Sun News Must-Carry Application: Petition Asks CRTC To Keep Network Off Basic Cable

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More than 25,000 Canadians have urged the CRTC to reject Sun News’ application to be a mandatory part of basic cable, according to activist group Avaaz. (Image: Sun News Network)
More than 25,000 Canadians have urged the CRTC to reject Sun News’ application to be a mandatory part of basic cable, according to activist group Avaaz. (Image: Sun News Network)

More than 25,000 Canadians have urged the CRTC to reject Sun News’ application to be a mandatory part of basic cable, according to activist group Avaaz.

The group said in a statement that it took them only three days to collect the “personalized comments” from Canadians opposed to Sun News’ application, which they then submitted as part of the CRTC’s public commenting process.

Sun News, dubbed “Fox News North” by its detractors, submitted an application last fall to the CRTC to be granted “mandatory carriage” status, meaning all cable and satellite providers would have to offer it as part of their basic service, and the network would collect a fee off every TV subscriber.

The network, which launched in the spring of 2011, has been trying to stem multimillion-dollar losses. It has projected a $17 million loss for 2012, and argues its business model is “unsustainable” without greater access to viewers.

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Opponents, such as those behind the Avaaz petition, argue the controversy-seeking, right-leaning network fails to meet the CRTC’s standards for a must-carry channel, which requires programming to “safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada.”

They also argue that the audience for Sun News is too small -- the network garnered only a 0.1 per cent audience share in the year ending March, 2012.

But Sun News spokespeople point out that the channel has only managed to gain access to 40 per cent of households, and they argue that even though neither CBC News Network nor CTV News Channel are currently must-carry channels, they both were when they first launched.

"When Newsworld launched in ’87 and when CTV Newsnet launched in ’97 they both received mandatory distribution rights from the CRTC – preferential treatment they both enjoyed for 21 and 13 years respectively. It goes without saying this helped them get established in the marketplace," Sun News marketing director Dennis Matthews told The Huffington Post Canada by email last fall.

“Canadians don’t like or watch Sun News and now the channel is asking the CRTC to force Canadians to bail it out of millions in debt -- all to protect their divisive, biased content that undermines Canadian values,” Avaaz campaign director Emma Ruby Sachs said in a statement. “We are confident the CRTC will listen to the tens of thousands of personal messages from citizens concerned for the future of our media.”

Like Sun News itself, parent company Quebecor has also been struggling with its bottom line. The owner of the Sun newspaper chain cut 500 jobs, or about 10 per cent of its workforce, last fall in an effort to shave $45 million off operating costs.

The period for the public to submit comments to the CRTC on Sun News’ application ended last week. The telecom regulator will hold hearings on must-carry applications starting April 23, but no specific date has been set for a decision on Sun News.

Other than Sun, 21 channels have submitted applications for a must-carry licence, which currently only eight channels enjoy.

Among them are Starlight: The Movie Channel, which would use the money from its mandatory subscriber fees to fund Canadian-made original movies; Maximum TV, a Netflix-like on-demand streaming service; and Vision TV, an existing multifaith channel.

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