Sun News has hired a former CRTC commissioner to head up its western Canadian operations as the network seeks a licence from the regulator to become a “must-carry” channel on Canadian TV.
The Conservative government appointed Marc Patrone, a former CTV reporter in Halifax, to the CRTC in 2008. Patrone’s term ended March 18, and he was hired by Sun News the following month, the Halifax Chronicle-Herald reports.
The network is denying any appearance of impropriety. Sun News vice-president Kory Teneycke forwarded a letter to CTV News from the federal conflict of interest commissioner showing he approved the hire.
According to the commissioner, Patrone’s dealings with Sun News parent company Quebecor all took place more than a year before he left the CRTC for the controversial news channel.
His involvement with the commission reportedly didn’t touch on Sun’s “must-carry” application, which, if approved, would make Sun News a mandatory part of basic cable and satellite TV.
“Obviously, there is a perception of conflict vis-a-vis our application. We are very cognizant of that,” Teneycke told the Chronice-Herald in an interview Friday.
“We’ve tried to be holier than the pope in terms of how we approached this.”
Public hearings into Sun News' application took place in April, after Patrone had left the commission.
Patrone’s appointment to the CRTC was controversial to begin with. The Harper government was accused of patronage and hypocrisy over the move, as Patrone had briefly been a Conservative candidate for Parliament in 2005, when it appeared the Liberal government at the time was about to fall, the Canadian Press reported.
This is the second time in just the past few days that Sun News has been caught up in what some argue is the appearance of a conflict of interest relating to the network and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government.
An unnamed source told CTV’s Bob Fife last week that Sen. Mike Duffy, who resigned from the Conservative caucus last week over an expenses scandal, had pressured the CRTC into approving the must-carry licence.
Plagued by low ratings since its launch, Sun News has been campaigning aggressively to be given a mandatory carriage licence, arguing it can’t survive much longer without it.
The network lost $18.5 million in the year ending August, 2012, and expects larger losses to come.
It is asking for slightly more than two dollars a year per TV subscriber, which is estimated would amount to about $18 million in revenue for Sun News per year.
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