CRTC accused on anti-Christian bias

  • September 18, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - Less than two weeks after approving an Alberta-based pornographic channel, the CRTC ’s decision to deny the application of two Ottawa-area Christian radio stations is drawing mixed reactions, with some groups alleging there is an anti-Christian bias.

Ottawa’s CHRI Radio was proposing a new FM station featuring Christian talk radio with traditional worship music aimed at an older audience. And Gatineau, Que., resident Fiston Kalabay Mutombo put forward a proposal for a French-language Christian music station.

The Aug. 26 decision comes 11 days after the approval of Northern Peaks, billed as the first homegrown Canadian pornographic TV channel.

Only two radio slots were available on the FM band in Ottawa, while there were hundreds of cable spots open.

Close to 800 letters of support accompanied CHRI’s application compared to 77 to Astral Media Corp., an adult contemporary music station, which won one of the two spots. The other application approved was for 101.9 FM, a blues station.

Joanne McGarry, executive director of the Catholic Civil Rights League, said the decision reflects a general bias by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission towards Christian applications.

“The Christian providers already provided all the requirements,” she said.

But CHRI’s board of directors said it respects the commission’s decision. The CRTC “responded professionally and in the best interests of the broadcasting industry” to CHRI’s radio application, according to CHRI board chair Ethel Mahoney in a statement.

Robert DuBroy, CHRI co-founder and vice president, said there are already other secular radio stations which cater to blues and contemporary music audiences.

Yet compared to American cities as big as Ottawa, Canada’s capital has three Christian radio stations less than its American counterparts, DuBroy said during a telephone interview from Ottawa.

One Christian radio station can’t serve all of the needs of one million Ottawa residents, he said.

“What secular radio is offering to people is fine but temporal. The message we’re offering is eternal, one that’s not only life-changing but soul-changing,” DuBroy said.

Faye Sonier, associate legal counsel of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, said the CRTC has displayed discriminatory policies over the last 15 years, including its requirement for religious broadcasting to grant significant air time to other religious groups. Not only does this impose a financial burden on faith-based stations, she said, but it also represents a restriction on freedom of speech.

“The CRTC is communicating that it is more comfortable justifying porn which objectifies women and children,” she said.

The CRTC defended its decision, saying it was based upon the quality of applications. Joe Aguiar, manager of the CRTC’s radio policy, said the commission’s decision weighed heavily upon market considerations given the scarcity of radio frequencies available. The CRTC was “considering what demographic groups or music style is currently not available in the market,” he told The Catholic Register.

Furthermore, the CRTC was examining which two radio stations would reach the greatest number of people in Ottawa, putting those targeting niche markets with a limited audience at a disadvantage.

There is already a Christian station in the capital, he said, citing the CRTC’s decision which stated that “the proposed format was already available in the market through the programming of the specialty radio station CHRI-FM.”

On the number of letters of support for CHRI, Aguiar said the commission looks at the whole package, not just the quantity of letters.

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