Sun TV News now plans to launch in Canada without any special help from the federal broadcast regulator.
The planned 24-hour all-news network was pitched by Quebecor Inc. (QBR.B-T35.260.692.00%) as an alternative to channels such as CBC News Network and CTV News Channel, which the Montreal-based company characterized as too politically correct and “boring.”
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But in its licence applications, the right-leaning channel sought some help getting started. On Tuesday, after a speech in Ottawa, Quebecor chief executive officer Pierre Karl Péladeau said the company would withdraw its request to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission for an exception to the rules of its licence that would have made Sun TV News available to more Canadians.
It was Quebecor’s second shot at special treatment: first, in March, it applied for a rare licence from the CRTC, which would have required cable and satellite companies to carry Sun TV News on their services. That type of licence, known as Category 1 (soon to be Category A), is currently not being granted by the regulator, and it rejected Quebecor’s application.
The company then tried again in July, asking for a much more common Category 2 licence to operate a specialty channel. But in that run-of-the-mill application, it included a request for “must offer” conditions – requiring distributors to offer the channel during its first three years, on at least one tier of their services. The company argued this was different from must-carry status because it let consumers decide whether to subscribe.
Speaking to reporters outside the Canadian Club in Ottawa on Tuesday, Mr. Péladeau said it would now withdraw that request, applying for the same Category 2 licence governing many digital specialty channels.
“We’ve decided to go with the policies of the CRTC,” said Quebecor spokesman Serge Sasseville. He reiterated earlier arguments by the company that both CBC Newsworld and CTV Newsnet had years to build a subscriber base with their must-carry status on basic cable, and said Quebecor wanted the same help for the first few years of the channel’s existence.
“We are in favour of deregulation, but that [three years] would have been a transition period for us … but we are part of the free market, so we decided to renounce that special request.”
It’s a marked reversal for the company, which went as far as claiming before the CRTC that the channel could fail financially without the regulatory help it was requesting.
“This would be fatal to our business case … and would likely result in the cancellation of the Sun TV News project,” wrote Peggy Tabet, Quebecor’s director of regulatory affairs for broadcasting, in an August letter to the broadcast regulator.
Controversy has surrounded the planned launch of the news channel, which detractors dubbed “Fox News North.” An international activist group, Avaaz.org, started an online petition against Sun TV News, with an estimated 21,000 letters being submitted to the CRTC. In September, a lawyer asked the RCMP and Ottawa police to look into tampering with that petition that appeared to come from a computer in Ottawa. The next day, the head of the Sun TV project, Kory Teneycke resigned. Last week, the same group submitted letters from the public to the CRTC protesting the licence.
Mr. Sasseville said the decision to change its request to the regulator “had nothing to do with the Avaaz petition.”
He said that the company would be in contact with the CRTC in coming days to remove the special conditions from its application. The issue was scheduled to go before a hearing on Nov. 19, but the CRTC is now expected to reconsider whether a hearing is needed, since the licence application no longer includes unusual exceptions.
Fox North lives on!