01/24/2013 12:13 EST | Updated 03/26/2013 05:12 EDT

Dear CRTC, It's Time to Let the Sun Go Down


Sun News Network is trying to force mandatory carriage on cable systems across the country -- despite objective facts (subscribers, ratings) that show that the channel has been a failure, including with its intended core audience.

I'm writing this with a bit of a heavy heart. As a supporter of diversity in (news) media, and sometime collaborator with Sun News Network, it pains me to write this, but I don't think that the CRTC should give in to this application for mandatory carriage.

Styling itself as a non-left-wing alternative to CBC or CTV, Quebecor, the owner of Sun News Network, moved heaven and earth to launch a third news network. But instead of catering to Canadian conservatives, the channel has over time come to adopt the rabid and extreme Tea Party conservatism/libertarianism from the U.S.

Many conservatives in Canada have been telling me that they no longer tune in to Sun News, because "this is Canada and not bloody America." The time of last year's presidential election in the U.S. was especially detrimental to Sun News, as its hosts embraced extremist Republican/Tea Party candidates, such as Rick Santorum. No Canadian conservative would ever support or vote for such people.

That Sun News now wants to rely on government to force its way into living rooms will surely make even more conservatives reach for the remote control. A news channel that purports to stand for small government and a free market economy cannot possibly use the government's shoehorn and still hope to be taken seriously.

Quebecor has failed to migrate its success in Quebec (TVA is the most popular network in Quebec and produces more home-grown content than any other network in Canada) to the rest of the country.

Rather than running a news channel, Quebecor should have stuck with its original general-entertainment Sun TV concept and tried to bring it to TV screens across Canada. Using the resources of TVA, it should have produced English versions of TVA's biggest hits, interspersing the schedule with (conservative) news and/or talk shows.

This would have been an effective use of resources, and would have provided an ideal outlet for certain political talking heads (currently, only Brian Lilley is worth watching -- if he doesn't talk about abortion or other favourite issues among U.S. fundamentalists on the far right).

Getting only around 16,000 viewers a minute is abysmal, even by today's standards. The channel is available to almost all Canadian cable and satellite viewers, and if it were any good, people would order it from their local provider in larger numbers. But as things stand, Sun News has reached its zenith, and mandatory carriage wouldn't change that. It would only increase the number of complaints from viewers to their providers and the CRTC over being forced to pay for a channel they didn't want.

Sun Newsers are currently bombarding the social media with pleas for help from their viewers, pointing out that the channel produces almost 100 per cent Canadian content. Wrong, the programs that air on Sun News are Canadian-produced, but feature mostly American (i.e., Tea Party) content. As already pointed out, this does not qualify as "Canadian content."

Saying that Sun News has failed is not to be taken as a sign that conservative news reporting and commentary can't succeed in Canada. In fact, Sun News' failure merely illustrates that extremist forms of what some Americans consider "conservatism" won't fly in Canada. That so few Canadians watch the channel proves that U.S.-style Tea Party and libertarian ideas are anathema to the vast majority of Canadians.

If it wants to have a shot at greater viewership, Sun News will have to look closely at what it means to be conservative in Canada, and then adapt its style accordingly. It will also mean cutting its ties with most of its current on-air talent (Michael Coren, Charles Adler and Ezra Levant), as they seem to live in a make-believe world where Canadian conservatives are all about Christian fundamentalism and actually care about abortion or guns more than about their next paycheque.

It's time for Quebecor to put up or shut up.

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