A primer on Broadcasting Distribution Regulations

This article will discuss the Broadcasting Act, the Broadcasting Distribution Regulations, and the powers of the CRTC in relation to broadcasting
A primer on Broadcasting Distribution Regulations

It is well recognized that broadcasting – including all broadcast distribution undertakings – plays a vital role in building and supporting the Canadian identity. For this purpose, and to regulate the entities in the broadcasting sector, laws and regulations on broadcasting distribution have been passed.

Broadcast distribution undertaking

Generally, broadcasting is the sharing of various content over a wide range of media of mass communication.

In Canada, broadcast distribution undertaking is specifically defined by law, which includes multichannel television providers. This undertaking may be in different media, such as:

  • Radio
  • Television (e.g., cable TV; satellite TV; pay television)
  • Internet (e.g., Internet Protocol television or IPTV)

However, regulation of broadcast distribution undertaking in Canada is not only confined to these media. As shown below, the power of regulatory bodies includes other media, and may stretch out to the different aspects of broadcast distribution undertakings.

What is the Canadian Broadcasting Act?

Regulation of broadcasting distribution in Canada is under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Its administration is primarily vested with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

The CRTC was established through the enactment of the CRTC Act in 1985. The CRTC administers several laws such as the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act.

Broadcasting Act

Canada’s Broadcasting Act is the primary legislation governing broadcasting and its distribution. As an overview, this Act has established the framework for broadcasting distribution regulations, such as:

  • Broadcasting Policy for Canada
  • Scope of powers of CRTC in relation to broadcasting
  • Offences and its penalties for violations of the Act

Broadcasting Policy for Canada

The Broadcasting Policy for Canada (section 3 (1)) lays the foundation on how the broadcasting distribution regulations are enforced in Canada.

This Policy provides that the Canadian broadcasting system must:

  • Reflect Canada’s identity as a nation (e.g., Canadian attitudes, opinions, ideas, values, and artistic creativity)
  • Support and regularly display Canadian talent in entertainment programming
  • Offer information and analysis of Canada and other countries from a Canadian point of view
  • Serve the needs and interests of all Canadians and reflect their circumstances and aspirations:
    • racialized communities
    • different ethnocultural backgrounds
    • socio-economic statuses
    • abilities and disabilities
    • sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions
  • Recognize the special place of Indigenous peoples and languages within Canada’s society

Powers of the CRTC

The CRTC is granted jurisdiction by the Broadcasting Act over certain subject matters related to broadcasting.

This is in addition to the powers of the CRTC that are provided by the CRTC Act and the Telecommunications Act.

As an overview, the following are the objects and powers of the CRTC in relation to broadcasting:

  • Licenses: issue a licence to carry on a broadcasting undertaking; this includes the power to amend, renew, suspend, or revoke a license that the CRTC issued;
  • Creation of Regulations: these will implement the provisions of the Broadcasting Act, including the regulation of licence fees;
  • Inquiries: conduct inquiries when:
    • any of the licence, order, or Regulations issued by of the CRTC has been violated, or
    • for violation of Broadcasting Act’s provisions on paper bills, or
    • for violation of Accessible Canada Act’s provisions on accessibility plans.

Watch this video for an example of the actual exercise of the powers of CRTC:

We mentioned that the CRTC is also responsible for issuing licences. Find out more about getting a TV licence in our article.

What is the Broadcasting Distribution Regulations in Canada?

Through the Broadcasting Act, the CRTC has crafted the Broadcasting Distribution Regulations to implement the provisions of the Broadcasting Act.

Regulation of broadcasting in Canada

Broadcast distribution undertaking – or broadcasting in general – is regulated not only by the Broadcasting Distribution Regulations, but also by other Policies released by the CRTC.

Some highlights of the Regulations or other Policies are provided below. Consult a telecommunications lawyer to get a better picture of broadcasting distribution regulations.

Content law for radio and TV

As part of regulating broadcasting in Canada, content that is heard or shown on the radio or TV is also regulated.

In line with the Broadcasting Policy for Canada, CRTC’s policies and regulations on content requirements provide that works by Canadians must be regularly played or shown in radio or on the TV.


Each licensed radio station in Canada must devote a percentage of its weekly music broadcasting to Canadian content. This percentage will depend on the type of radio station and the type of music it broadcasts.

The following are the percentages of Canadian content that each category of radio station is required to broadcast:

  • Popular Music (Category 2):
    • Commercial, community, campus and native radio: at least 35% of the Popular Music broadcasted each week
  • Special Interest Music (Category 3):
    • Commercial radio:
      • at least 10% of all Special Interest Music broadcasted
      • at least 25% of all concert music
      • at least 20% of all jazz and blues music
    • Native radio: 10% of all Special Interest Music broadcasted each week
    • Community and campus radio: 12% of all Special Interest Music broadcasted each week

However, these are not absolute and there are some exceptions to these percentages.

Television Programs

By way of supporting Canadian talent on TV, the CRTC provides incentives through time credits to broadcasting companies.

Canadian broadcasters may claim a 125% to 150% time credit for the Canadian dramas they broadcast if they’re aired during peak viewing hours (7PM - 11PM).

In addition, Policy frameworks were also released by the CRTC to support Canadian content on TV, such as:

  • Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2015-86: ensures that diverse Canadian TV programming will continue to be available on Canadian television.
  • Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2016-224: policy for local TV and community television to support local news and local programming.

Foreign Ownership

The laws and regulations on broadcasting provide that a broadcasting license can only be issued if the majority of the corporation is owned by Canadians.

This is shown by:

  • Incorporation or continuation of the corporation under Canadian law (federal or provincial)
  • The CEO must be Canadian
  • Members of the Board of Directors must be 80% Canadian
  • Voting rights or shares must be 80% Canadian
  • Corporation must not be controlled-in-fact by non-Canadians

Learn more about the Canadian Broadcasting Distribution Regulations and other related topics by consulting with the best telecommunications lawyers in Canada as ranked by Lexpert.