Sun Media channel would be a sad day for journalism

  • August 11, 2010
Pending approval by federal broadcasting regulators — not a done deal, by a long shot, at the time of this writing — Canada is to have a new all-news television channel, called Sun TV News, intended to knock the socks off the CBC and CTV networks. This is a matter Catholics should be concerned about, insofar as the quality of Canada’s national life is affected by what gets put out on the airwaves.

Kory Teneycke, front man for the Quebecor media empire (which publishes the Canada-wide Sun tabloid franchise), said at a recent news conference that the channel will definitely be unlike the CBC (“boring news by bureaucrats for elites and paid for by taxpayers”) and CTV (ditto, minus the taxpayer’s dime).

“We’re taking on the mainstream media,” Teneycke said. “We’re taking on smug, condescending, often irrelevant journalism. We’re taking on political correctness... Sun News will be controversially Canadian.”

Analysts of the Canadian media scene have already begun to wonder whether Quebecor can effectively take on anything. Unlike the mainstream news broadcasters, they note, Sun TV won’t be able to rely on a national string of local television stations to provide footage — and without pictures, TV gets dull very fast. Will Sun TV then be a steady parade of talking heads? We’ll have to wait until it gets on the air to find out.

Also, the field for an insurgent player is pretty small. Between them, experts say, the CBC and CTV garner only one per cent each of overall television audience share. Even if it successfully bucks the odds and steals a significant portion of the watching public from the major networks, Sun TV News will still have only a small number of people to sell its advertising to.

Practical considerations aside, however, maybe Canadians are ready for a vociferous, opinionated, deliberately provocative home-grown network along the lines of Fox News in the United States.

Maybe a lot of us are bored to death with the responsible, carefully researched reporting of Canadian and international news we get on the CBC and CTV.

Maybe some have gotten tired of the image of Canada spread abroad by the mainstream media: that of a small, peaceable power in the world, largely free (as so much of the world we see on TV is not) of ethnic and political violence, and much given to solving problems by muddling through them, instead of declaring war on them.

If all my “maybes” are in fact true, then perhaps Canadians deserve the chance to try out a so-called “news” cable channel as unabashedly biased and ideologically strident as Fox. I’m all for letting the ratings decide who delivers the best cable news to Canadians.

But if Sun TV News does turn out to be a kind of Fox North, and catches on with a sizable segment of the Canadian viewing public, it will be a sad day for journalism in this country, and for the country itself.

Not that Canadian journalism is especially healthy these days, even without Sun TV News. Loud-mouth celebrity commentators are more in vogue in print and on television and radio than at any time since I joined the profession, 30 years ago. No matter how flashy or trashy it gets, reporting in tabloids or on tab TV can never be trivial enough for the editors. Cable television led the way, but even traditionally mainstream newspapers such as The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star seem to be getting lighter and lighter.

Canadians should be proud that the CBC and CTV are holding the line against the deadly trend of popping-down. We should be less jaded by careful reporting and much less hungry for the high-spiced fare that Sun TV News will likely offer.