The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) revoked the license of CKLN-FM 88.1 in Toronto, in a decision released on January 28, 2011.
CKLN was established in 1983 as Toronto’s first campus radio station, located on the campus of Ryerson Universiy. It features a variety of ethnic, cultural, and local programming, servicing multiple niche areas not addressed by mainstream radio stations. Their license was last renewed on August 13, 2007, for a seven-year period.
The station has been plagued by disputes and disorganization, resulting in the CRTC raising concerns over compliance with the Radio Regulations, 1986 and the CRTC’s Campus radio policy. Under s. 9(2) of these Regulations, CKLN was required to file annual returns and failed to do so.
The majority vote of the CRTC held that these violations were sufficient to revoke the license,
25. The requirement to file annual returns is clearly indicated in the Regulations. The Regulations also clearly set out the form and required date for the filing of these returns. Despite assurances that it understood its regulatory obligations in this matter and assurances that the filing of these returns was imminent, CKLN Radio has not demonstrated that it has mastered this very basic requirement. Therefore, the Commission finds that the licensee is in non-compliance with section 9(2) of the Regulations.
58. The Commission considers that the issues of non-compliance described above, when taken cumulatively, are extremely serious. The non-compliance during the lockout period constituted a complete abrogation of CKLN Radio’s regulatory obligations. In this context, the filing of annual returns, the provision of complete and accurate program logs and records, and responding to complaints and Commission inquiries are fundamental to the Commission’s ability to monitor the station. These also become important indicators of whether the licensee has the stability and knowledge necessary to bring itself into compliance and keep itself there.
59. The Act declares that radio frequencies are public property. Moreover, community-based campus radio stations, as part of a distinct element of the broadcasting system, play a special role in serving their communities, including the students who provide the majority of their funding. Licensees therefore have the responsibility to broadcast in a manner that is consistent with the fundamental conditions of their licences and the Regulations.
60. The Commission has considered all regulatory measures available to it, including the issuance of mandatory orders as well as the suspension or the revocation of the broadcasting licence for CKLN-FM. Given the seriousness of the non-compliance and its continuous nature, the inability of CKLN Radio to institute the measures necessary to ensure ongoing compliance, and the lack of confidence on the part of the Commission that such measures could or would be instituted within a reasonable amount of time, the Commission finds that revocation is the only appropriate measure in this case.
The dissenting opinion of Commissioner Louise Poirier emphasized that the station had never before been in non-compliance, and that Circular 444 called for gradation. She suggested that s. 12(2) of the Broadcasting Act should have been applied as a first step, and stated that the Commission should have waited until a final ruling by the Superior Court of Justice,
…I am opposed to the revocation of CKLN-FM’s licence because the Commission should have first waited until the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (the Superior Court) settled the matter before it concerning the legitimacy of the current board of directors. A mandatory order would have given the Superior Court time to issue a ruling and avoid a potential appeal of this decision in the event of a ruling that the current board of directors was not the licensee’s legitimate representative. In fact, we adjourned the 12 May 2010 show cause hearing into CKLN-FM so that the dispute before the Superior Court could be settled. Given that the dispute has not been settled, we should have continued to wait, as we did at first, all the while ensuring compliance with our regulations…
To conclude, revoking CKLN-FM’s licence at this time creates a precedent that I cannot endorse. The regulatory measure that has been adopted is disproportionate to the fault. It would have been more transparent and more consistent with the Commission’s usual practices to issue a mandatory order accompanied by close monitoring of the licensee. This would have constituted fair treatment for CKLN-FM Toronto, which has served its community with credibility and passion since 1983 and which has always had its license renewed for full terms, thus leading to the conclusion that the Commission has never been significantly concerned with the licensee’s compliance with its regulatory obligations. At the hearing, the licensee clearly stated its firm intention to comply.
Hastily revoking a campus radio station licence in Toronto, Canada’s biggest market, will not send a positive signal to the campus radio community, which consists of organizations comprised mainly of volunteers, who unstintingly contribute time and energy to give their community a voice. This decision is consistent neither with the Commission’s usual practice nor with the spirit of Circular 444. In my opinion, based on the evidence before us, the decision to revoke the licence at this time is premature, disproportionate and inequitable.
Given the community-based nature of the station, supporters are attempting to organize to express their objections to the CRTC vote.