Wednesday, 1 May 2013

FOX North Makes It's Last Stand (maybe)

As some of you may know, especially since I already wrote about it here, last week The SUN NEWS Network (AKA FOX NORTH) was front and center at CRTC hearings asking, nay demanding, that they be added to the basic cable package and that you, yes you, dear cable subscriber be forced to pay for their unwatchable and unwatched "News Channel". So far by all accounts it has not gone well.

To recap; since they went on the air during the last federal election in a blaze of publicity FOX North has has indeed blazed like the mighty Hindenburg, attracting a truly pathetic 14,000 viewers in primetime (that's according to their own figures, other figures put it at half that at some times) and losing a jawdropping 17 million dollars a year. In fact thanks to their shrewdly blended combination of right wing talking points, race baiting, partisan name calling, faux hyper patriotism and talk radio manufactured outrage they have literally managed to attract more complaints than viewers, which must be some kind of milestone.

So seeing their Free Market Pravda crashing before their eyes what can the capitalist zealots at SUN TV's parent company Quebecor Media Inc. (AKA QMI) do? Why demand a subsidy of course, what a silly question.


You might think they might perhaps have a slight, ever so tiny, iota of shame in the darkened regions of whatever passes for their souls. After all this is the same QMI who have been on an unholy jihad against the CBC and any artists who are commie enough to take govt subsidies. This is also the same QMI who have long campaigned against the very existence of the CRTC. This is also the same QMI who's head Pierre Paladeau was in front of the very same CRTC only last year railing against the very existence of the CBC. Of course this is the very same QMI who have been happily taking millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for years, a fact gleefully revealed by the CBC last year and which I've written about here,. So fuck moral superiority and belly up to the bar QMI and make your best pitch.

Thus far they have found few friends, including conservatives like Andrew Coyne from National Post; or Jonathan Kay from the National Post, or the Post's Scott Stinson, or there's this gem from the conservative Globe & Mail, have been scathing in attacking QMI for their moral double back flip. A few choice comments would include;

From Coyne;;
"Sun TV’s bid for cable shows its invincible sense of entitlement to public money"

"There just aren’t words for this kind of gall. Even by the standards of the cultural sector, it’s breathtaking: proof, yet again, that the only thing you need to succeed in Canadian business is utter shamelessness, coupled with an invincible sense of entitlement to the public’s money. Leave aside its general positioning of itself as the voice for conservative, free-market types, or its constant lectures to others on the need for self-reliance. This is the network that, when it is not talking about itself (sole opposition to the “non-Sun media”) is more or less obsessed with the CBC and its “billion-dollar subsidy.” All forgotten, apparently."

From Kay;

"Sun’s promoters like to cite the network as a plucky analogue to CTV News or CBC News Network. But that’s misleading: As I noted on Levant’s show, Sun News isn’t really about “news” (though it does have several serious journos on staff, including David Akin): Its most popular features, by far, generally consist of right-wing commentary with only the most nominal quantum of news content. As Levant himself admitted in our discussion, he doesn’t even call himself a “journalist.” He’s basically an ideologue and (extremely successful) activist who happens to have a prime-time TV show. And many of his guests — particularly the ones who come on to bash Islam — also are activists, not mainstream news commentators."

"All of which to say: If the CRTC approves Sun News’ application, it will be sending the message that programming that is more or less explicitly aimed at advancing a particular political ideology (as opposed to exhibiting a certain genre, or providing content on a certain subject) is eligible for must-carry status."

"Most astoundingly, in recent weeks, Sun has turned much of its lineup into one giant infomercial for its own CRTC application. (As my colleague Scott Stinson put it, “Sun News is the go-to network for praise of Sun News.”) I know of no precedent for a TV network focusing its primary “news gathering” efforts on its own awesomeness."

From Stinson:
"Sun’s bid for mandatory status, made clear in the channel’s own filings, is because it has failed to marshall those pesky market forces and make a go of it based on consumer demand."

"On Thursday, the news channel’s second anniversary, Ezra Levant, host of its flagship program, The Source, used his full hour to praise himself, his colleagues, and his company, with a little shout out for Freedom thrown in for good measure. Other Sun News hosts came on to tout its general awesomeness, as did the network’s boss. This was right in the middle of the made-for-TV Boston bombing manhunt, which was ignored. (The episode was presumably pre-taped)."

"Before the channel launched, I spoke with an Ottawa professor who said the risk was that it would become a closed loop of information. The same voices constantly telling each how correct they are and how everyone else is wrong. Sounds about right."

And that's just from their FRIENDS! Then there are the legions of enemies that FOX North has made over just the past couple of years since going on air. They would include literally thousands of Natives, Roma, Muslims, Gays, Unionists, Greens, Artists and other assorted "un-Canadian" types that Canada seems to be full of who wrote letters or signed petitions to the CRTC urging them to reject SUN TV's demands. SUN had to be worried about this since they had their nastiest racebaiter, Erzra Levant finally apologize for a droolingly hateful rant about the Roma six months earlier, after of course spending the previous six months insisting that he would never back down to "political correctness". That they had the ability to say with a straight face that the fact that this half-assed apology came on the very same day that SUN TV applied to the CRTC was a total coincidence was a testament to their acting skills. Truly; if there was an Oscar for shameless hucksterism these guys would have more gold statues than Meryl Freaking Streep.


Of course people who write letters or even editorials don't get to make those sort of decisions, the CRTC does. And how's that going again?

(from a Globe And Mail report on the hearings);

"At one point, CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais suggested that SUN's Problems may be because "Canadian's may just not want to subscribe. How do you respond?"
"It is inevitable you'll pay for things you don't watch and don't like. That's true for everyone", SUN News vice president Kory Teneycke told the hearing."

You know what? That is a perfectly reasonable answer. That is the same justification for supporting specialty channels like Aboriginal Voices, Vision TV, Weather Channel or various multi-cultural channels. For that matter it's the reason we have a CBC, or a TVO, or an NFB, or Campus/Community Radio. For that matter it's also the same argument for having taxes at all, or union dues.

However, at the risk of pointing out the blindingly obvious; it's an argument that SUN and QMI have contemptuously dismissed for years. The Free Markets must rule damn it! The invisible hand is never wrong! Freedom! Liberty! Get a job you commie pinkos! Ayn Rand, Adam Smith, Thatcher! And so there, take that!

Unless the market decides it doesn't want to be seduced by their wares. Then it's time to breakout that begging bowl.


However; utterly brazen serial hypocrisy, however nauseating, is not grounds for the CRTC to reject the application.

Luckily the CRTC did set criteria in 2010 for applicants;

1. "That the channel makes "an exceptional contribution to Canadian expression and reflects Canadian attitudes, opinions, ideas, values and artistic creativity"

That's a little vague but the thousands of complaints that SUN TV has generated in a short period of time make that highly questionable. SUN TV is openly and proudly the propaganda wing of the Conservative Party, period, there is no point in pretending otherwise. It is a right wing Pravda with less ballet and chess coverage.

2. "That it contributes, in an exceptional manner, to the overall objectives for the basic cable service and specifically contributes to one or more objectives of the Broadcasting Act, such as Canadian identity and cultural sovereignty, ethno-cultural diversity, including the special place of Aboriginal peoples in Canadian society, service to and the reflection and portrayal of persons with disabilities, or linguistic duality, including improved service to official language minority communities"

That's not vague at all and there is no way that SUN TV can claim they have even paid lip service to this one. In fact QMI has always been open in it's sneering contempt for pinko ideas about "diversity" even before they decided to declare war on the Indians, Muslims, Roma and Gays. That may finally come back to bite them in the ass. Payback's a bitch.

3. "That it makes exceptional commitments to original, first-run Canadian programming in terms of exhibition and expenditures"

SUN seems to think they have that one nailed and they may be right since once again it's so vague that even with the shockingly shoddy production values normally seen on SUN NEWS it wouldn't hard to claim Canadian Content. Still quality should count for something and SUN TV seriously looks like a cross between the old "Rocket Ship Seven" children's show and a lottery draw done on the set of the original Tron. So that gives them at most two out of three, which is probably not enough for the CRTC who take their guidelines seriously even if QMI does not.


On top of this the CRTC Chair asked a question I actually hadn't thought of, but should have; Jean-Pierre Blais asked why SUN NEWS wasn't being offered on basic cable on Videotron, the Quebec cable provider owned by QMI itself. According to a tweet sent out by Michael Hennessy (who was presumably at the hearings) QMI "had no answer" to this question. The Toronto Star's Heather Malick described SUN VP Kory Teneycke as "pinned to an invisible wall, suffering from a case of dry mouth terror that would have embarrassed Marco Rubio"

He should be worried. That is a devastating question for a number of reasons. First the CRTC always wants to know that an applicant has exhausted all possible options before coming to them demanding help. At the previous hearings about the vacant 88.1fm frequency in Toronto one of the applicants, PROUD FM, was asking to move from their 60 watt signal at 103 fm to 88.1fm to improve reception. However at the hearings it was pointed out that PROUD FM in fact already had clearance to improve their current signal and had not done so and this probably sank their otherwise decent chances. QMI's failure to carry their own channel on their own cable service is just bizarre. As is the fact that they were apparently not expecting the question. It also raises the obvious question in that if QMI doesn't believe in their own product why should anyone else?

Mind you SUN News wasn't totally out of arguments, no siree. They are also arguing that they need to be on basic cable because most of their audience are seniors who don't have cable. That's right; as we always suspected the SUN News audience is literally dying off. However it should be pointed out that SUN News has the same audience of elderly white bitter-enders, conspiracy theorists, obsessed homophobes, paranoid Islamophobes, bigots, gun nuts, Ayn Rand cultists and shut-ins that FOX South has, and they seem to be able to stay in business. But that is in The Exited States of America, so maybe there is just no audience here in Great White Canuckistan, at least not enough to keep SUN News afloat. It's a shame really. So sad.

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So, assuming that SUN News gets turned down, which seems increasingly likely but certainly not definite, then what?

QMI has stated that if they don't get basic cable carriage they will go out of business. But before you get your hopes up you should note that CRTC applicants always claim that if they don't get what they want they will shut down. At the afore-mentioned CRTC hearings on the vacant 88.1 fm frequency in Toronto PROUD FM and CARN FM both swore they would go out of business if they didn't get the signal. They didn't get it and they are still on air. As the CRTC pointed out they could be carried on their own Videotron provider in Quebec, they are also being carried on SHAW in Ontario and elsewhere. Also little noticed, they are also asking to be carried as an over-the-air analog signal which they started out with, that way they could be picked up with a standard antenna for free. I actually have no particular objection to that one. Assuming there are no technical barriers they should get the OK on that since it doesn't ask the CRTC for any special favours nor does it cost anybody anything.

If SUN News bites the dust it would be a hugely embarrassing belly flop for QMI, not mention a hugely hilarious one. It would also be a blow to the Conservative Party who they serve. Since there is to be a Federal election in about two years with the hated spawn of Trudeau on deck verses their hero Harper, plus elections to be held in Ontario and Toronto featuring their even more beloved Rob Ford and Tim Hudak along with the possibility elections in Quebec and Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and BC. I'm betting QMI will stick it out even if they have to keep SUN TV as a loss-leader. I could live with that. Besides SUN is always good for some comic relief, as long as we are not forced to pay for it. Then it's less funny.

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