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ARCHIVED -  Public Notice CRTC 1995-44

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Public Notice

Ottawa, 15 March 1995
Public Notice CRTC 1995-44
Election-period broadcasting: Debates
On 2 September 1988, after receiving comments from the public, the Commission issued Public Notice CRTC 1988-142 entitled "A Policy with Respect to Election Campaign Broadcasting". The Public Notice set out the Commission's position regarding various aspects of election period broadcasting.
In that Public Notice, under the section entitled "Equity In Public Affairs Programming", the Commission stated:
 Section 3 of the Broadcasting Act must also be applied when presenting public affairs, such as party or candidate profiles, features on certain issues or panel discussions.
 In the case of so-called "debates", it may be impractical to include all rival parties or candidates in one program. However, if this type of broadcast takes place, all parties and candidates should be accommodated, even if doing so requires that more than one program be broadcast.
This was subsequently reaffirmed by the Commission in Circulars issued with respect to specific election periods.
Section 3 of the Broadcasting Act requires that the programming provided by the Canadian broadcasting system "be varied and comprehensive, providing a balance of information, enlightenment and entertainment for men, women and children of all ages, interests and tastes, ... provide a reasonable opportunity for the public to be exposed to the expression of differing views on matters of public concern...".
The broadcasting regulations require that, during an election period, licensees allocate time for programming of a partisan political character on an equitable basis to poli-tical parties and rival candidates.
Following the 1988 federal election, a prosecution was instituted by the Green Party against CBC, CTV and Global, claiming that these broadcasters had breached the Television Broadcasting Regulations, 1987, because they had not included the Green Party in a leaders' debate during a federal general election and had failed to provide the Party with some accommodating time. In R.v. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation et al., [1993]51 C.P.R.(3d), the Ontario Court of Appeal held that debates were not of a partisan political character. The Court believed that while the participants in a debate may very well be partisan, the program itself, because it presented more than one view, was not. The Court therefore ruled that debates were not covered by the relevant section of the regulations. The Supreme Court of Canada refused to grant leave to appeal.
In view of this judgment, the Commission will no longer require that so-called "debates" programs feature all rival parties or candidates in one or more programs. The Commission considers that licensees will have satisfied the balance requirement of the Broadcasting Act if reasonable steps are taken to ensure that their audiences are informed of the main issues and of the positions of all candidates and registered parties on those issues through their public affairs programs generally. The Commission still believes that news coverage should generally be left to the editorial judgment of the broadcast licensee.
With respect to free time, given free of charge by the licensee to the party or candidate and largely under the editorial control of the party or candidate, the Commission will continue to require that if free time is given, all rival parties and candidates must be offered such time on an equitable basis. Similarly, if paid advertising time is sold to any party or candidate, advertising time must be made available on an equitable basis to rival parties and candidates. The Commission notes that the Canada Elections Act sets out a formula for the allocation of paid and free time to registered political parties and considers that the equitable requirement of the regulations would be satisfied by compliance with the requirements of that statute during a federal election or referendum.
For related documents see: The Broadcasting Act; the radio, television and specialty services regulations, and Public Notice CRTC 1988-142.
In addition, see: The Canada Elections Act and the provincial elections acts.
Allan J. Darling
Secretary General