Sun TV head Luc Lavoie: “I don’t have a social mission”

Sun News lands on the
Canadian media landscape in three weeks. Dubbed “Fox News North” in
anticipation of its right-wing slant, the Quebec network will rely on the
existing controversy and an uncompromising stance to shake things up.
Anne Caroline Desplanques, associate editor of ProjetJ,
talked with one of its architects: Luc Lavoie, head of Sun News and
advisor to Quebecor president, Pierre-Karl Péladeau. (This interview originally appeared in French on ProjetJ).

How are you
different from CTV News and CBC News?

We’re inspired by LCN (an all-news channel owned by TVA),
a personality driven network with on-air personalities who appeal to viewers, like Jean-Luc
Mongrain and Denis Levesque. At Sun News, we’ve got Charles Adler, the biggest
talk radio personality in English Canada. We want to work with good
communicators who present information in a different light, to enliven and
encourage debate. Viewers can relate to this type of communication. This is
what will get them talking about politics around the watercooler, not listening
to a University of Toronto professor.

We’re also inspired by
the Sun newspaper chain that has a very unique tradition. It was founded in
1971 and it developed its own personality, irreverent, populist, very blue
collar, very close to its readers. It’s a chain that isn’t afraid of covering
things that others won’t cover because they’re not politically correct.

What do you mean by
“politically correct”?

We believe that there
is a pervasive standardization of content across all mainstream media. It
manifests itself in the tone, in the choice of topics covered and in the mental
constraints they impose upon themselves and it’s not healthy.

For example, last
year, the question of the Afghan detainees received a huge amount of attention
from the media. It was dragged around like a big issue. Soldiers in battle took
people who were attacking them as prisoners and then brought them to the local
authorities. And it appears that these local authorities weren’t very nice to these
prisoners. We did some surveys and asked people what they thought of this issue
and 95% had never heard about it. Just because the media is scandalized by
something doesn’t mean it’s a scandal to the rest of the population.

Isn’t the role of
the media to raise public debate?

That’s a mental
restriction. Information is a service. We’re not there to judge what people
should care or think about. I don’t have a social mission. My mission is to
connect with my public. It’s not because the Globe and Mail, the Toronto
, CBC and others like them decided that we shouldn’t really cover an
issue because it could make waves that we’re going to stop doing it. I’m not an
organizer of social change.

If you go anywhere in
Canada, you’ll realize that one of the biggest issues right now is immigration,
but nobody’s talking about it. We can’t talk about it because if we do we’re
labelled a racist. However, it’s mind-blowing that we’re the only country in
the world that doesn’t know how many illegal immigrants we have! I’m convinced
there are tens of thousands. Is that bad? That’s for others to judge, but we
should be talking about it.

Will there be
international news coverage on Sun News?

I think international
news will be about 35-40% of our coverage. If you look at how Sun outlets acted
in response to recent crises, either Egypt or Japan, we sent teams there immediately.
Our broadcast technology will be state-of-the-art, so our journalists will be
able to travel around the world with super-portable equipment that will allow
them to transmit from anywhere.

We want to get away
from the model that’s been around for 35 to 40 years, where news is neatly
produced in a 1:45 segment that ends with a stand-up by a journalist. We don’t
want that, we’ll have presenters who will present the images and the sounds and
who will turn to the journalist for an in-depth conversation. It will be more
conversational and more realistic.

Then you consider
yourself as contributing to the evolution of the industry…

Exactly. First by
jumping over hurdles which by and large are artificial, which say that a print journalist
can’t do television because it’s a different beast. Not with us. News is news:
the cultivation and treatment of information. Our journalists will be capable
of telling news across all platforms.

The 1,000 Sun TV journalists have been in intensive training for some months to learn the tools and the
technology. Everyone will be asked to go everywhere and do everything so that
we can optimize resources. You won’t see four cameras and 12 Sun News staff at
a single press conference like you would at CBC. We don’t have access to public
funds to do that.

What do you think
of the Fox News model?

We have no
relationship with Fox, except we do watch them to see what they’re doing and
how they work. Fox is the most successful news network on the planet. If I am
as successful as they are, I will pop open the champagne.

We don’t see ourselves
as on any one side of the political spectrum, but on the side of people,
discussing the issues that they discuss. Some people may say we’re right-wing, but
I couldn’t tell you how some of our journalists might vote, like Charles Hadler
and David Akin. Warren Kinsella will be one of our contributors, and he worked
for Jean Chrétien and was considered a left-leaning Liberal, but above all he’ll
debate with vigour and that’s what we want.

Sun is the largest
news media organization in Canada. We have ethical criteria that matches if not
surpasses our competitors’, we count on quality from our journalists, we don’t
need advice from anyone.