Sun News Network may be the closest thing Canada has to its very own Fox News – a channel that operates at high decibels, serving up right-wing commentary with unshakeable conviction and a heavy dose of controversy. Just one year ago, the network was busy cooking up a war of words against the CBC over what it called “secretive” and “wasteful spending,” and its “questionable value proposition.” A series even ran in the Toronto Sun newspaper under the headline “CBC Money Drain,” calling for a swift and unconditional end to public subsidies for the national public radio and television broadcaster.
But have you heard Sun’s latest? The network is pressing the CRTC for “mandatory carriage” status on basic cable TV. In other words, they want a guaranteed signal into every home across the country, and they want it paid for by you, the taxpayer. The CRTC will hold a hearing into the matter on April 23.
Sun News, it turns out, is draining money of its own at a rate of approximately $17 million per year. According to the Globe and Mail, the network pulls in only 16,400 viewers in an average minute, although focus groups suggest that free access would boost viewership. More to the point, the network says it produces 96 hours of original Canadian programming per week. For a spirited and colourful defense of Sun’s CRTC application, check out Ezra Levant and Brian Lilley on The Source.
It’s curious that the network’s parent company, Quebecor Media Inc., has allowed its most controversial figures to lead the public relations charge. Examples of Levant’s run-ins with ethics regulators are legion (see here, here, and here). For his part, Lilley has inspired a file of grievances with CBC lawyers running roughly 547 pages long. Meanwhile, Sun News’s Vice-President and chief spokesperson, Kory Teneycke, left the network in September 2010 over concerns that his connection to the Prime Minister’s Office – and a tampering allegation – might jeopardize Sun’s broadcasting license application. Teneycke returned a few months later to deride Sun TV critics.
Is Sun News TV good for democracy? Does the question merit a fair and thorough investigation? Maybe. But given the current cast of characters, it’s hard to imagine anyone but the fledgling network’s most die-hard supporters opening their wallets in good faith. It’s a position that Sun News – the Sun News of about one year ago, anyway – would surely understand.