The Vancouver Scrum

On the move!

Agh! You’re still here? My new site and weblog, ianking.ca is now up and running; new posts are building up over there, never to be mirrored here. Go! What are you waiting for? All the stuff worth keeping has been migrated over to the new server, and I don’t anticipate making any more posts here.

Bloggers and webmasters: Update your links! Simply replace vancouverscrum.blogspot.com with www.ianking.ca in your blogrolls or bookmarks to point to the new site. Old posts will remain on this server for as long as the people at Blogger/Google allow them to remain; unfortunately, I’m not going to bother to come up with any way of converting permalinks on this blog to their corresponding posts on the new site. Yes, I plead laziness. I also realize the irony of switching away from Blogger just it starts to add features that the demanding blog nerds insist upon.

Thanks for reading and linking, and see you over at ianking.ca!

—Ian King, December 13, 2004

Saturday, March 29, 2003

 
Time to refute another right-wing lie

One legend that never seems to die in Canadian conservative circles: The Liberal government, through the country's broadcasting regulator, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), is keeping Rupert Murdoch's conservative Fox News Channel out of Canada. The "proof" that the conservatives usually present is that the governing Liberals would be so threatened by a right-wing 24-hours news channel that they have informally instructed the CRTC's commissioners to deny a licence for a Fox News channel in Canada. Corroborating evidence usually includes the ban on American direct-to-home satellite services -- although this ban is at the behest of Canadian cable companies and satellite systems fearful of competition from south of the border. Therefore, the evil Liberal government, which can also conveniently be blamed for El Nino, protectionist American lumber barons, the Asian currency crisis of 1997 and the resulting 'Asian Flu', lousy commodity prices, and so on, has kept conservative Canadians from their Bill O'Reilly fix.

Too bad that it just ain't so

In 2000, the CRTC announced that it was going to licence an unlimited number of digital cable and satellite channels. The old requirements for having solid business plans, content requirements, and even original programming were all but tossed out the window. New "Category 2" digital stations would fight it out in the rough-and-tumble market; none would have any protected programming turf, and each station would have to convince cable or satellite companies to carry them. It was a departure from the usual CRTC approach to broadcast licencing, but one that critics of excessive government regulation applauded.

On November 24, 2000, the CRTC announced that a total of 262 Category 2 licences for digital specialty channels had been approved -- including one to CanWest Global for a Fox News Channel Canada, that, like Rogers Media's MSNBC Canada, would basically be programming from an American news network brought to Canadians by a mostly-Canadian owner. CanWest Global has a close relationship with Fox Broadcasting; Global gets first crack at the Canadian rights for Fox entertainment programming and they are the company that brings Fox Sports World to Canada. This was another step in a long business relationship that dates back to the 1980's when Global was the first large Canadian broadcaster to bring shows from the then-nascent Fox television network to Canada -- and pay Fox for the privilege. Other new digital stations reflected the same sort of ties: Bell Globemedia, owner of the Canadian Discovery channel, got licences for Discovery specialty channels like Animal Planet. You can view the whole sordid list in Volume 134, Number 50 of the Canada Gazette (PDF)(text).

[I'll link to the decisions posted on the CRTC website once it comes back on line -- for some reason, the CRTC's server is down this weekend. Until then, you can check out Google's caches of the decisions.]

The channels that were approved that day have had mixed fates. Lone Star, BBC Canada, the National Geographic Channel, and TechTV are reportedly doing well, while others are struggling to stay afloat. Not every digital channel is carried on every cable or satellite system -- for example, MuchLoud is not available to Shaw Cable subscribers, but it's on the Bell ExpressVu satellite network. Other channels existed only on paper: a swath of regional news services never got off the drawing board. Neither, to my knowledge, did the Wine Television Network, various martial arts networks, parenting channels, the interesting-sounding Late Night Vidiots, and dozens of others. They never went to air because there weren't enough potential subscribers, or willing advertisers, or the cost of programming was too high. That's what happened to Fox News Canada: CanWest decided to shelve Fox News Canada due not to the hand of the government, but because their research showed that Fox News Canada wouldn't attract enough subscribers to turn a profit. With a bunch of other money-losing properties like the National Post and the troubled broadcast-print-Internet convergence project, the last thing that CanWest Global needs is another financial dog to help swell its $4-billion debt even further.

So, to summarize: it's the private sector, the free market, which decided against Fox News in Canada. Neither the commissioners of the CRTC, nor Heritage Minister Sheila Copps, nor even Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien can take the blame. Ironic how the channel that Canadian free-market fundamentalists most want is the same channel that the Canadian private sector has, for now, decided against. Wonder if Canadian Fox Fans will lobby the government to intervene on their behalf?

The idea that conservative voices are shut out of the Canadian broadcasting spectrum is, to put it diplomatically, laughable. A quick run up and down the AM radio dial should be enough proof -- talk show hosts who aren't right-wing are the exception. I think that CFRB Toronto's Bill Carroll said that he stuffed envelopes for the Liberals or something similar during an election campaign, and CTV NewsNet anchor Ravi Baichwal sits in over at CFRB from time to time, but that's about it for talk show hosts that aren't screaming conservatives. Most of the rest of the crop of radio yakkers spend hours of airtime criticizing this government, often mercilessly so. That hasn't kept their stations from getting their licences renewed with little hassle. Think about it: if the Chr├ętien government had wanted to get dissenting voices off the air, stations like CFRA Ottawa (home to ultra-righties Lowell Green and Michael Harris), CJOB Winnipeg (Charles Adler, formerly home to the incomparable Peter Warren), QR77 in Calgary (Dave Rutherford -- need I say more?), and CKNW (Rafe Mair, Peter Warren, Stirling Faux) in Vancouver would have had their broadcasting licences pulled by now -- or have been told to get the right-wingers off the air or kiss that licence goodbye. Of course, if this had actually happened, it would be public knowledge very quickly.

On television, the Global television network's flagship public affairs program Global Sunday has been hosted first by the aforementioned Adler, now by Danielle Smith, a young conservative whose entire career has been spent at right-wing think tanks and in the conservative press. Global's "Last Word" commentary series has tended to feature a preponderance of right-leading pundits offering their opinions to Global National with Kevin Newman viewers. CTV's political weekly, Question Period, is co-hosted by Globe and Mail political scribe John Ibbitson. Even the supposedly screamingly leftist CBC -- a favourite target of CanWest Global's executives -- features conservative commentators on its panel discussions and its news reportage. Then again, conservative media critics think that having a socialist, a liberal, and a conservative commentator on a panel is unbalanced, and that not repeating Pentagon propaganda equates to an anti-war bias. You can't please some folks, I tells ya...
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