News forecast: Will all of Canada get sunshine 24 hours a day?

David SpencerQuebecor announced today that it will ask CRTC to approve not only a new
all news channel under the name of Sun TV, but a preferred dial
placement as well. According to the rumour mill, the station will be
patterned after Fox News.
David Spencer
writes about what this might mean for Canada.

The answer to the above question lies in the hands of two activist personalities, Konrad von Finckenstein and Pierre Karl Peladeau, and perhaps a few bankers and finance guys along the way.  Today’s announcement is that Quebecor will be asking the CRTC to approve not only a new all-news channel under the name of Sun TV but a preferred dial placement, as well, and, according to the rumour mill, the station will be patterned after the successful Fox News formula in the United States.  This leaves one to wonder if the Fox and the Henhouse can exist together on the same media farmland.  Only time will tell. 

There has been a feeling for some time in this country that the right does not get treated very well in the mainstream media.  A closer look at actual events, however, suggests otherwise.  But, in all fairness, Canadian conservatives do not act with the rabidity of those in the United States, where half the population responds positively when asked if they consider themselves practicing, born-again Christians.  
 
In that regard, the right is more amenable to exposure by large media companies that have shown genuine interest from a journalistic point of view in covering stories like the reaction to the proposed change in sex education in Ontario’s school system to the controversy over the exclusion of funding for abortions in the federal government’s maternal-health proposals.  

So, what are the implications for a potential news service that sees the world from the right side of the spectrum?  In this day and age of 1,000-channel media, it is difficult to do two things: Make a presence and attract a large, devoted audience. This is the environment in which Quebecor may find its new channel and it is probably the reason the company wants preferential treatment when it comes to dial position.   

We no longer live in a world of mass media. Our environment dictates audience penetrations of 10 to 12 per cent are acceptable to viewers and advertisers.  It also holds some serious uncertainties as to impact. The movement in media penetration in the past couple of decades is one of consolidation, in which the devoted gravitate to outlets that express and confirm respective points of view. However, this is not always political. Specialty services like The Movie Network and HBO attract devoted audiences that could in no way be described as large, but survive and sometimes prosper in formats that would have been uncommon three decades ago. 

So, Quebecor and its bombastic boss have determined there is a need for conservatives to rally around the flag — namely his flag.  Perhaps they will, or perhaps they won’t, but this initiative does raise some concerns.  For sure, anyone who is described as liberal or left is unlikely to find a home at Sun TV. Quebecor must know newsrooms create corporate cultures of their own and the elements of those cultures become the driving forces behind their daily operations.  Can anyone take seriously the claim that part of Sun TV will be, in essence, neutral in its news-gathering operation while the remainder treats its opponents as Fifth Columnists?
   
People such as Ezra Levant will come to this new network with a pre-determined point of view which will violate the principle of neutrality. Peladeau is claiming that the new Sun TV will in essence be divided between commentary and news reporting. The first instance, commentary, will have values added to it as does all commentary. The news will be neutral.  But it defies logic to assert that these two aspects are not dependent on each other and that the commentary section will dominate.

Every young student in a journalism program in this country is taught one of the key arguments in the field is the prize of neutrality.  Those of us who watch and comment on the field realize true objectivity is hard, if not impossible, to obtain, but to reject it out of hand — as this proposal does — is detrimental to the field.
  
As it has often been noted, journalists provide the first window in the emergence of history.  With this proposal, I cannot help but wonder exactly what will be seen through that window a century from now.  After all, William Randolph Hearst did leave us with a legacy of this sort.
 
David R. Spencer is a professor of information and media studies at the University of Western Ontario.

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