Rogers, Bell, Telus, and Shaw have removed Russian state media outlet Russia Today (RT) from their channel lineups after Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez announced Ottawa is looking at “all options” to drop the network from Canada’s broadcasting system.
“I share the concerns of many Canadians about the presence of Russia Today in our broadcasting system. We’re looking at all options,” Rodriguez said on Twitter on Feb. 26.
A day later Rogers Communications Inc. announced they would drop the channel, saying the company will no longer host RT starting Feb. 28.
“We have made the decision that effective tomorrow, Russia Today will no longer be available on our channel lineup,” the Canadian telecom and media giant said on Twitter on Feb. 27.
BCE Inc. took a similar move, according to Rodriguez.
“I commend Bell for removing RT,” he said on Twitter on Feb. 27.
“Russia has been conducting warfare in Ukraine since 2014 and information warfare across the world. RT is the propaganda arm of Putin’s regime that spreads disinformation. It has no place here.”
According to its website, RT is a state-funded international news channel launched in 2005. Since its inception, the multi-language channel has expanded its broadcast to more than 100 countries covering news 24 hours a day.
On Jan. 22, the U.S. Department of State described RT as a critical element in Russia’s “disinformation and propaganda ecosystem” that uses the “guise of conventional international media outlets” to “inject pro-Kremlin disinformation and propaganda into the information environment.”
Telus Corp. and Shaw Communications likewise announced their plans to discontinue carrying the network in their channel lineups a day after Rodriguez’s tweet.
Rodriguez commended Shaw for removing RT from their network in a tweet on Feb. 28. “We must all do our part to fight back against Russia’s propaganda,” he said.
Chinese State-Controlled Media Remains in Canada
Meanwhile, two Chinese state-owned broadcasters continue to air news on Canadian airwaves.
As of Feb. 28, Chinese state-run media such as China Global Television Network (CGTN) and China Central Television (CCTV-4), both long reported by human rights advocates as propaganda outlets for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), remain in the channel lineups of Rogers and Bell. Telus continues to host CCTV-4 in its network.
Last April, human rights NGO Safeguard Defenders called on TV providers around the world—including Canada’s Rogers—to stop airing forced televised “confessions,” often of political prisoners, on CCP-controlled CGTN and CCTV-4.
The group also sent an open letter (pdf) to the TV providers jointly signed by 14 victims of forced confessions.
“Many of us suffered through this ordeal because of our work to defend basic human rights, values taken for granted in your country,” the letter read.
“The Chinese government, and these Chinese TV stations, denied us the right to a fair trial, the right to see a lawyer, and the right not to be tortured. Instead, via threats to our family, to ourselves and through torture, we were paraded on camera in these forced confessions.”
Norwegian company Telia suspended CGTN and CCTV-4 upon receiving the open letter, according to Peter Dahlin, director of Safeguard Defenders.
CGTN also lost its licence to air in the UK in February 2021 after UK’s broadcast regulator Ofcom found that the media outlet violated the country’s broadcasting law.
Previously known as CCTV, CGTN is an international English-language satellite news channel owned by the Chinese regime and directly controlled by the CCP. UK broadcasting laws do not allow licences for media controlled by political bodies.
In March 2021, Australian public broadcaster SBS suspended CCTV and CGTN after receiving a complaint from Safeguard Defenders after the networks broadcasted at least 56 forced confessions from prisoners over a seven-year period.
In December 2019, Safeguard Defenders filed a complaint to Canada’s broadcast regulator Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission against CGTN and CCTV-4 for their systematic broadcast of the abusive content. It is still under review, according to the human rights group.
Simon Veazey contributed to this report.