The media is buzzing. The newspapers are writing stories every day. TV commenters are filling the blogs and web sites with gloom and doom. University teachers are being called for their take on the impending story and op-ed pieces are being penned by learned experts. I’m sure the editorial writers across the land are sharpening their pencils in readiness for the big announcements. And what’s all the fuss about? It seems that Quebecor is about to attempt to launch a right-wing news and talk television service that has already been dubbed “Fox North” by the naysayers.
As far as the Canadian media are concerned, and you can count me among them, Fox News is the antichrist of TV networks. I have no problem with their conservative viewpoint. But I object strongly to their lack of honesty and their continued and unfettered spreading of false and unsubstantiated facts that are the lifeblood of the service they provide. Call me old fashioned but I still believe the number one rule of journalism is that you get the facts right. You can comment and spin all you want but you can’t publish false or unprovable information. Fox News and its band of crazies led by Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck are guilty on all these counts.
Still, is there really good reason for Canadian media to react the way it has? I guess I’m not ready to get upset just yet. First and foremost there is a huge hurdle that the new network has to climb. They are asking for “must carry” status from the CRTC. That would mean that all cable and satellite companies would have to find a prominent place for the new service on their dial and that all Canadians who subscribe to cable or satellite would have to pay a monthly fee for the channel whether we want it or not. In order to get “must carry” Quebecor would have to prove that they are a necessary and missing piece of the broadcast fabric that exists in Canada today. That’s a stretch. With three English all news networks already out there they would first have to prove that the others, CBC NN, CTV News Network and CP24 are either totally biased and blind to conservative views, or that a conservative viewpoint is missing from our TV choices and that being conservative is enough reason to make it essential. That’s a real problem even in Stephen Harper’s Ottawa. I don’t believe they will get “must carry”. Then what?
That will mean they will have to do deals with all the cable and satellite companies to find space. Then they will have to depend on Canadians’ willingness to ante up for the new channel. It will become our choice as viewers as to whether we want to buy another all-news and talk channel. That could be a tough sell with the costs of cable and satellite rising and most Canadians looking to pare down their media choices.
It is important to note that the existing news, talk and current affairs channels in Canada are not exactly catching on with the viewing public. CBC NN and CTV News Network have so few viewers that I suspect it would be cheaper to put their content on DVD and deliver it to the 25,000 or so folks who tune in. CP24 is one of a handful of stations that people watch but don’t listen to. Whenever I see the channel in offices, gyms, bars, the sound is turned off. It is a weather and time channel. CPAC, has anyone watched this channel lately, actually gets the same size audience as CBC NN for most of the day. Documentary Channel should do better but it remains an afterthought for viewers.
So why does Quebecor think another all news and talk station is a good idea? I suppose it is the fact that all the other news and talk stations are doing so poorly. They must believe that there is actually a void, as far as viewers are concerned, in the market. That void would have to be engaging television. The truth is that unless there is a big story breaking there is no reason to watch all-news TV. Worse, if a big story breaks anywhere outside Canada, the home grown networks can’t compete with CNN. So what will make us tune in to “Fox North”? The people at Quebecor think that strong right wing views and personalities will cause the kind of stir that will attract a large enough audience to make the station the kind of hit that Fox News has been in the U.S.
So far very few right wing media organizations have succeeded in Canada. The National Post can barely give their newspaper away. Alberta Report faded away. Sun Newspapers (owned by Quebecor) have been losing money and laying off staff for two years. So where is the market? It might be the talk radio crowd. They seem to gravitate to the wild right but every poll of their listeners has shown them to be older, lower income and lower educated. Not the crowd that the advertisers are looking for.
The bottom line for me is that the Canadians I know, even the very conservative ones, tend to be more moderate in their ideas and their expectations. In the land of “sorry” I am not sure that media crazies will be a welcome addition. Quebecor’s track record for picking winners in English Canada is a poor one. I expect we are getting our shorts in a knot prematurely.
In the meantime I welcome any organization that can create new jobs for journalist and TV producers and I even welcome the addition of an opposing point of view. I wish the Quebecor people good luck and hope they can deliver a strong but fair conservative view to Canadians. If the rumors are correct they have already helped the CBC by stealing perennial screw up reporter Krista Erickson. I guess she will now be free to date Tory MPs and maybe take a few free flights at the taxpayers’ expense.