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Commission refuses license renewal of CHOI-FM

7/13/2004

OTTAWA-GATINEAU - Citing its constant airing of "offensive comments, personal attacks and harassment", the CRTC today denied the license renewal of Quebec City radio station CHOI-FM.

The Commission took the unprecedented step against the Genex Communications Inc.-owned station, due to "numerous offenses" committed by the station and its owners. Its license expires August 31, 2004 and it must cease broadcasting that day. Don't look for that to happen, however, as Genex plans to fight the decision.

In a separate public notice also issued today, the Commission announced a call for applications for broadcasting licences to carry on a new French-language FM station in Québec.

According to sources in the radio industry, this is the first time in memory that a license has not been renewed due to objectionable content. "(CHOI-FM's content) is modeled after the kind of stuff you get on the air in the States," said one executive who asked not to be named. "It's pretty graphic and pretty aggressive."

Genex responded with press releases and a press conference today saying it will try to overturn the decision in Federal Court and at the Cabinet level.

According to the CRTC release, since Genex Communications Inc. acquired CHOI-FM in 1997, the programming has been the subject of numerous complaints with respect to the conduct of the hosts and the spoken word content that is aired, including offensive comments, personal attacks and harassment. The complaints have focused on CHOI morning host Jeff Fillion and André Arthur, who hosts Genex's CKNU 100.9 morning show, but is live on CHOI, too, for a half hour each morning.

The most recent Canadian Broadcast Standards Council decisions against CHOI-FM back up the Commission's claims. As reported here, the CBSC's Quebec regional panel characterized a portion of Fillion's show as "aural pornography." A prior CBSC decision termed Fillion's personal attacks on another Quebec radio host, Jacques Tétreault, as "crude and offensive."

In today's decision, the Commission found that on numerous occasions, Genex had failed to comply with the Radio Regulations 1986 as well as CHOI-FM's Code of Ethics, adherence to which is required by one of its conditions of licence. The Commission noted that Genex's programming did not meet the objectives of the broadcasting policy for Canada set out in the Broadcasting Act (the Act).

Besides the offensive comments which spurred public complaints - and two Canadian Broadcast Standards Council decisions against CHOI - the CRTC found that the station ignored other conditions of license, like saving logger tapes and playing enough French-language music as is required by its license.

The CRTC had already dealt with CHOI-FM's content. In 2002, in view of numerous offences committed by Genex, the Commission decided to renew CHOI-FM's licence for only two years, well short of the maximum seven-year term allowed under the Act, says the CRTC's decision today. It made CHOI-FM's licence subject to several conditions to prevent such offences from recurring. The Commission warned Genex then about the possibility of suspension or revocation of CHOI-FM's licence.

After receiving "a large number of complaints and observing new apparent failures to comply regarding the spoken word content broadcast by the station," the Commission called Genex to a public hearing in Québec City in February 2004. At this hearing, Genex had to show cause why the Commission should not issue a mandatory order, or suspend or refuse to renew CHOI-FM's licence."

The hearing was a raucous one as many of the station's supporters showed up to loudly back the station - which is the top-rated one in the market. "It's not often you hear applause and booing at a Commission hearing," one observer told www.broadcastermagazine.com.

"When questioned at the hearing about the most serious complaints, the licensee, in virtually all cases, denied that a problem existed and expressed its disagreement with the apparent failures to comply identified prior to the hearing," says the CRTC release.

"The Commission noted that the spoken word content, that was the subject of the complaints received, did not reflect isolated incidents, but appeared to be part of a pattern of behaviour by the licensee that continued and even grew worse, over the course of two consecutive licence terms despite clear, unequivocal warnings from the Commission, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council… and even, on occasion, its own advisory committee."

The Commission's review led it to call into question the credibility of Genex and its controlling shareholder and CEO, Patrice Demers, regarding his ability to understand and exercise its responsibilities under the Act as the holder of a broadcasting licence. "The seriousness and frequency of the violations noted, the fact that they were not first violations, the licensee's general attitude of denial, and the stall tactics that the licensee used in dealing with complaints throughout the current licence term have persuaded the Commission that Genex does not accept its regulatory obligations and is not committed to meeting them," it said.

"In view of the inflexible behaviour demonstrated by Genex, its lack of acceptance of its responsibilities and the lack of any demonstrated commitment to rectify the situation, the Commission cannot reasonably conclude that Genex will comply with the Act, the Regulations and its Code of Ethics if its licence is renewed. Consequently, the Commission has denied Genex's application to renew CHOI-FM's licence," reads the release.

Genex issued a pair of French language news releases today defending itself and decrying the CRTC's decision for being "unjustified and arbitrary." In the release, Demers termed the Commission's decision as an attack on freedom of expression that sets a dangerous precedent.

He also called for a review of the CRTC and its role in Canada and said Genex will fight the ruling.

"It's unfortunate because (CHOI) is often tackling difficult issues of public interest," said the executive, "but the way the address it raises concerns."

Applications for a new station to fill CHOI's slot are due October 7th, 2004. However, look for far more to be added to this file before any new applications come in or hearings held.

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