Quebecor’s plan to obfuscate their inability to operate a single English language local television station in Ontario by converting the failed Sun TV into a 24-hour right-wing news network has met with harsh resistance across Canada. As upsetting as the idea of Canadian news taking yet another step toward the event horizon of absolute sensationalism may be, there tends to be significant misunderstanding of what, exactly, is being opposed.
Quebecor is looking to launch their Fox News knock-off, Sun TV News, in January, and is doing everything they can to ensure that the station is licensed as a mandatory service. Doing so would ensure that all cable and satellite companies would make the station available for subscribers, guaranteeing a stream of revenue from the providers carrying the station. Their logic is that a failed local television station should be entitled to a “free upgrade,” so long as they trade in their local broadcasting resources.
There are two problems with this demand: one is that the CRTC has stated that it will not be handing out any licenses with mandatory access (Category 1) until 2012; the other is that news stations are no longer considered a genre that warrants “protection” through mandatory carriage – they have to compete. Their argument against what seems to be a fairly clear cut regulatory stance is that CBC News Network had enjoyed mandatory access for years under the old rules.
Their original attempt to apply for a Category 1 license was flat-out rejected, and they are now applying for a Category 2 with a request for a special exemption allowing them mandatory carriage. The irony of a television station with an obvious right-wing slant attempting to abuse a regulation that has been deemed obsolete in order to even the playing field rather than actually competing in the market should speak for itself. If Quebecor seriously thinks that the station’s ability to reach an audience has been so badly damaged by a long history of bureaucratic intervention that it requires preferential status to be bestowed upon it by a regulator, then Sun TV News ought to be a vocal supporter of net neutrality. That is essentially the same situation.
Unsurprisingly, the new station has been subject to a flurry of cross-fire and debate, which has resulted in the notable resignation of Quebecor VP of development Kory Teneycke. As a former director of communication for Stephen Harper, he has attracted criticism for trying to establish Sun TV News as a mouthpiece for the Conservative government. Amidst this all, it has been easy to lose sight of how the majority of high profile groups encouraging public intervention with the CRTC are merely opposing the station’s bid for preferential treatment from regulators, and not the station itself. And that makes perfect sense.
Protesting the existence of the station is completely pointless, as the station has every right to exist. If anything, it is likely that the more people speculate about Sun TV News inevitably becoming an unrestrained outlet of baseless hate-mongering, the more likely it is to happen. Of course, that isn’t to say that nobody is anticipating the news network: the proposed station has managed to amass about 1650 fans on Facebook. Although for what it’s worth, more people want to see The Spectacular Spider-Man come back.
The question of whether or not a substantial number of viewers will even embrace Sun TV News is key to developing it into what will no doubt be an obvious and desperate mimic of its American equivalent, just like any other Canadian specialty station. Fox News Channel conducts itself the way it does in the United States because in that country there is a very large audience that wants to hear the sensationalist messages it delivers. There are indeed many Canadians that would love to embrace a station imitates Fox News Channel verbatim. However, not only is that ratio likely to be much smaller, it’s also much more likely that those people would rather just watch Fox News anyway, which is readily available across Canada airwaves.
With that in mind, it may in the station’s best interests to focus on a broader, more sensible audience of conservatives than the more extreme tone that Fox News tends to take in the United Stations. Few would be surprised if Canadian teabaggers became just a disenchanted with this channel as Canadian animation fans are with Teletoon. The fact that Quebecor is so desperate to get mandatory carriage seems to demonstrates a lack of confidence in their ability to find an audience.
While the station has no actual connection to Fox or NewsCorp, the fact that Rupert Murdoch has recently met with the Prime Minister has led to some reasonable speculation that he hopes to use the station as a springboard to encroach the heavily protected Canadian media industry. If this is true then… well, I wish him luck. Even he is going to need it.