The Sun News Network made its case in front of the CRTC Tuesday to be made a mandatory part of basic cable, but some of the questions levelled at the right-leaning current affairs channel suggested skepticism about the attempt.
At one point, CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais suggested that Sun’s problems in developing an audience may be because "Canadians may just not want to subscribe. How do you respond?"
"It is inevitable you'll pay for things you don't watch and don't like. That's true for everyone," Sun News vice president Kory Teneycke told the hearing, as quoted by the Globe and Mail’s Steve Ladurantaye.
The Quebecor-owned network is seeking what is known as mandatory carriage from the CRTC, which would require the channel to be included in every basic cable and satellite package across Canada.
The news channel says it will not survive otherwise.
Mandatory carriage would generate significant revenue for the network, which is proposing that it would earn 18 cents a month from every household that subscribes to a basic cable or satellite package.
The network lost $18.5 million in the year ending last August, and projects larger losses in the years ahead. Fees from mandatory subscriptions would cover much of the red ink.
Sun News has argued it is being sidelined by TV carriers, noting the specialty news channel is only offered in 40 per cent of Canadian households.
“We’re here because Sun News has not been getting a fair shake,” said Luc Lavoie, the network’s head of development.
But in twist to the debate, the CRTC’s Blais asked Sun News spokespeople at the hearing why the channel isn’t offered on basic cable on Videotron, the Quebec cable provider owned by Quebecor, the same company that owns Sun News.
According to a tweet from Michael Hennessy, head of the Canadian Media Production Association, Sun News offered “no answer” to the question.
Sun is asking the CRTC to make it a mandatory part of cable and satellite TV through to the end of 2017, noting that CBC News Channel and CTV News Network enjoyed similar privileges when they started out.
“We don’t begrudge our competitors in any way, we simply want the same rules that they enjoyed — at least for the next five years,” the company said in filings to the CRTC.
The network reportedly also asked to be placed lower on the dial than international channels such as CNN and BBC World, a request that some experts described as problematic.
The network has argued it deserves the must-carry designation because it acts as a public service and because of its high proportion of Canadian content.
"We think if we don’t qualify, no one does," Teneycke told the hearing.
Opponents of Sun’s bid will have the opportunity to voice their objections later this week. No timeline has been set for a decision on its must-carry application.
— With files from The Canadian Press
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed the last quote in the story to Jean-Pierre Blais. The quote belongs to Kory Teneycke.
A Brief History Of Sun News
Pictured: Sun News host Ezra Levant
Controversy surrounding the Sun News Network began even before the network went on the air in April, 2011. The Globe and Mail reported in the summer of 2010 that <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/lawrence-martin/is-stephen-harper-set-to-move-against-the-crtc/article1677632/">CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein was under pressure from the Prime Minister's Office to resign</a>, in order to pave a smooth path for Sun News to be granted a licence by the regulator. Finckenstein denied the allegations.
'Stop Fox News North'
With concerns swirling about the possibility of a PMO-driven political agenda at Sun News, the activist site Avaaz launched "<a href="http://www.avaaz.org/en/no_fox_news_canada">Stop Fox News North</a>," a campaign to pressure the CRTC to deny a licence to the news network. The network responded by citing Avaaz's U.S. roots and noting that left-wing billionaire George Soros has contributed to the group, in an apparent effort to discredit the petition as a "U.S. import."
Soros Threatens To Sue
Future Sun News personality Ezra Levant went further than most in his criticism of Avaaz and its links to George Soros (pictured above). Levant suggested in a column that Soros, who is Jewish, aided the Germans in the Holocaust as a teenager. After receiving a letter from Soros' lawyers threatening to sue, <a href="http://www.torontosun.com/comment/2010/09/17/15388356.html">the Sun newspapers ran a retraction</a>.
Sun News was on the air for only about six weeks when its first major controversy erupted. The CRTC received a record 6,676 complaints from viewers after host Krista Erickson aggressively challenged dancer Margie Gillis over the issue of whether artists should receive taxpayers' money in the form of grants. The Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council eventually ruled <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/03/krista-erickson-margie-hills-sun-news_n_1253421.html">Erickson was within her rights to express her opinions during the interview</a>.
Sun News vs. CBC
Sun News has made the CBC's public funding a signature issue, repeatedly attacking the network for taking $1 billion per year in taxpayers' money while competing against private-sector broadcasters. But the CBC is fighting back. It put out a press release noting that Quebecor, Sun's parent company, enjoyed $500 million in subsidies over five years, and argued that -- unlike the CBC -- it is not publicly accountable to taxpayers.
'Chinga tu madre'
Ezra Levant got himself in trouble again in December, 2011, when he responded to Chiquita Bananas' declaration it wanted to avoid oil from the oil sands. "Chinga tu madre," Levant said to Chiquita -- a phrase that translates as "f--k your mother." The Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/13/ezra-levants-chiquita-chinga-tu-madre_n_1594452.html">declared Levant's outburst a violation of ethics standards</a>.
Fake Citizenship Ceremony
Canadian journalism reached an embarrassing nadir in the spring of 2012 when it emerged that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/tag/sun-news-fake-citizenship-ceremony">a citizenship reaffirmation ceremony broadcast on Sun News had been partially staged</a>. Six federal bureaucrats had posed as newly-sworn Canadians during the event that had been reportedly requested by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. Kenney's office apologized to Sun News. Government officials later alleged Sun News was aware of the bureaucrats posing as new Canadians.
In your home, like it or not?
Sun News <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/11/13/sun-news-mandatory-carriage-crtc_n_2122391.html">applied for a "mandatory carriage" licence in the fall of 2012</a> that would require cable and satellite operators to carry the network as part of their basic cable package. Though neither CBC News Network nor CTV News Channel currently enjoy mandatory carriage, they did when they first started out, as Sun News has pointed out.
Millions in losses
Sun News reported in January, 2013, that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/01/21/sun-news-loss-crtc-basic-cable_n_2522396.html?utm_hp_ref=canada">it lost $17 million in 2012</a>, due to weak revenue because the channel is only carried in 40 per cent of Canadian homes. Parent company Quebecor is saying the network will continue to lose money unless its request to the CRTC for mandatory carriage on basic cable is granted. Pictured: Quebecor CEO Pierre-Karl Peladeau
'The Jew vs. the Gypsy'
Sun News personality and well-known right-wing pundit Ezra Levant issued a formal, on-air apology after a September, 2012, segment in which he declared that the Roma were not a race, and were rather "a shiftless group of hobos" who "rob people blind" and whose "chief economy is theft and begging." The Toronto police reportedly even launched a hate-crimes investigation into the segment, at the request of a local Roma group.
Denied Mandatory Carriage
In August 2013, the CRTC, Canada's telecom regulator, rejected Sun News' application for mandatory carriage. The network had asked the CRTC to make them a mandatory part of all basic cable services, arguing it would not survive financially without it. Though the CRTC rejected the Sun News application, it also launched a review of the rules surrounding cable news networks. Among the possible outcomes are a realignment of channels so all news channels are grouped together on the dial, and the possibility of a "must-carry" order for Sun News, which would mean that all TV service providers would have to at least offer the network. Pictured: CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais