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Canadian cable companies should pull plug on Russian propaganda channel: Critics


Russia Today is a state-owned and -controlled propaganda arm of Putin’s government and shouldn’t be allowed into Canadians’ homes, its critics say

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With Russia invading Ukraine, a B.C. woman is ramping up her campaign to have Canadian broadcasters cancel a 24-hour English-language TV channel that steadily pumps out Russian government propaganda.

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And joining the call for cable companies and the CRTC to drop Russia Today, or RT, programming are a former federal MP from B.C. and an expert in Eastern European countries and governments.

Barbara O’Neil, a retired businesswoman on Vancouver Island, has pushed for years to have Shaw TV and Canada’s telecommunications regulator shut down RT television, an international broadcast network owned and controlled by the Russian state and viewed as strategic by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I would call it an insidious TV network. Its purpose is to undermine Western democracy,” O’Neil said.

The European Union’s executive is banning state-owned Russian media companies Russia Today and Sputnik, saying they’re propaganda tools in the war over Ukraine.

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“The state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik, as well as their subsidiaries, will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war and to sow division in our union,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Sunday. “So we are developing tools to ban their toxic and harmful disinformation in Europe.”

Former Conservative heritage minister James Moore, who was MP for Port Moody-Coquitlam, tweeted at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission last week.

“Dear @CRTCeng — go ahead and repeal the broadcast license of RT/Russia Today,” he wrote.

“Given that the station is broadcasting essentially military propaganda,” the federal government and CRTC should ban it from Canada’s airways, he told Postmedia News.

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“It’s deeply concerning … that RT is allowed to broadcast disinformation and Russian propaganda into Canadian homes,” said documentary filmmaker Marcus Kolga, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and expert on Eastern European issues, including the use of media as tools of foreign policy and defence.

“This is psychological warfare, it’s government-cognitive warfare. RT looks as glossy as CTV or the BBC and it does not come off as state-sanctioned government propaganda,” he said. “Some Canadians may be fooled by it. And Russians would prefer that Canadians (be fooled).”

On the day after Russia invaded Ukraine, RT television had broadcast numerous headlines, clips and interviews emphasizing the official Russian line on the invasion, including claims that no Ukrainian citizens will be injured and Russia won’t occupy the country.

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RT television is also available on Telus TV, has its own website and posts frequently on its own YouTube channel, Facebook page and Twitter accounts.

RT has a large online audience, meaning that bans on conventional broadcast television may not cut off its reach. It has 4.6 million subscribers on YouTube and 7.4 million followers on Facebook.

“As a third-party content provider, Telus does not exercise editorial control over the TV channels we make available to our customers or which channels our customers choose to watch,” said spokeswoman Liz Sauve in an email.

She said Telus follows CRTC guidelines and it would comply if CRTC asked it to drop RT.

Shaw TV spokesman Chethan Lakshman didn’t return requests for comment.

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Foreign channels, including RT, are authorized to broadcast in Canada “to increase the diversity of voices and content in Canada,” said CRTC spokesman Eric Rancourt in an email.

“The CRTC does not censor content,” he said, but all broadcasters are expected to “ensure that news is represented with accuracy and without bias.”

“Canadians concerned about how recent events in Ukraine are being portrayed or reported upon by RT are encouraged to file a complaint with the CRTC,” he said.

Other governments are reconsidering allowing RT in their countries. Britain’s government may ban it, but some British MPs fear Putin will retaliate by barring the BBC, the British public broadcaster, from Russia.

And in 2018 France passed a law that allows its broadcasting agency to suspend or terminate licences of any broadcaster under the influence of foreign states as part of broader legislation to address disinformation that might affect electoral integrity, said UBC political science professor Chris Tenove in an email.

Tenove was uncertain if it was within the CRTC’s mandate to deny state-owned propaganda arms of governments on Canadian airwaves.

Widely perceived as the public-relations arm of the Russian government, RT is reported to have a budget over $200 million a year for its global operations. It broadcasts in at least five languages, including English, Spanish, Arabic, German and French.

With files from Bloomberg

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