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DOBBIN: Canadian nightmare--Fox News North

If things go according to right-wing Quebec millionaire Pierre Peladeau’s plans the Republicanization of Canada will, in the near future, take a in another giant leap. Peladeau, the founder and major owner of the Sun media newspaper chain (the most right-wing in Canada) is planning to launch an all news channel which has been dubbed ‘Fox news north.’ The man in charge of developing the network – and getting it past the CRTC – is Tory Teneycke – formerly Stephen Harper’s junk yard dog in charge of intimidating and manipulating the media.

You might recall seeing him on the CBC which shamefully hired him as a ‘commentator” less than a year after he left Harper’s employ (in violation of CBC rules). Like most of the communications types in Harper’s stable he specializes in bullying and attack-dog tactics, the very same approach honed over years on Fox news in the U.S.

Don Newman, CBC columnist and former host of Newsworld’s ‘Politics’ CBC columnist Don Newman, attacked the idea characterizing Fox news in the U.S. as “hugely polarizing." Fox "mainly spews out propaganda that is dangerously misleading and often factually wrong….It specializes in drive-by attacks and misrepresentations, and is positively Orwellian at times, claiming to be 'fair and balanced' while implying that its competitors aren't.”

One of the people who is keen on having the new channel is Paul Tuns the editor of Canada's pro-life newspaper, The Interim: "Having something to add balance to the overwhelmingly anti-life, anti-family left-wing broadcasters in Canada would be a very welcome development."

It’s not hard to tell why. Fox News is a key component in what many people feel is the move toward an explicitly fascist politics in the U.S.  A constant stream of name calling, invective and lies about Barack Obama (he wasn’t born in the U.S., he’s a communist, etc.) have fed the rabidly right-wing and extremist Tea Party movement some of whose members come armed to rallies against the U.S. President.

The same kind of vicious and divisive right wing populism is in store for Canada unless Peladeau’s and Teneycke’s plans can be stopped.

One of the most unnerving aspects of this story is that it was Harper himself who seems to have got the ball rolling for a news network devoted to his political project. According to reporter Bruce Cheadle, of the Canadian Press “on March 30, 2009, “Prime Minister Stephen Harper sat down for lunch in New York with Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes.

Ailes is the longtime Republican communications guru who is the president of Fox News Channel, which is owned by Murdoch's News Corp. Harper's [then] communications director Kory Teneycke was also present.”

It must surely be unprecedented that a Canadian Prime Minister would be having a secret personal luncheon with one of the world’s most powerful right-wing media barons and the head of his most virulent broadcaster.  (The meeting was only discovered by CP when it examined media consultant Ari Fleischer's mandatory disclosures with the U.S. Justice Department. The former Bush media flak was doing consulting work for Harper.)

We can’t know exactly what was discussed but we do know that he holds virtually all of the Canadian media in contempt and has gone to extraordinary lengths to control his “message.” – sending out his own photos; refusing interviews with the national press gallery, sneaking into the house of Commons through a side entrance so the media can’t engage him.

There can be little doubt that Harper is behind the Fox news North idea. Just four months after that meeting, according to Cheadle, after Teneycke left the PMO, he got a contract with Quebecor to explore the Fox news north project.

Peladeau met at least twice with Harper in the first part of 2009 and also met with    cabinet heavyweights Jim Flaherty, Tony Clement and James Moore. The project is moving ahead at breakneck speed with it proponents clearly hoping to make it a fait accomplish before anyone can do anything about it.

According to Cheadle: 

“Since January he has had three registered sit-downs with Konrad von Finkenstein, the CRTC president, along with meetings with other CRTC officials and a Jan. 20 session with Moore, the Heritage minister who oversees the broadcast regulator.”

Teneycke is already recruiting people, long before the station has even come up for consideration. If you want to get an idea of what it will be like, one of the people allegedly recruited is the hyper-odious Ezra Levant, perhaps the only Canadian who could make Fox personalities look palatable.

So far there ha been very little commentary on this frightening development from those who might be able to do something to stop it.

Peladeau has applied for Péladeau, is seeking a broadcasting license from the CRTC that would include "mandatory distribution," meaning that his channel would come as part of the basic cable package. People would get it whether they want it or not.

It is by no means a certainty – unless, of course, no one complains. This category 1 license is a highly coveted designation (they might have to settle for ordinary license which would mean they’d have to negotiate with cable and satellite companies to get carried).  By being a part of the basic cable they automatically get a big share of the revenue generated – the CBC for example gets $65 million a year from the cable companies for its Newsworld channel.

In short, Category 1 is a license to print money. In the hands of people like Teneyke that is a very dangerous amount of money.

But to get that prized designation, the promoters have to show that there is a “public need.” they will have to show that there is a public need for the channel.   Just how the CRTC would judge such a question is hard to know but they are also aware that if they hand over this lucrative license to Peladeau and Co. there will be a flood of applications from companies – like Global - for similar treatment.

The CRTC needs some ammunition to justify saying no to a group with the power and influence of Peladeau behind it – especially with the knowledge that Harper is in the background.  Any decision by the CRTC can be overturned by the cabinet and a decision to refuse a category 1 license will have to be bullet-proof – assuming von Finkenstein and the CRTC board want to say no.

Two things need to happen: as many Canadians as possible have to know that Harper is setting up his own 24 hour “news” channel; and the CRTC has to hear from them that we don’t “need” it.

Murray Dobbin is an author, broadcaster and journalist. He is the author of five books and his work appears regularly in the Tyee.