CRTC rejects bid by Sun News Network to join basic cable

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew
CRTC rejects bid by Sun News Network to join basic cable

Conservative Canadian broadcaster Sun News Network was denied a place on basic cable on Thursday after the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ruled that it had not failed to demonstrate “that they met the criteria for a mandatory distribution order.”

The network, which also is known as "Fox News North", has been jockeying for a permanent space on basic cable since it launched in April 2011.

Mandatory carriage would mean a major increase in its availability. The network is currently available through a collection of digital cable and satellite providers.

Executives have argued that there is a need for their brand of news coverage, and recently warned the CRTC that it would have to shut down if it was not added to basic cable packages.

The Toronto Sun, which is owned by the same company as Sun News Network, put the argument thusly:

Sun News vice-president Kory Teneycke told commissioners ... the station has exceeded all the necessary conditions set out by the ruling body for the mandatory carriage requirement, including its contribution to produced-in-Canada television.

On Thursday, the CRTC officially disagreed, while granting mandatory distribution to three other television services: ARTV, Nouveau TV5 and AMI TV, a station for Francophone Canadians living with a visual impairment. Nineteen other applications, including the Sun News Network bid, were rejected.

[ Related: CRTC rejects Sun News Network's request to join basic cable ]

“Canadians across the country will have access to programming that meets a real and exceptional need, and that would not be widely available without our intervention,” CRTC chariman Jean-Pierre Blais said in a statement. “We are making sure, however, that television services remain affordable for Canadians by imposing reasonable rates for services offered on the basic service.”

The Canadian Press reports Sun News Network lost $17 million last year, raising the concern of its parent company, Quebecor. The media company recently announced it would stop printing 11 newspapers across the country and lay off hundreds of employees.

Clearly, this bid was focused on the bottom line, lending credence to the claim that failing to secure mandatory distribution would be the network's death knell.

Having the network join basic cable would have secured it a portion of the cost of the cable bill and make it a more attractive option for advertisers. The Globe and Mail’s Steve Ladurantaye says the network was asking for 18 cents per subscriber, up from the six cents it currently receives.

[ More Brew: No one rushing to emulate Nova Scotia’s cyberbullying law ]

The Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson says Blais previously underscored that cable subscribers are concerned about the affordability of television services, which led the commission to order mandatory distribution only in cases when the broadcaster "contributes in an exceptional manner to Canadian expression."

If you want exceptional, look no further than Sun News Network. Since its inception, the broadcaster has been at the heart of several exceptional controversies.

In its short existence, it has broadcast a fake citizenship ceremony, earned thousands of complaints after former anchor bullied a guest, issued an apology after personality Ezra Levant dismissed an entire culture as a crime syndicate and picked a fight with David Suzuki.

Perhaps if it doesn’t pass CRTC muster as a news provider, it should reapply as a reality television network.

Want to know what news is brewing in Canada?
Follow @MRCoutts on Twitter