If you've been watching Sun News lately -- and all statistical evidence suggests you haven't -- you'd know that much of their programming has recently taken the tone of a cloying PBS telethon, complete with gratingly perky female hosts. Since this is the network that usually spends most of its time warning that Islamo-fascists are turning our kids into gay, Christmas-hating Trudeau groupies, you might suspect something's up. And you might suspect right.
Our pals at Sun are currently embroiled in the greatest existential crisis of their just-under-two-year existence: people can't figure out what channel they're on.
Well, there's other stuff too, but it mostly revolves around that.
See, under current decree of our knowing elders at the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Sun News is designated a "specialty" cable channel, which is basically the Canadian television equivalent of that chocolate-vanilla twist ice cream at McDonalds' -- unless you know it exists and ask for it specifically, it's easy to live life without ever experiencing it.
And even if you do somehow order Sun, it'll almost certainly have a crap spot in the channel hierarchy. Basically whatever number's still left after the cable people have finished packing the good ones with reliable standbys like the Outdoor Life Network, the Learning Channel, the Discovery Channel, and everything else that promises an intellectual journey of enlightenment but actually delivers hillbilly auctioneers.
The good free-marketeers at Sun are thus ironically begging to escape this ghetto of the high-800s via a CRTC re-designation known as "mandatory carriage," a phrase that's gotta be among the least free-market sounding anythings. And rightfully so -- mandatory carriage status does exactly what it sounds like, namely force every major Canadian cable corporation (all two of them) to include the channel in every "basic cable" package they offer.
Winning this prize would not only ensure more Canadian eyeballs are pried in Sun's direction (think Clockwork Orange) but also give those eyeballs a cable bill hike for the privilege -- about four bucks per year, predicts the Globe and Mail.
Will it work? Well, the Sun people have lots of petitions and websites, and plenty of videos with Ezra, and that guy with the cool hair who's not Ezra making passionate pleas for letters and tweets and what-not, often with that "for the price of a cup of coffee..." type rhetoric ordinarily reserved for late-night orphan infomercials.
"Now, you and I might want to live in a libertarian world where we can choose what we want when we want it and pay for it directly," says Ezzie, well aware of the hypocritical road he's heading down, but this utopia ain't "coming anytime soon to your TV." So suck it up, princess, and make with the four bucks.
But ol' man Steve Ladurantaye, the Globe's media reporter, smells a long shot. "There are only 10 channels currently enjoying mandatory carriage," he notes, and most of them are politically-correct junk like CBC, CBC en français, Aboriginal People's Television, CPAC, and various other things no one actually watches, but the CRTC still thinks you should feel guilty about ignoring.
Sun's desperate appeal isn't terribly unique either, he adds -- wanting to join the CRTC's "must-carry" in-crowd is exactly as popular as you'd assume joining an elite business cartel whose ability to leech profits from the public is guaranteed through the heavy-hand of state authority would be -- everyone from the Movie Channel to something called "Natural Resources Television" wants in.
"Proof, yet again," sneers Andy Coyne at the National Post "that the only thing you need to succeed in Canadian business is utter shamelessness, coupled with an invincible sense of entitlement to the public's money."
I've gone on Sun News a few times, and hopefully I'm not conflicting any interests when I say I wouldn't mind going back again someday. They're a fun bunch, albeit a tad low-budget (their "Vancouver studio" for instance, is a single room in a dumpy building containing a faded backdrop of the downtown skyline to disguise the fact that they're nowhere near it). I'm also doubtful if they really speak as much truth-to-power as they claim -- we do live under a Conservative government, after all -- nor if such truth power-telling couldn't be done equally well online, if it came to that (already one of their best services is their Facebook page infographics).
But in a country as stiff and staid in its defence of conventional wisdom as ours, it's hard not to be impressed with the sheer vigor of Sun's contrarian spirit. Whether that's worth a $4 national tax is a tougher question, but luckily no one's asking us.
Among people who enjoy gossiping about this sort of thing, it's long been suspected that barring a tide turn in their favour, Sun's best hope for the future will probably be (to paraphrase President Nixon) "death with honour." The network might not be able to survive the crippling weight of CRTC regulations, broadcast standards complaints, heavily-subsided and state-owned competitors and so forth, but since those are the very things Ezra and company love to bemoan in the first place, there might be some vindicating dignity in dying at their hands.
And if there's an outcome to worry progressives more than the channel's survival, it should be that.
If you think Sun News fans are obnoxious now, just imagine them with a martyr complex.