Last Friday, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission approved Category Two certification for SunTV, a 24-hour news/talk television channel. The negative reactions of many Canadians at the prospect of SunTV, which have been evident since Quebecor announced plans to create the channel, are the most recent manifestation of a widespread fear that the country is moving to the right, away from its more liberal traditions.
SunTV was originally championed by Kory Teneycke, then Quebecor vice-president of development, who is also a former communications director for Stephen Harper. The prospect of a cable news network run by a former Harper staffer perturbed many critics from the left, causing some to derisively nickname the channel: Fox News North.
The air of scandal that has surrounded discussions about SunTV since its inception gives off the impression that the entire issue is a much bigger deal than it really is.
First of all, despite the nickname that has become so ubiquitous in the media, SunTV is in no way affiliated with Fox News, NewsCorp, or Rupert Murdoch. If SunTV proves to be the Canadian equivalent of Fox News, then this will likely inflame the tone of political debate and news coverage in the same way as it has in the United States. However, it is presumptuous to assume that this is what Quebecor has in mind for its new channel. Yes, SunTV may lean right of centre, but leaning right does not necessarily mean that SunTV will replicate the more divisive aspects of Fox News.
In reality, it is unlikely that the channel will survive in Canada if it offers a platform to the Canadian equivalent of Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly. Although it certainly exists, the Canadian radical right has neither the following nor the power that it does in the U.S.
What scares our neighbours to the south most about Fox News is its overwhelming popularity and political influence. However, the channel did not create the far right in the U.S.; it simply articulates their political opinions. If SunTV is approved, it will not cause cause millions of socially conservative Canadians to come out from the woodwork. Our health care system and women’s right to choose will not be in danger just because SunTV becomes an option in a cable package. To think otherwise is to assume cable news channels have much more influence on people’s political opinions than they actually do.
By approving SunTV’s application, the CRTC hasn’t made a radical decision; it has simply confirmed freedom of the press. Luckily for Canadians, they can also exercise their freedom of choice: if you don’t like what you’re seeing on SunTV, change the channel.