The CRTC isn’t happy with Jean-Ernest Pierre and the two Montreal-area AM radio stations he owns, both of which have gone through a third straight licence term where they have failed to comply with their regulatory obligations.
The commission is considering further options, up to and including revoking or refusing to renew their licences.
On Thursday, the commission issued a notice of hearing for Sept. 7, during which it will consider the licence renewals of CJWI 1410 AM (Haitian station CPAM Radio Union) and CJMS 1040 AM (the country music station based in St-Constant). Both were set to expire Aug. 31, but have been extended a year to give the commission time to consider the compliance issues.
The notice lists a series of regulations and licence conditions the station has apparently failed to meet.
For CJWI 1410:
- Failing to file annual returns on time (CPAM blamed this on the accountant)
- Failing to file a form relating to the National Public Alerting System (blamed on the provider of the NPAS system and lack of familiarity with the form)
- Failing to provide audio recordings and information on licence compliance following a CRTC request (blamed on lack of clarity on the form they were asked to fill out)
- Failing to provide a detailed music list (CPAM said it sent one when asked)
- Failing to provide proof of payment of Canadian content development contributions (CPAM said it was paid on time, gave no explanation for failure to provide proof by deadline)
- Failing to broadcast word-for-word a notice of non-compliance as ordered under the previous licence renewal (CPAM said it believed it was acceptable to follow the spirit of the demand rather than the letter)
For CJMS 1040:
- Failing to file annual returns on time (CPAM blamed this on the accountant)
- Failing to file a form relating to the National Public Alerting System (blamed on the provider of the NPAS system)
- Failing to provide audio recordings upon request (CPAM said host Pascal Pourdier sent them in November — eight months after the CRTC’s request — but apparently the commission never received them)
- Failing to provide proof of payment of Canadian content development contributions (CPAM said contributions prior to 2014 were the responsibility of the previous owner, but it has paid the amount owed; for contributions after the acquisition, they were paid on time, but no explanation was given for failure to provide proof by deadline)
CJMS has requested a licence amendment to relieve it of the obligation to pay $500 a year to Canadian content development. That request might have been granted (the commission has since made it a policy that stations with small incomes shouldn’t be forced to make CCD expenditures, and the $500 a year was a commitment the group chose to make when it acquired the station in 2014) except that the CRTC also has a policy not to relieve stations of licence conditions when those licence conditions have not been met. (In other words, the commission prefers you ask for permission instead of forgiveness.)
For both stations, the owner passes the buck on responsibility, blaming the accountant, the alerting system provider, an on-air host and even the commission itself for its failure to comply with its licence conditions. The CRTC won’t like that.
But it especially won’t like the fact that these stations had already been called to order on these issues. CJMS’s last licence renewal came with two mandatory orders (which can be enforced by federal court) requiring the station comply with licence conditions. That order came after a bizarre in-person hearing during which the previous owner blamed his father’s dementia for the station’s failure to comply. Though CJMS has a new owner, this is the fourth straight licence term that the station has been in non-compliance, and the third straight time that a short-term renewal has failed to bring the station into line.
For CJWI, there was no mandatory order or tense public hearing, but there were also repeated short-term renewals because of licence non-compliance — in 2008 for four years because of a failure to provide an annual return on time, 2015 for two years because of failures related to annual returns and CCD contributions. Like CJMS, CJWI doesn’t have a single licence term where it has complied with all its licence conditions.
What will the CRTC do?
The commission has a policy on how to deal with non-compliant radio stations, based on how severe the non-compliance is, whether the non-compliance has been a chronic problem, and how the owner has responded to being informed of the apparent non-compliance.
The commission could do nothing, if it determines that the non-compliance was minor or just a communication issue. The next step is usually a short-term licence renewal, which it has already done repeatedly for both stations. It could impose additional CCD contributions (a de facto fine), it could require the station broadcast a notice of its non-compliance (which it did for CJWI), issue mandatory orders (which it did for CJMS), and in the most extreme cases, it could suspend, revoke or refuse to renew the licenses.
Normally, for that extreme measure, the commission would call the licensees to an in-person hearing to give them a chance to explain themselves. That’s what it did with CJMS’s previous owner, and for Aboriginal Voices Radio before revoking its licences. But this notice says the CRTC does not expect to require the licensees’ presence in person. This makes licence revocation unlikely.
Nevertheless, for both stations, it said: “Given the recurrence of the station’s non-compliance over the past several licence terms, the Commission has concerns regarding the licensee’s ability and commitment to operate the station in a compliant manner.”
That should be worrying to any radio station owner, and a strong sign that the commission’s patience is wearing thin.
Other stations in non-compliance
The hearing is also looking at three other stations that have compliance issues:
- CICR-FM Parrsboro, N.S. The community radio station got its first licence in 2008, and was renewed for a short term in 2015. Its compliance issues relate to annual returns, program logs and requests for information from the commission.
- CFOR-FM Maniwaki, Que. The commercial station has gone through a third licence term failing to comply with licence conditions, including a condition imposed in 2015 about broadcasting its failure to comply. The application does not include explanations for these latest failures.
- CKFG-FM Toronto (G98.7). This commercial station owned by Intercity Broadcasting Network Inc. has so many compliance issues that the commission says it “could conclude that the licensee has demonstrated that it does not understand its regulatory obligations.”
Comments on these applications and others in the public notice are due by July 31 and can be submitted here. Note that all information provided, including contact information, becomes part of the public record. The commission could choose to invite people to the public hearing if it decides based on public comments that such an invitation is warranted.
It is ASTOUNDING that the CRTC has permitted CJWI and CJMS to continue oparating when they have not ever been compliant with the CRTC’s rules.
Moreover TTP Media was awarded three AM operating licences in 2012 for stations in Montreal 940, 850 and 600 yet as of today none are operational. AM 850 they appear to have abandoned.
It is laughable. What a weak Regulator! The CDN Government should outsource the regulatory task to the FCC.Same applies to Industry Canada another huge source of innefectiveness.
Not really, it’s consistent with CRTC policy regarding non-compliance. CJWI’s compliance issues are mainly paperwork-related, and the CRTC isn’t going to revoke a licence because an annual return is late (which is a common problem among smaller independent stations). CJMS had more severe compliance issues, but is under new ownership.
Actually they were awarded in 2011, 2013 and 2012, respectively, and 940 is operational, though it has been taken offline intermittently lately because of work on the transmitter site.
Besides the absurdity of the Canadian government outsourcing governing to the U.S. government, I’m not sure what you think the FCC would do that’s different from the CRTC. It has a similar progressive system for dealing with compliance issues (except that it has more legal power to issue fines) and isn’t exactly known for being severe in revoking licences.
The CRTC is basically toothless, and by giving them yet another year, it shows how little their processes mean.
Failure to file an annual return once is an oversight. A couple of times may be a process problem. Doing it consistently is a lack of desire to follow the rules or to take the obligations seriously. That each of these stations have a number of outstanding issues, and those issues appear to be repeating year on year signals a bigger problem.
What the CRTC really needs is on the ground, at the station intervention people to go and see how these stations operate and why they are failing to live up to their mandates. Giving them another year and more of less putting the whole thing on hold until then is meaningless. It just prolongs the agony.
Consider the case of Aboriginal Voices. It took an insane amount of non-compliance to even get the CRTC to start taking the situation seriously, and even then, they really didn’t want to revoke their mandate until there really was no other choice (and for that matter, AV had already sort of started to fail on it’s own).
The CRTC should be a leadership organization, not a tut-tutting group of nannies who won’t punish you for anything.