There was a moment for me when Corus’ defence of its OWN programming made me wonder if I’d somehow slipped into an alternative universe where the laws of logic no longer applied. Commissioner Peter Menzies asked Corus to defend the feature film “Fried Green Tomatoes” as educational and Corus Executive Vice-President Gary Maavara said that the film was part of a course that taught people how to fry green tomatoes. Fry. Green. Tomatoes.
Well, it looks like the Commission thought that was as ludicrous as I did (and I know I wasn’t alone). Not only did the Commission direct Corus to comply with OWN’s nature of service definition (formal and informal adult education programming) and comply with strict reporting and monitoring requirements to ensure that it is done, the Commission took the rare step of issuing a mandatory order:
In light of the licensee’s longstanding non-compliance and to ensure its future compliance with its nature of service definition, the Commission considers it appropriate to issue a mandatory order under section 12(2) of the Act requiring OWN Inc. to comply at all times with the nature of service definition for OWN.
The Commission was fed up. You could hear it in the questions and the tone of the Commissioners and Chair. If you read the decision you can read about the many times that Corus was told to comply but didn’t. Keep in mind, OWN was originally licensed as the Canadian Learning Television service and in its most recent incarnation became the Oprah Winfrey Network Canada. BIG difference in programming. As many broadcasters have done over the past few years (see CBC and Bold), Corus ignored the rules and waited for the CRTC to come after them. The CRTC does not have a lot of penalties available to them but the mandatory order is one of them.
What is a mandatory order? Unlike a regular compliance order from the CRTC, this one is filed with the Federal Court. The significance is that if the mandatory order is not complied with then the penalties of the Federal Court come into play rather than the CRTC and that includes options like seizing goods of the corporation or an officer or director of the corporation. Much more serious.
If the broadcasters haven’t all woken up to this Commission being tougher about the rules and regulations of the system – they’re going to learn the hard way, like Corus just did.