards to which Canadian services are held,” said Ian Scott, who was then the chairperson of the regulator.
If that is the standard the CRTC uses, it would ban Fox. No Canadian broadcaster could get away with running a rant like the one Carlson did. The CRTC routinely acts with a heavier hand than the FCC, which has been restrained ever since 1985, when Ronald Reagan repealed the fairness doctrine. In June 2022, for example, CRTC ordered Radio-Canada, the French language branch of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, to apologize for even mentioning the N-word in a radio broadcast about a book important to Quebec nationalists.
Earlier this month, the CRTC agreed to consider Egale’s complaint. It opened a public consultation process that has so far collected 6,500 submissions from both people who want Fox banned to prevent it from spreading hate and Fox fans who would see a ban as an attack on freedom of expression.
Peter Menzies, the former vice-chair of the CRTC, thinks Fox could get yanked. “I think the CRTC is very predisposed to getting rid of them,” he says.
Menzies says the regulator could just note that Carlson was fired and issue a warning: “The other option would be to take a look at it and say, ‘Yeah, we find they did something wrong here,’ and just write a nasty letter, and say ‘please don't do it again.’”
But Menzies, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, is worried about the prospect of a ban because the Liberal government recently passed Bill C-11, extending CRTC’s authority to the internet, drawing streaming services under the authority of the broadcast regulator for the first time.
Conservatives warned that this would lead to censorship, while the Liberals insisted it was about ensuring that big streamers like Netflix follow Canadian content rules that apply to other broadcasters. Menzies fears the critics might be right.
And he would like to know why the CRTC has been swift to act on Fox but seems to be dragging its feet dealing with China Central Television Channel 4, or CCTV-4, a Chinese state broadcaster that CRTC approved in Canada in 2004. The CRTC has yet to rule on a complaint from Peter Dahlin, a Swedish human rights activist who was arrested by Chinese officials in 2016. The authorities broadcast Dahlin’s forced confession on CCTV-4, a tool the government in Beijing routinely uses to humiliate activists.
If the CRTC bans Fox News for spreading hate, shouldn’t it also ban CCTV-4 for airing forced confessions? Neither ban would do what the CRTC intended in 1987 when it enacted the Television Broadcasting Regulations: stop Canadians from consuming the content in question. All the content is available on the web, which did not exist in 1987.
Until the Liberals passed C-11, the CRTC based its authority on its stewardship of a public resource — the airwaves — but in the modern internet era, consumers can watch whatever they like from anywhere in the world.
Fox News is not included in basic cable packages in Canada and doesn’t appear to be widely viewed. Canadian TV ratings aren’t public in the way that Neilsen ratings are in the United States, so it’s hard to be sure, but it does not even register in Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism digital news report on Canada.
But that doesn’t mean nobody is watching. Many Canadian Fox fans are getting their fix online. Research shows that Fox reports on the “Freedom convoy” helped energize protesters last year, because the content was spread through social media platforms, where content is unregulated.
Banning Fox would enrage its Canadian fans — further enflaming a group that is already incandescent with rage against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — but it likely wouldn’t do much to stop people watching.
Carlson, after all, is moving his show to Twitter, beyond the reach of the CRTC. Growing numbers of Canadians are cutting the cord, and getting their video online. Canada can send a signal about Canadian values by banning Fox, but it can’t stop anyone from watching.