Sun News Network will face one less obstacle in its quest for mandatory carriage – former Conservative campaign staffer Michael Sona has dropped out of regulatory hearings a week after being charged in the robo-call scandal.
Mr. Sona was one of eight opponents chosen to appear before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission later this month to oppose the controversial news channel's bid to be automatically included in basic digital television subscriptions.
The two-week hearing will determine which, if any, Canadian television stations will be guaranteed a spot on basic television subscription packages. Guaranteed carriage means steady subscription revenue, and could be the difference between life and death for several small channels applying for the designation.
"Unfortunately, I will not be able to appear," Mr. Sona wrote in an e-mail to the Globe and Mail. "But I stand firmly behind my original submission to the CRTC."
The CRTC received more than 13,000 letters ahead of the April 23 hearing, and the vast majority were about Sun News. It asked eight of those individuals, including Mr. Sona, to appear at the hearing to expand on their letters and field questions from commissioners.
Mr. Sona's letter to the CRTC focused on how the channel lacked ethics and should be left to fend for itself rather than have access to guaranteed subscription revenue. He is the only person charged in the robocall scandal, which sent voters in Guelph to the wrong polling stations during the last federal election.
"Sun News broke an 'exclusive' story claiming that I was behind a massive national voter suppression scheme," he wrote in his letter to the CRTC, which was filed in February. "They did so without first calling me for comment, and the resulting political and media upheaval resulted in not only a lost job on my part, but also intense, unwarranted scrutiny of my family and friends."
He also wrote: "It's too late for me to undo the damage to my reputation which Sun News engineered when they broke their series of false stories attempting to link me to a national voter suppression scandal."
He maintained Tuesday that the channel didn't deserve mandatory carriage, suggesting it lacks the ethics required to be guaranteed a place in Canadian homes.
"When Sun broke their most recent story concerning me last week, they again refused to call for comment but dishonestly claimed in the same article that they had attempted numerous times previously to call for comment," he wrote. "I'm sure the Commission will consider all the facts before rendering a decision on whether or not to compel taxpayers to fund an insolvent network like Sun."
Mr. Teneycke defended his network's record: "At the end of the day, he may not like the fact that we were the first media outlet to report him as being a suspect. We had it right and we had it first."
Other speakers who are still scheduled to speak against the news channel include journalist Matthew Hays, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. technology columnist Tod Maffin and the left-leaning New York-based advocacy group Avaaz.
The network's executives said they feel underrepresented in front of the commission because they are only allowed to send three supporters to the stand (they will also speak on their own behalf), and are concerned their application will be overshadowed by "fringe" opponents who are politically motivated and want to see the right-leaning network fail. Sun News chose former Toronto city councillor Adam Giambrone, conservative activist Andrea Mrozek and the libertarian Free Thinking Film Society.
"We have no problem with our critics being heard, regardless of how fringe they are. We are all about freedom of speech at Sun News," said vice-president Kory Teneycke, whose network is losing $17-million a year and counting on mandatory carriage to survive. "However, it is disappointing that equal voice is not being given to the other side."
While the commission restricts every applicant to three supporting speakers, it is more flexible when it comes to those who do not support a company's application.
"Invitations to a hearing are still at the discretion of the hearing panel," spokesman Guillaume Castonguay said. "The panel could decide on any sort of arrangement to ensure the intervener's views are adequately heard, while maintaining manageable hearing length on a case-by-base basis."
Only two other channels have individual interveners appearing at the hearing to speak out against their applications: Starlight: The Canadian Movie Channel and Accessible Media each have one opposing speaker scheduled.
Editor's note: An earlier online version of this story incorrectly stated there was a speaker scheduled to address OutTV's application, when in fact the speaker will address the application by Accessible Media. This version has been corrected.