Source : National Post
My family gave me a satellite radio for Christmas and ever since I've felt like a free man -- free from the strictures imposed on listeners of AM and FM radio by the CRTC.
Ironically, it was the CRTC itself that freed me, and the CRTC that reminded me last Wednesday why I am so grateful to be free.
In June of last year, the federal regulator -- the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, to cite its full name -- decided, uncharacteristically, to license all three consortia that had applied for subscription-based radio services. I say "uncharacteristically" because back in the bad old days when the CRTC was determined to advance some centrally engineered vision of Canadian culture, it would have picked only one -- the clunky, outmoded Canadian proposal. It would have stuck Canadian consumers with an inferior choice in the name of advancing national identity.
Only two of the three applications were for satellite radio -- Sirius and XM. The third, Subscription Radio Canada (SRC), proposed by CHUM Ltd., was for a wonky, land-based system that more nearly resembled the early years of cellphone technology. Masts would have been needed to transmit SRC, and CHUM proposed to erect them over several years, first in the country's largest cities, then gradually into smaller cities and finally into rural areas.
But SRC played a trump card: significantly more Canadian content the either of the other applicants.
Even 10 or 15 years ago, that would have won CHUM the entire pot. The CRTC would have gone for SRC's technologically stunted plan, and denied the other two, out of a devotion to cultural protectionism. Canadians would have been stuck listening to channel after channel of indie rock bands from Brampton and Burnaby signing songs with messages about collective responsibility, the environment and social justice just because they were Canadian.
But last spring, the CRTC went for open borders instead. Although Sirius's and XM's Canadian services are majority Canadian owned, they are very heavy on U.S. content. Yet the regulator swallowed hard and approved them, to its very great credit.
Still, last Wednesday, Ottawa's broadcast regulators proved once again why they need to be reformed: They approved a gay FM station for Toronto.
I don't care that Rainbow radio will seek to promote the "gay culture and community." What others listen to is no concern of mine.
My satellite radio service has a gay talk channel: Sirius Out Q. I've never listened to it, just as I have never listened to Road Dog, the 24-hour talk channel devoted to professional truckers, or E! Entertainment radio ("up-to-the-minute entertainment news, information, reviews, celebrity profiles"), or Maxim Radio, which as near as I can figure is guys talking to other guys about sports, music, cars and chicks in lingerie.
Nor have I ever listened to Howard 101, the channel devoted to Howard Stern or "Movin' Easy," the music channel where "Neil Diamond, Lionel Richie, Barbra Streisand and the Carpenters have a home again." (Now there's an argument for zoning restrictions if ever I've heard one.)
That's my answer to radio and television services I don't like: Switch to something else; let the market decide which messages and music survive or fail. Let consumers vote with their remotes and their dollars. Don't give government the power to pick winners and losers.
What irks about the CRTC's Rainbow decision, then, is not who got the license, but how it was awarded.
The last time there were FM licenses open for Toronto, the CRTC issued a general call for applications. Sixteen were received. This time, there was no general call, even though intervenors requested one. So it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the CRTC wanted a gay station and arranged the process to ensure that outcome.
Last time, too, the regulator turned down a Catholic FM station for T.O. because it wouldn't be diverse enough, even though it promised shows for 12 cultural groups in at least 11 different languages. Meanwhile, Rainbow was licensed to advance diversity, despite pledging to focus almost exclusively on gay issues.
What enrages is the appearance of the CRTC playing favourites on behalf of a politically correct cause.
My satellite service has a broadly Christian talk channel, and a Catholic one, too. I've never listened to either. And that's my point. What gets broadcast should be up to listeners and viewers, not interest-group-friendly federal regulators.
© National Post