There is a lot of chatter going on within the broadcast industry regarding Quebecor Media’s announcement of the SunTV News network. Quebecor is asking the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission for a three-year specialty channel cable license to replace the current over-the-air Sun TV station in Toronto with a national channel. SunTV News network is affiliated with the Sun Newspaper chain, also owned by Quebecor. They intend to broadcast a straight talk and news format which some have called a Fox News North.

Fox News in the US is well known for it’s right-wing, ultra conservative commentary on the news. The same right-wing approach is expected from the fledgling SunTV network given that Kory Teneycke, Quebecor’s Media vice-president and promoter of the new operation, is a former communications director to Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper. There are many speaking out against the channel based on Teneycke’s relationship with Harper who is the leader of Canada’s Conservative party. There is speculation that SunTV will become a mouthpiece and P.R. platform for Harper’s Torys. Does Canada need a right-wing conservative broadcast TV channel? Why not? In a land that values freedom of speech it’s only fair that the conservatives have their opportunity to stand on a soapbox and preach their message. Freedom of speech is very important, whether you agree with the message or not. But below the surface there is another story that has a totally different take on freedom of speech.

SunTV News network has asked the CRTC to grant it special consideration by fast tracking the approval process to make the network a mandatory channel on cable and satellite feeds. Why the rapid move to bypass the lineup all other channels must undergo? The executives of SunTV claim that they can only survive financially if given special treatment. If they don’t have immediate access to a large market they can’t attract the advertising dollars required to pay the bills. Some critics claim that expecting special treatment is unrealistic and if the channel can not survive the normal market pressures of being in broadcasting then they don’t deserve to be in the business. Other critics even go so far as to charge Prime Minister Harper of exerting political influence on the CRTC to give SunTV News network the free lunch they are asking for.

There are reports that pressure has been put on CRTC Commission Chair Konrad von Finckenstein to resign before his term ends in 2012. While at the same time Michel Arpin, former CRTC Vice-Chairman Broadcasting, had his request to renew his term denied. The name at the top of the list to succeed Arpin is Luc Lavoie, former spokesperson for Brian Mulroney and former executive vice-president at Quebecor. Currently the position is still vacant and it is expected that it will remain that way even with a critical ruling coming up regarding Shaw taking over Canwest-Global. Don’t forget this is all about freedom of speech. But how free and open will our speech be if the the media industry is controlled by the government and owned by companies who maintain a monopoly on the creation and distribution of news.

Dean

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