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CRTC Pressured To Close Down Pirate Punjabi Stations From US

“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.

By R. Paul Dhillon

With News Files

SURREY – After the recent heated radio application process in Surrey which ended with the Badh family backed South Fraser Broadcasting getting a Surrey FM station, the Canadian Radio-Television Commission (CRTC) is looking to shut down the “pirate” Punjabi stations from across the border, ironically one of them owned by the Badhs.

The hearings into the station’s operations are scheduled for next month where three of the offending stations – Sher-E-Punjab, Radio India and Radio Punjab – have been called to explain themselves.

But there is a lot of pressure on the CRTC from the Canadian licensed Punjabi-South Asian ethnic stations to shut down the pirate radio stations and many believe the CRTC will act on the pressure, especially since they are looking to offer another ethnic radio license, likely Punjabi or English-Punjabi format, for the large South Asian population in Surrey.

Will the CRTC shut down the stations? Radio is largely dead in the mainstream but is still viable in the Indo-Canadian community so a lot is riding on the hearings!

“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, reported Globe and Mail newspaper.

“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 told the Globe if the rogue stations 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.”

Among those pressuring the CRTC to do something on the pirate radio stations is controversial broadcaster Shushma Datt, who operates two stations of her own, the Canadian licensed Rhim Jhim and RJ1200, that target the South Asian community.

Datt told CBC News that her stations are licensed by the CRTC and play by the rules, she wants those that don’t shut down.

“The issue is they are not Canadian. The money they are collecting from Canada is going to the U.S.,” says Dutt.

“I do know they are not obligated to do anything that is Canadian; we are on the other hand,” she said, decrying they are supposed to pay close to $70,000 a year to Canadian Talent Development whereas the pirate stations don’t have to.

Even Datt is behind those CRTC commitments and was taken to task by the CRTC at the recent hearings as well as in their correspondence to her station, outlining her failure to make those commitments. Datt’s recent application to CRTC was also turned down by the CRTC.

The owners of Radio India and Radio Punjab refused to comment to CBC News and the owner of Sher E Punjab radio did not return the CBC’s calls, the news outlet reported..

Sher E Punjab, Radio India and Radio Punjab all operate from B.C.—but their radio signals are transmitted from Washington State.

All three stations have been called to a CRTC hearing next month in Quebec, threatened with cease and desist orders.

SFU Marketing Professor Lindsay Meredith told CBC news that by broadcasting from the U.S. the rogue stations avoid the costs their legitimate competitors have to pay.

“This may be a case of radio station broadcasting out of the U.S. to purposely duck Canadian taxes, Canadian content requirement and, oh by the way, undercut Canadian stations that are trying to sell their advertising to Canadian companies.”

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 Valladao. She says the CRTC has been in contact with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission about the matter, reported the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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, the Globe reported.

When asked how the CRTC would enforce a cease and desist order, 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 desist orders in the past, reported the Globe and Mail.

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