Dozens of reporters squeezed into a cramped room at the Sun’s headquarters in Toronto on Tuesday morning to hear Pierre Karl Péladeau and Kory Teneycke confirm what everyone already knew going in: Quebecor Media Inc. is launching an all-news television network to compete with CBC News Network and CTV News Channel.
The channel, dubbed Sun TV News, is slated to launch January 1, 2011, and promises “hard news and straight talk.” On Tuesday, that “straight talk” mostly took the form of potshots at Sun TV News‘s eventual competitors.
“Canadian TV news today is narrow, it’s complacent, and it’s politically correct,” Teneycke, the former director of communications for the Prime Minister’s Office and now the vice-president of development at Quebecor, told reporters. “It’s bland and boring, and Canadians, as a result, have largely tuned out.” Sun TV News, he said, will be “unapologetically patriotic” and “controversially Canadian.”
Populist sales pitch aside, neither Péladeau nor Teneycke were willing to brand the content they plan to broadcast as “right-wing,” much less endorse the channel’s nickname in the media: “Fox News North.” Still, it’s clear both men see an ideological chasm between what makes it to air on CBC’s and CTV’s news channels and what Quebecor plans to offer. “English Canada today is ill-served by the incumbent specialty news channels,” Peladeau, Quebecor’s president and CEO, said. “As a result, far too many Canadians are tuning out completely or changing their dials to American all-news channels.” To get those viewers back, Péladeau’s channel will offer a distinctly Fox News-like mix of news and confrontational commentary. Just don’t call it Fox News North.
Many hurdles remain before Quebecor can start beaming that “controversially Canadian” content to Canadian audiences, not least of which are the regulatory hoops through which the media giant must jump. The company is currently petitioning the CRTC for what’s called a category 1 license, meaning cable and satellite providers would have to offer the channel to subscribers; category 2 licenses, by contrast, allow cable and satellite companies to ignore the channel entirely. To Quebecor, the difference is hardly arcane: CBC News Network is said to collect $65 million in carriage fees thanks to its category 1 license; CTV News Channel, with its category 2 license, takes in a comparatively modest $15 million.
Péladeau has been a steady presence on Parliament Hill over the past 18 months, gaining access to some of the most senior people in government. In fact, he’s racked up over two dozen lobbying meetings with a mix of government ministers and high-ranking bureaucrats, including two with Stephen Harper in early 2009—back when Teneycke was still working in the PMO. In the meantime, Teneycke’s recruiting net has landed him two prominent press gallery veterans in David Akin and Brian Lilley, with Teneycke promising more additions to the roster soon.
As could be expected, the channel already has its critics in the media. In a widely-circulated blog post, Don Newman, the former host of Politics on CBC, wrote the channel would polarize Canadian political parties by “urging them to be more rabid.” Sun TV News, in Newman’s view, is “the last thing Canada needs.” But at Tuesday’s press conference, the angriest people in the room weren’t the reporters covering the announcement; they were Teneycke and Péladeau, who were all-too-eager to promise to lay waste to their rivals.
“We’re taking on the mainstream media,” Teneycke warned the assembled journalists. “We’re taking on smug, condescending, often irrelevant journalism. We’re taking on political correctness. We will not be a state broadcaster offering boring news by bureaucrats, for elites, and paid for by taxpayers.”
What was once a conservative pipe dream has come a long, long way in a remarkably short period of time. The “Fox News North” project now finds itself bankrolled by one of the richest men in Canada, headed by a former top-tier government official, and on track for a January launch. Apparently, that’s a lot to be angry about.