On July 5, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, denied Quebecor Media Inc.’s request to make its Sun TV News channel a “must carry” service. If their request had gone through all cable and satellite television providers would have been required to carry Sun TV in the same manner that they are required to carry CBC and CTV. Sun TV has since re-applied for Category 2 specialty channel status, though it has requested once again that it have mandatory access for three years.
Its application process became troubled when Kory Teneycke, who was heading Quebecor’s Sun TV effort, abruptly resigned on September 15. Teneycke cited recent controversies as the reason for his sudden departure. In August he referred to CBC and CTV collectively as the “lame-stream media” and had called former CBC journalist Don Newman “the Helen Thomas of Canada.”
Coinciding with all of this has been the Conservative Party of Canada’s continued assault on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for being “left-leaning” and “liberal.” The CBC was most recently accused by the Conservatives of being “agenda-driven” for a story aired on September 13 that reported, accurately, that the National Rifle Association was aiding Canadian gun lobby groups in their campaign to have the long gun registry scrapped. In a terse two page letter to the CBC’s ombudsman, Jenni Byrne, the Conservative Party’s director of political operations, stated: “This type of reporting is neither objective nor accurate and does a disservice to all Canadians.”
This sniping at the CBC by the Conservatives has been dubbed a “culture war.” Information war is a more accurate designation and it is a war that Canadians should hope that Quebecor and the Conservatives do not win. Despite any claims to the contrary, Sun TV will not give a wider range of opinion for Canadians, but will exist solely to narrow it. While the CBC provides objective news coverage and will also pair commentators from left-wing and right-wing perspectives for controversial stories, Sun TV will adopt no such pretence. Instead, it will have a solely right-wing slant on political events and will exist, much like its closest comparison, the Fox News Channel in the United States, to legitimate non-factual claims about current events. A survey of incidents involving Fox News will provide a good case in point.
1) In July, Fox News ran a bit that accused United States Department of Agriculture head Shirley Sherrod of race-baiting. The selectively edited video, shown by conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, apparently captured Sherrod saying she favoured black farmers, a damning charge considering that she helms an organization that distributes benefits. The clip — with running commentary from Breitbart — was shown at peak hours and viewers called for Sherrod’s resignation. The Obama administration promptly fired Sherrod without viewing the rest of the tape, in a move that was widely seen as an overzealous reaction to the backlash. Once the rest of the tape was released — which reveals Sherrod said nothing of the sort — she was reinstated and an apology was issued.
2) During the public health care debate in the U.S., Fox News actively spread misinformation, including claims that “Obamacare” would subsidize government-administered euthanasia for seniors. Analyst Peter Johnson Jr. — a regular on the network — claimed that Obama was plotting to facilitate the deaths of the chronically ill, only to later say that “no one is saying the President wants to kill old people.” Despite the back-pedalling, a survey concluded that 75 per cent of Fox’s viewers believed Obamacare would put senior citizens to death. In the end, the lack of public knowledge of the details of the Democrats’ proposed bill stalled legislation significantly.
3) For the last two years, broadcasters on Fox News, and particularly popular anchor Sean Hannity, have been suggesting that President Obama is secretly a Muslim. The fact that these individuals use the word “Muslim” as pejoratively aside, the claim is simply false and has done much to stroke already gestating anti-Muslim sentiment. Despite the President’s consistent affirming of his Christian faith, Fox went to great pains to report Obama’s “pandering to the Islamic world” and his “soft spot for the Muslim world.”
These are just a few incidents that have been the result of the Fox News Channel injecting debate with dubiously factual claims about current events, which have significantly altered the public’s perception of those events in an unethical way. Although we are granted freedom of speech, news organizations are also expected to maintain a standard of accuracy, objectivity, and fairness. It is our concern that Sun TV News Channel, like Fox News, will not uphold these journalistic values.