CRTC Decision on Yellowknife’s Cabin Radio Sparks Outrage and Campaign

Ollie Williams is the news editor and co-owner of Cabin Radio.  The people of Yellowknife are organizing to get Canada's telecoms regulator to reverse a decision blocking new commercial radio stations in Yellowknife for the next two years.  (Sidney Cohen/CBC - photo credit)

Ollie Williams is the news editor and co-owner of Cabin Radio. The people of Yellowknife are organizing to get Canada’s telecoms regulator to reverse a decision blocking new commercial radio stations in Yellowknife for the next two years. (Sidney Cohen/CBC – photo credit)

A multi-pronged campaign is underway to get Canada’s telecoms regulator to reverse a decision preventing Cabin Radio from broadcasting on Yellowknife’s FM airwaves.

In a decision released last week, the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) concluded that the city’s radio market cannot support any other commercial FM broadcaster.

The decision came 3.5 years after Cabin Radio, an NWT news website and online radio station, applied for a commercial FM broadcast license for Yellowknife. The CRTC confirmed Monday that it had not reviewed Cabin’s application.

The community response to the CRTC’s decision was quick and strong.

On social media, Yellowknifers condemned the decision and praised Cabin’s journalism. In the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly, Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby called the decision “staggering”.

An online petition to allow Cabin on the FM voter had garnered more than 2,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning (the petition was offline as of Tuesday afternoon), and Cabin has launched a letter-writing campaign of its own.

Mario De Ciccio/Radio Canada

Mario De Ciccio/Radio Canada

Yellowknifers aren’t the only ones confused by the CRTC’s decision.

Monica Auer, executive director of the Canadian Forum for Research and Communications Policy, a nonprofit organization that researches and analyzes Canada’s communications system, was also puzzled by the commission’s findings.

Auer, who has worked for both the CBC and CRTC, said the decision was based primarily on territorial data, rather than Yellowknife data, and it offered little to support the CRTC’s contention that Yellowknife’s market did not could feed other commercial radio stations.

Auer says the decision reflects concerns federal lawmakers have heard about a lack of transparency and accountability at the CRTC.

“I don’t think this decision reflects well on the Commission,” she said.

Cabin says it was excluded from the consultation process

Before reviewing Cabin’s FM license application, the CRTC sought to determine whether Yellowknife might support another commercial radio station and publicly called for comment on the issue.

According to the CRTC, two organizations responded: BC-based Vista Radio, which owns True North FM in Yellowknife and 43 other stations in the South, and the NWT’s Native Communications Society, a non-profit organization that runs Indigenous and English-language programming on CKLB Radio.

Both argued that another FM station would suck up advertising revenue in Yellowknife’s small market.

Ollie Williams, editor and associate of Cabin, says Cabin also responded to the CRTC’s call for comment.

But Cabin’s response was not referenced in the CRTC’s decision and was not published on the CRTC’s website like those of Vista and the Native Communications Society.

Sidney Cohen/CBC

Sidney Cohen/CBC

Cabin provided CBC with a copy of a portion of his filing dated January 27, 2022, the last date the CRTC was responded to.

It is argued that Cabin’s presence on FM radio would not adversely affect the six other stations already there, in part because only one other station – True North (CJCD-FM) – relies solely on advertising. CKLB is partially funded by the federal government.

“We have been on the market since 2017 and work side by side with CJCD-FM. Yellowknife listeners and the advertising community support both services,” explains Cabin.

“We have no reason to believe that if Cabin Radio could move from an online radio station to FM, this wouldn’t continue.”

Vista Radio did not respond to CBC requests for interviews. The NWT’s Native Communications Society declined to comment on this story.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Williams said Cabin is now trying to figure out why her filing was not included in Yellowknife’s CRTC assessment of the radio market.

“We’ve been working on this for years and spent tens of thousands of dollars of our own money on it,” he told CBC. “There are no circumstances where we would have ignored the opportunity to comment on Yellowknife’s market capacity.”

Auer, of Canada’s Research and Communications Policy Forum, said anyone could have offered their thoughts to the CRTC, but one would have had to check the Commission’s website regularly to know it was holding public consultations on Yellowknife.

Williams said Cabin believes the commission was specifically seeking comments from “qualified parties.”

The CRTC did not interview CBC and did not respond to CBC’s questions about its consultation process before the deadline.

In an email, CRTC spokeswoman Patricia Valladao said the commission made a decision on the capacity of the Yellowknife radio market “based on economic and financial data and the comments received in the public consultation.”

She said the commission does not give interviews on decisions “because the decisions speak for themselves”.

cabin options

Cabin has recourse, Auer said, although none of his options are easy.

Cabin could appeal the decision to the federal Circuit Court of Appeals or seek a judicial review, but both processes are expensive.

The CRTC is an independent court of the Canadian Heritage Department. So another option, Auer said, is to ask Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez to review whether the CRTC’s decision on Yellowknife is consistent with its goals for broadcast regulation in Canada.

“And certainly,” she added, “it would be open to the people of Yellowknife to make an effort.”

“I think it could have a positive impact.”

Cabin is currently collecting letters of support. It urges the people of Yellowknife to draft the letters to the CRTC and send them to Cabin by February 28th.


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