In a much anticipated decision, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) this morning decided not to give Sun News Network and a dozen other channels "mandatory coverage" on Canada's cable and satellite services. So for fans of Sun News, be they legitimate or ironic, the question is what will happen now to the channel that wants to be Canada's alternative news voice?
Earlier this year at the CRTC hearing to petition for mandatory coverage, Sun News executive Kory Teneycke said that anything less than that status would mean the end of the channel, which lost $17 million for parent company Quebecor last year. "Let us be very clear: a 'must-offer' licence would not have a meaningful impact on the current trajectory of Sun News and would inevitably lead to the closure of the station," Teneycke said at the May hearing. "Let me repeat: a 'must-offer' licence would be a death sentence."
Quebecor, which also owns the Sun chain of newspapers and other publications, has been showing the strain, cutting 360 jobs last month and pulling the plug on eight community newspapers and three editions of the daily 24 papers in Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary. That followed 500 job cuts last fall, bringing the total number of layoffs to over 1,000 since 2008. It's been a bad time for papers period, but for most the market has stabilized since advertising bottomed out with the 2008 economic crash. As a result, most people peg Quebecor's continued troubles on the expense of Sun News Network.
Sun News Network has always been the centre of controversy though. From before it went on the air there were rumours of interference from the Prime Minister's Office to give the channel a smooth ride through the approval process at the CRTC. Then, when Sun News went to air, it soon set the record for number of complaints with the CRTC for one anchor's comments about whether artists deserve to get government grants, before getting into hot water over broadcasting a faked citizenship ceremony and a couple of comments by prime time host Ezra Levant, one where he told Chiquita Bananas to "f**k your mother" in Spanish, and labelling the Roma people as "a shiftless group of hobos" who "rob people blind" and whose "chief economy is theft and begging."
When you consider all that, is it any wonder that the CRTC didn't approve mandatory carriage? That's not say that all other news outlets are infallible, but Sun News seems to have set themselves apart by their missteps, and not anything truly innovative or insightful that they might be bringing to cable news. Now having said that, given that we live in a pluralistic society, having more voices on the air is a good thing, but Sun News was all about being an independent voice for Canadians, standing on its own as opposed to the taxpayer-funded (or dependent depending on your bent) likes of the CBC. For Sun News to cry poverty and demanding to be given equity is an interesting development, are they admitting that they're on par with CBC, or are they admitting that their Randian world view isn't as clear cut as they thought?
So the question is does this mean the end of Sun News Network? Rogers brought the curtain down on CityNew Channel back in May after two years on the air, reportedly due to poor ratings and lack of profits, and it was a bit closer to the top of the TV dial than Sun, albeit with a more limited audience. So the shuttering of a news channel isn't unprecedented, but it remains to be seen if it will become necessary in the case of the Sun News Network. Quebecor may stubbornly try to stick it out, but the only thing the channel's been successful at so far is creating its own controvery and losing money. They say there's no such thing as bad press, but time will tell if Sun News and its personel will beg to differ.