CKIN-FM 106.3, which was recently sold to a Toronto businessman, is in gross violation of its conditions of licence now that it has revamped its programming to make most of its schedule Arabic.
At least, that’s what a complaint by CHOU 1450, Radio Moyen Orient, would have the CRTC believe. And though the complainant’s frustration is understandable, I can’t find the condition of licence it’s accusing CKIN-FM of violating.
Before last year, CKIN-FM was a sister station to CKDG-FM 105.1, owned by Canadian Hellenic Cable Radio. The two stations are commercial ethnic radio stations, each required to serve several ethnic communities in several third languages. CHCR split its language offering between the two stations. It made CKDG English-language during peak hours, with the rest mostly Greek but a few other languages sprinkled in. CKIN was French-language during peak hours, with Spanish, Creole, Arabic, Romanian and Armenian in descending order of weekly airtime, plus a handful of other languages with less than four hours a week.
When Neeti P. Ray took over, there was a major overhaul at CKIN-FM, and the amount of Arabic programming increased from 8% to 68%, according to CHOU’s complaint. The station’s schedule lists it as having Arabic programming from midnight to 7pm weekdays, and all weekends except from 6 to 9am. Spanish programming airs from 7pm to midnight weekdays, and all six other languages the station is required to air get an hour each on weekend mornings.
CHOU, whose entire schedule is Arabic, is crying foul, and demands in its complaint that the CRTC order CKIN to devote no more than 8% (10 hours a week) of programming to the Arabic language, and to stop marketing itself as “la nouvelle voix arabe de Montréal.”
In its argument, CHOU cites comments that Ray made to the CRTC in applying to acquire the station:
The Applicant intends to continue this mix of languages, while maintaining CKIN-FM’s particular focus on programming directed to South Asian communities and a substantial amount of Spanish programming and related world-music programming (for which CKIN-FM is now well-known). … The principal change in programming will likely involve the production of more local and in-studio programming, particularly for South Asian audiences.
There is absolutely no reason for the applicant to change the programming mix and focus, which was recently reviewed by the CRTC and has been embraced Montrealers.
CHOU said that based on the information provided in the application, it chose not to intervene in the ownership change application. “If Mr. Ray had, in his application for transfer of assets, expressed his intention to broadcast this many hours of Arabic during the most attractive hours, we would have strongly opposed this change and would have asked the commission to deny the application,” it wrote in the complaint.
And it argues that Ray himself had noted that Montreal was not a large enough market to support two ethnic radio stations targeting the same ethnic group. (He wanted to start up a station for the south Asian community, and opposed (unsuccessfully) an application by Radio Humsafar for that reason.)
And it says that according to its analysis of a sample week, the station was short two ethnic groups and two languages in the number it is required to provide programming for in each week. CHOU says its complaint is valid regardless of the CRTC’s ruling on this particular compliance issue.
(Also unrelated is that CHOU recently got approval for a low-power FM retransmitter of its signal in St-Michel.)
What the licence says
So is CKIN-FM following its licence conditions?
The decision approving the transfer of ownership, and a new licence for the operation of the station, has conditions related to programming, requiring it to be directed to at least six cultural groups in at least eight languages. It also must ensure at least 60% of its schedule is in a language other than French or English, and at least 70% is ethnic programs.
But there are no conditions of licence setting a maximum or minimum for any given language. So legally Ray is allowed to have most of his schedule be Arabic and only an hour a week for all but two of the groups he’s supposed to cater to.
And though CHOU says Ray made commitments not to change the mix of programming on the station, the application does not explicitly state that there would be no change to the amount of programming for each language, nor does it include a sample programming grid.
The station may be ignoring the spirit of the ethnic broadcasting policy, but not the letter. At least not yet. The CRTC promised to begin a review of its ethnic radio policy as part of a three-year plan in 2014-15, then again in 2015-16, then again in 2016-17. At this rate we’re at least a year away from any policy change. But whether a minimum amount of programming should be established for each language/group might form part of that review.
Ray and CKIN-FM have not responded to the complaint. I will update this post when their response is filed.
CHOU’s complaint against CKIN-FM can be downloaded here (1.4 MB .zip). Comments about the complaint can be filed here until 8pm ET on May 24. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.
Tangible benefits change
In a separate, unrelated application, Ray is asking the CRTC to reallocate funding he was required to provide as part of the CKIN-FM acquisition. Tangible benefits, a kind of tax on acquisitions imposed by the CRTC, normally go to Canadian content development funds according to a standard formula. Ray agreed to provide $41,430 of benefits to groups like Radio Starmaker Fund, FACTOR or MUSICACTION and the Community Radio Fund of Canada, plus some for other eligible initiatives at its discretion.
Rather than split up this money between these organizations, Ray is proposing to divert all of it to a scholarship program at Concordia University’s journalism department.
… given the relatively modest amounts involved, we believe that it would be of greater benefit to the community of Montre?al to aggregate the annual benefit dollars and to designate a single beneficiary each year. Each of the annual amounts allocated to the different recipients is, on its own, not material within their overall operations. However, when a single recipient is selected, the amounts together can have a significant positive effect for the recipient.
It’s unclear why Ray is coming to this conclusion now as opposed to when the application was filed.
Diverting all the funding to a discretionary initiative like this not only makes for a bigger splash, but is also more self-serving. Funds like Starmaker and FACTOR obscure the source of funding, while a direct donation can get your logo plastered all over a thank-you event, with the words “tangible benefits” or “CRTC” not even mentioned anywhere in the press release about it.
Whether Ray is considering the promotional value of a donation, or just wants to save money on cheques, is unknown.