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Jeffrey Simpson (Bill Grimshaw)
Jeffrey Simpson (Bill Grimshaw)

Jeffrey Simpson

Relax, folks, we won't be channelling Fox News North Add to ...

It's an article of unshakable conviction among the hardest core conservatives that the "media" tilt liberal or leftward.

The argument is bunk on its face. If you totted up all the clearly right-wing outlets and commentators and put them against the leftish-wing ones such as the Toronto Star, the right-wing voices would win every time - from AM Radio, to Maclean's, to the National Post, to most of the former CanWest papers, to editorial elements of The Globe and Mail and, most notably, to the Sun newspapers.

Facts, however, never got in the way of ideological conviction. So to those on the hard right, the media are, and have always been, liberal, socialist and otherwise in cahoots with the squishy establishment that runs Canada.

Seized with this conviction and, of course, determined to make money, the financiers and organizers of Sun TV, so-called Fox News North, promise a new cable station by Jan. 1 to bring a "populist" view to the people, "populist" being a euphemism for angry, pithy, loud conservatism.

They want to take their existing broadcast licence for the pathetically weak Sun TV and turn it into a "mandatory offer" licence, so the cable companies would be obliged to place Sun TV in one of the packages they offer subscribers.

People in high dudgeon about its arrival should calm down. Sun TV won't be watched by many people, if the audiences for the other all-news channels are any guide. Most of those who watch will be committed right-wingers looking, like most consumers of news and information, to have previously held opinions reaffirmed.

Sun TV isn't going to make, break or even influence the shape of Canadian politics, whatever the ideological fervour of Kory Teneycke, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former spokesman now in charge of assembling the Sun TV challenge.

It's ironic, of course, that Mr. Teneycke and his boss, Pierre Karl Péladeau, have decried excessive government, except when it suited them. Mr. Péladeau, for example, used to rail against any more basic cable channels on his Vidéotron to compete against TVA, which he also owned. Competition was his mantra, except when there was competition.

Mr. Teneycke, before shilling for Mr. Harper, plugged for corn-based ethanol, one of the great government subsidy boondoggles of modern times.

Now, these free marketeers want special treatment from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that would give them a leg up on their competitors, hardly what one would expect from promoters of a channel devoted to the conservative gospel. It would be amazing if their gambit succeeded.

The best kind of cable licence is the "basic" one that automatically requires the cable companies to offer it - something like the CBC. But these aren't being awarded any more, given the moratorium on them. The next best is a Category 1, or "mandatory offer," whereby cable companies are required to offer a channel as part of a package. These, too, are very rare.

CBC News Network is on basic cable and gets 82 per cent of its revenue from cable subscribers. CTV News Channel, a Category 1 licence-holder, gets 64 per cent of its revenue from subscribers. Both of these networks will lose their gold mines next year when the CRTC eliminates these preferences. But Sun TV brazenly wants Category 1 status for itself, at the very moment that competitors will lose theirs.

Put another way, the CRTC is telling the existing all-news networks: Compete to get cable operators to present your fare. The Sun TV folks are saying: Let them compete, but we'll take Category 1 status.

The CRTC would lose every shred of credibility to accept Sun TV's application. It has to say - and Sun TV will likely hate the word - go "compete." Meaning, try to negotiate something with your "friendly" cable giants such as Shaw, Rogers and Bell.

They, of course, will give Sun TV much less money than if they were forced to offer the channel, so that what will be a cheap operation anyway will be even cheaper. Cheap programming, however, wouldn't stop hard-core conservatives from watching, since Sun TV will become part of their self-fulfilling information loop.

But that group will be small, relative to total TV watchers, let alone the entire Canadian population. Those who are aghast at a kind of Fox News North landing in Canada should relax.

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