Canadian progressives should rethink their opposition to SunTV, a hard right television network that Quebec billionaire Pierre Péladeau has proposed for this country as a kind of "Fox News North". Not that people of good will shouldn't oppose such a network; it's just that the nature and extent of this opposition needs to be carefully worked through. For example, Margaret Atwood's rather furious take on the subject has, arguably, imperilled her pro-free-speech credentials, and more than a few other columnists and bloggers seem unwilling to have the free market render its judgement re "Fox News North" before calling for a government clampdown.
Here I would like to suggest a political stance that would both confront Sun TV with a standard to live up to, and accept its existence on the cable dial should it live up to that standard.
But first, a few preliminaries: much of this debate has been and will likely remain within the realm of the hypothetical; Sun TV's plea for special status on the cable dial is an admission that it cannot live on its own in the marketplace. And even if the CRTC grants this special status, there are a number of indications that the network's road forward will be difficult, if not impossible.
For example, there is clear evidence that Sun TV is going to be run "on the cheap", exiting its live coverage and going to repeats after 9 pm. Furthermore, the network has been slow to such basic tasks as getting a black-berry into the hands of its star reporter. This evidence has not gone unnoticed by other Canadian media folk; as a result, attempts at recruiting talent from the major networks have fallen flat over the past several months, with arguably the greatest failure ("arguably", because the details here are somewhat obscure) being an unsuccessful effort to attract Krista Erickson to the cause. And in her absence, the most camera-ready visage at Sun TV winds up being David Akin, which is to say that the new TV network, having been unable to purchase beauty, will have a collective face better suited for radio.
However, assuming that these challenges can be surmounted, progressives' main worry with respect to Sun TV has always been that it will become a conduit for dangerous hate speech. And there is indeed some grounds for this concern. As Sun TV's new management team has moved into place, the newspapers associated with it--particularly the Toronto Sun--have lurched right on their editorial page, urging, for example, the mass murder to Tamil refugees.
More ominously, writers at the Toronto Sun have recently been instructed to "tab (as in tabloid) it up". Now, to understand what this implies, note that phrase from which this one is derived-- "black it up"--when directed at an African-American entertainment personality, means to behave in an exaggeratedly ethnic manner--to talk "gangsta" and sport "bling", as it were--so as to reestablish "street credibility". Since we are in this case dealing with a right wing media outlet, we can safely interpreted the papers' orders as being equivalent to "white it up". Presumably, the paper's displays of faux patriotism, minority bashing, and constant denigration of women ,will all be amped up a notch.
Will this also be what we can expect out of the new tv network? Extrapolating from the ideological source material, it would appear so. What can be done to prevent such a result?
I think our stance towards Sun TV should be guided by, curiously enough, the example of Al Jazeera Canada. For Al Jazeera's road to a spot on the Canadian cable dial was similarly filled with controversy. The first attempt, made by Al Jazeera Arabic in 2003, foundered over often justified accusations of anti-semitism. During the 2nd, successful attempt--by Al Jazeera English this time--managing editor Tony Burman made a concerted outreach attempt to both B'nai Brith and the Canadian Jewish Congress, in the end going so far as to propose a liaison committee that would respond quickly to any concerns raised about content on the network. As a result, the CJC finally swung behind the approval of Al Jazeera's license, and a more skeptical B'nai Brith at least refrained from negative comment.
And what I propose is this: the CRTC should demand a similar outreach attempt on the part of Sun TV as a condition of approving it for any spot on cable. Now, I understand there are practical problems associated with the idea. For example, and considering once again the new network's ideological wellsprings, it is most likely that the Canadian Jewish community is the one minority group that Sun TV will not target for abuse. As a result, any liaison committee is going to be large and unwieldy. Nevertheless, if Sun TV will agree to conduct itself in an honourable fashion, after the manner of Al Jazeera English--to pull itself out of the hate speech sewer--then the response to it from Canadian Progressives ought to be an at least grudging "yes".