GATINEAU, Que. – One of B.C.’s "Pirate Radio" broadcasters boasted earlier this month of his powerful political connections, a vast public following prepared to take to the streets to rally on his behalf and his plan to fight for his right to keep operating all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
But Radio India’s managing director, Maninder Gill, humbly capitulated here Oct. 15 under pressure from Canada’s regulator of the airwaves.
"I changed my mind, " Gill told a Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission member questioning his change of heart.
Gill heads Radio India, one of three largely Punjabi-language B.C. stations broadcasting to Lower Mainland audiences without a licence by using U.S.-based radio transmitters.
Gill, while saying his station "fills a void" and is the "chosen vehicle" for politicians anxious to reach B.C.’s South Asian voters, admitted he’s been operating for years in violation of Canada’s Broadcasting Act.
He and a representative, Andrew Forsyth, appealed to the CRTC to give Radio India 120 days to wind down operations, avoid the costs associated with a quick closure that could lead to bankruptcy and prepare a submission for a future AM licence on the 600 frequency in the Lower Mainland.
"Mr. Gill does want to come into compliance, but shutting everything
down at once would devastate too many people and diminish the hope of ever revitalizing the service," Forsyth told a panel of three CRTC commissioners.
The commission called the hearing in an attempt to determine if Radio India and two other stations, Radio Punjab Ltd. of Surrey and Sher-E-Punjab Radio Broadcasting Inc. of Richmond, are operating outside Canadian law.
The latter two recently agreed to sign "consent" agreements that allowed them to avoid last week’s hearing.
One of the consent deals led to
Richmond’s Badh family selling its stake in Sher-E-Punjab to the family’s U.S. business partner, Bagh Khela, who already owned 80 per cent of the shares of BBC Broadcasting Inc.
BBC, no relation to the British public broadcaster, is holder of a U.S. licence to operate KRPI-AM, which broadcasts the Sher-E-Punjab signals from Ferndale into the B.C. Lower Mainland.
It isn’t clear if Khela will try to continue Sher-E-Punjab’s operations under another name, but it won’t be happening in Point Roberts, Wash., near Tsawwassen. The application for a five-antenna broadcast array was denied by Whatcom County on Tuesday (Oct. 21), citing height restrictions for the proposed 45-metre towers. The Badh family has refused interview requests.
Radio Punjab said this month it can
continue operating, with unspecified changes, under its consent order.
The CRTC made it clear during last week’s hearing, and with the consent orders, that it will no longer put up with stations that defiantly produce all their broadcasts, and collect 100 per cent of their advertising dollars, on Canadian soil without operating under Canada’s broadcasting regime.
That scenario has existed under the nose of not only federal regulators but Canadian politicians who beat a path to the doors of the pirate radio stations.
"Radio India is regarded as a must-do communications vehicle for politicians," Gill, who last week mailed photos of himself with Canadian politicians, boasted Wednesday in the same presentation in which he promised to shut down operations. "The B.C. premier, members of parliament, MLAs, city mayors and councillors have been visitors to Radio India studios.
"Radio India has interviewed past and present prime ministers of both Canada and India. During elections, Radio India is chosen as a vehicle to connect with the South Asian community."
Two CRTC-licensed, B.C.-based Punjabi-language competitors to the pirate stations testified by a remote hookup Oct. 14, saying their unsanctioned rivals have had an unfair advantage in scooping up millions of advertising dollars, including the estimated $2 million to $3 million that Gill says goes annually into Radio India’s coffers.
with file from Adrian MacNair