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Punjabi radio stations operating in B.C. face CRTC ban

Radio India station 1600AM, which operates out of Surrey but is transmitted from Blaine, Wash., is heard clearly in Richmond. The CRTC says the station is circumventing Canadian content laws.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Three radio stations broadcasting predominantly South Asian-language programming widely available in the Vancouver market are heading for a showdown with the CRTC – and Canadian companies who advertise on those stations could also take a hit in the process.

The stations have been called to a hearing this fall and threatened with cease and desist orders. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission says the stations – Radio India, Radio Punjab and Sher-E-Punjab – operate out of Canada but do not hold radio licences for this country. All three broadcast from British Columbia but their signals are transmitted from Washington State.

"There is reason to believe that Sher-E-Punjab, Radio India and Radio Punjab may be carrying on broadcasting undertakings in whole or in part in Canada without licences in contravention of the Broadcasting Act," writes the CRTC in a notice of hearing. The notice says the stations will be asked to show cause at the October hearing as to why the CRTC should not issue mandatory cease and desist orders. Should such orders be issued, that could trigger court involvement, according to the CRTC.

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"The fact that they are broadcasting into Canada and getting Canadian [advertising] business and not complying to regulations in terms of Canadian content and all that, they are infringing the law," said Patricia Valladao, manager of media relations for the CRTC. She says if they are broadcasting in Canada they should have a licence and fulfill the Broadcasting Act. "So in this hearing, they really have to come to us and explain themselves."

On its website, Radio Punjab promotes itself as "Broadcasting on AM 1110 from Seattle to Vancouver." According to the CRTC, it has an arrangement with New Age Media Limited, the licensee of KRPA 1110 AM in Oak Harbour, Wash., to transmit its programming, which is received in Canada. Its offices are in Surrey.

Also operating out of Surrey, Radio India has an agreement with the licensee of KVRI 1600 AM in Blaine, Wash., which transmits its programming, according to the CRTC. Its website says its programs can be enjoyed "in the lower mainland of British Columbia and in some areas of Washington State."

And Sher-E-Punjab, which broadcasts out of studios in Richmond, has an arrangement with BBC Broadcasting Inc., the licensee of KRPI 1550 AM in Ferndale, Wash., according to the CRTC.

"They're very popular. They're all broadcasting from Washington," said Ms. Valladao. "They have strong signals," she later added.

The three stations were given until Aug. 28 to submit comments and file supporting documents to the CRTC in advance of the Oct. 15 hearing in Gatineau, Que. But none of the stations submitted anything, according to Ms. Valladao. She says the CRTC has been in contact with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission about the matter.

In addition to the companies operating the radio stations, there are potential implications for Canadians who advertise on them. The CRTC points to the section of the Income Tax Act that says deductions cannot be made "for an advertisement directed primarily to a market in Canada and broadcast by a foreign broadcasting undertaking," which includes a transmitter located outside Canada.

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This has been an issue for the CRTC for years. In 2005, in an effort to get the South Asaian community to listen to Canadian radio, the CRTC licensed two new stations – Red FM and RJ1200. The issue erupted again this January when the CRTC held hearings in Surrey to license two new Vancouver radio stations. Sher-E-Punjab, one of the 11 applicants, said it would agree to stop providing its programing for broadcast over U.S. transmission facilities if it won a licence for 600 AM. But it did not win the licence. Radio India also wanted to apply but did not get its application in on time. Its request for an extension was denied.

(South Fraser Broadcasting won a licence for 107.7 FM with its proposal for an English language service dedicated to a Surrey audience. And Roundhouse Radio won the licence for 98.3 FM, promising mostly talk and spoken word programming such as news, documentaries, open-line programming, radio plays and slam poetry. It plans to launch in early 2015.)

When asked how the CRTC would enforce a cease and desist order, Ms. Valladao responded that the Commission can register a mandatory order with the Federal Court or with the superior court of a province, which can then be enforced as an order of the court. The CRTC has issued cease and disist orders in the past, but Ms. Valladao was not aware of any involving the Commission pursuing a cross-border station.

While none of the radio stations summoned to the CRTC hearing submitted comments by the deadline, the commission has heard from several interveners regarding Sher-E-Punjab and a controversial proposal to construct radio towers in Point Roberts, Wash., near the border with Tsawwassen, B.C. Interveners can submit comments until Sept. 12.

Officials at Radio Punjab nor Radio India declined to comment for this story, although Radio Punjab indicated it would be attending the October hearing in Gatineau. Calls to Sher-E-Punjab chief operating officer Gurdial Singh Baud were not returned.

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About the Author
Western Arts Correspondent

Marsha Lederman is the Western Arts Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver. She covers the film and television industry, visual art, literature, music, theatre, dance, cultural policy, and other related areas. More

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