Red foxes may roam all over Canada but you won’t catch the conservative news network there, according to an Internet meme circulating since 2011.
One version of the meme states that Fox New Channel is "banned from operating in Canada" because "it’s illegal in Canada to lie on airwaves."
A reader sent the message to us and asked us to check it out.
A mountie of lies
We weren’t able to verify the origins of the meme, though Bill O’Reilly himself said in 2004 that Fox wasn’t allowed in Canada -- not that he agreed with the lying part. The earliest iteration of the full claim we found comes from a Feb. 28, 2011, Huffington Post blog post by liberal radio host and activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
"The (false news) provision has kept Fox News and right wing talk radio out of Canada and helped make Canada a model for liberal democracy and freedom," wrote Kennedy. "As a result of that law, Canadians enjoy high-quality news coverage including the kind of foreign affairs and investigative journalism that flourished in this country before Ronald Reagan abolished the ‘Fairness Doctrine’ in 1987."
What Kennedy is likely referring to are provisions in Canadian broadcast policy, include the Radio Act and other policies, that prohibit "any false or misleading news." These provisions against spreading misinformation used to be part of Canada’s criminal code, according to Canadian media lawyer Paul Schabas. They were famously evoked to send Holocaust denier and neo-Nazi publisher Ernst Zündel to trial in the 1980s. After the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the code violated freedom of expression rights and thus was unconstitutional, the false news provisions were just regulations.
How does this relate to Fox News?
Fox News first bid for broadcast in Canada -- filed by private Canadian operators, along with HBO, ESPN, and other American channels -- was rejected by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the federal body that regulates the airwaves, in 2003. But the regulators were concerned with the effect of foreign competition on Canadian networks, not with Fox News’ truthfulness.
Years earlier in 2000, regulators approved a proposal for Fox News Canada, which was to include content from both countries under media content law. But the channel never got off the ground. According to a commission report, Fox News told the Canadian network Global News Network that it "did not wish to have its signal interrupted by the insertion of Canadian programming as would be required under the licence for Fox News Canada." Fox News executive Janet Alshouse said there were no serious discussions with Global nor was there ever a partnership.
After the project fizzled out in 2004, the regulators approved Fox for broadcast on Canadian airwaves via satellite in the same year.
So right now, Canadians can watch Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly, Fox & Friends and everyone else through several private dish providers.
"I live in Toronto, where Fox is pumped into cable from Buffalo. Canadians also get ABC, NBC, CNN. But you know, we also watch (Canadian channels) CBC, CTV, Global," said Schabas.
More on the Canadian policy
Any network that wants to broadcast in Canada must get approved by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. And Canadians who take issue with the truthfulness of their programming can file complaints to the commission.
If a network amasses enough complaints and is found to have knowingly and deliberately broadcasted false news, its license can be limited or revoked. But that has never happened before, commission spokesperson Eric Rancourt said
"Based on the history of these kind of complaints, it would have be very, very egregious for the commission (to revoke or deny a license). That’s all speculative, since it hasn’t happened before," Rancourt said.
The commission has only taken serious action a couple of times in its history, and not against Fox News, but Al Jazeera, according to commission regulator Sheehan Carter. The commission approved the Arabic-language news channel in 2004, with the condition that distributors must edit out abusive content. The condition doesn’t apply to Al Jazeera English.
The meme claims that Fox News is "banned from operating in Canada" because it violates a law that "prevents ‘news’ channels from lying to their viewers."
Fox was denied broadcast in 2003, but not because Canadians found it to be untruthful. And Fox News got its approval to broadcast via satellite in 2004 and certainly has a dish presence up north today.
This claim rates Pants on Fire.