When Sun News Network launched in 2011, we were told in defiant tones that it would never stoop to the level of other networks and demand what is known as mandatory carriage on Canadian cable TV networks. Obliging cable providers to include Sun News in their basic cable packages, which would cost cable clients an additional $4 or so per year, was tantamount to a “tax,” its spokesman said at the time. No way would the outsider, jingoistic, truth-telling, free-market-loving Sun News ask for a handout from hard-working Canadians. Now it is asking for a handout from hard-working Canadians. Welcome to Canada, Sun News Network. You may find you like it here.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is currently accepting requests for mandatory carriage, prompting Sun News Network to apply. Both the network and the Sun Media newspaper chain are asking for public support in the form of a petition and a letter-writing campaign to the CRTC. Sun News Network personalities have been recruited to talk incessantly on-air and in videos about their employers’ changing business-model needs, framing it as a free-speech issue while the national anthem plays solemnly in the background. Sun Media has gone as far as to place an advertisement for its campaign in some of its newspapers on their editorial pages, a space usually reserved for fierce denunciations of government interference.
Overlooked in the gleeful hand-wringing of Sun News critics delighted by the network’s pragmatic conversion to statism is that this is not the first time the network has asked for mandatory carriage. Its owner, Quebecor, originally requested a Category 1 licence, which would have included mandatory carriage for three years. The CRTC turned down the request, so Quebecor settled for a Category 2 licence and seemed quite proud to have done so at the time.
To recap, as they say on television: Sun News Network wanted mandatory carriage, then said it would never resort to such a low tactic as asking for mandatory carriage after it was told it couldn’t have it, and is now begging Canadians to support its request for mandatory carriage on the grounds that the CRTC is stifling debate.
Of course, had the network reached enough viewers to be profitable without mandatory carriage, today it would be crowing that it had pulled itself up by its rugged Canadian bootstraps and succeeded without a handout from the government. Instead it is whining about free speech. It’s not a pretty sight, but it does feel rather Canadian.