OpenMedia.ca Defends CRTC Chair, Konrad von Finckenstein, Amidst Reports of Harper Government's Meddling
Recent reports from The Canadian Press indicate that Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants the CRTC chair, Konrad von Finckenstein, out well before the end of his term in 2012. Mr. von Finckenstein is reportedly being offered judgeships and ambassadorships as way to remove him from his post at the CRTC.
It also notable that the CRTC vice-chair, Michel Arpin, has a term expires at the end of the month and his request to continue on at the CRTC has been denied.
The CRTC has made several decisions in the last year that conflict with the wishes of big telecom and big media enterprises in Canada. On more than one occasion the government has intervened in industry watchdog's work by overturning the CRTC's rulings. See the background section below for more information on industry-government relations.
OpenMedia.ca is troubled by these reports and calls for the government to ensure that any appointments or changes in the CRTC leadership be transparent and politically neutral.
OpenMedia.ca National Coordinator, Steve Anderson, said today, "If these reports are true, these machinations undermine the credibility and independence of the CRTC as well as our democracy. The CRTC should be empowered to act as an arms length media industry watchdog not a government lapdog. The CRTC cannot act in the public Interest if the government in power refuses to recognize it's independence."
1. Quebecor and Stephen Harper
Last year Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his then communications director Kory Teneycke sat down for a secretive meeting with Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, the president of Fox News Channel. Teneycke is now leading this Canadian right-wing news network, to be called Sun TV. Sun TV is owned by Quebecor.
Names reportedly being considered to fill the positions include Quebecor president and chief executive officer Pierre Karl Péladeau's close associate, Luc Lavoie.
Rather than accepting the need to compete on a level playing field like other broadcasters do, Quebecor applied to the CRTC for a coveted Category 1 License for Sun TV -- meaning cable operators across Canada would be forced to carry this Fox-style channel. Despite the involvement of a key Conservative operative, and the political pressure that inevitably comes with that, in July the CRTC sent a letter to Quebecor denying them Category 1 carriage until at least October 2011.
2. Traffic Management (Net Neutrality)
Last fall the CRTC developed new "traffic management" guidelines. The guidelines, otherwise know as Net Neutrality rules, were not popular amongst most of the major telecom companies. On June 30 the CRTC extended its Traffic Management (Net Neutrality) rules to mobile wireless data services.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Industry Minister Tony Clement have had closed-door meetings with representatives from the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC). ITAC is Canada's most powerful lobby group for the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. Between January and November 2009, ITAC reported 21 meetings with top federal officials and cabinet ministers involved in developing national digital strategy policies.
*These two background areas are also discussed in Steve Anderson's recent Media Links Column In Defense of the CRTC*