Posted in Opinion, TV

An open-minded review of Sun News Network

When the Sun News Network launched on April 18, 2011, the rapid-fire reviews were not kind at all. In response, host and seasoned journalist David Akin asked on Twitter that the network be cut some slack, at least until Day 2.

I decided to cut them a bit more slack. I’d give them a week, I’d watch the network throughout the day with an open mind, and reserve judgment until afterward (some sarcastic tweets excepted).

I put my new DVR into overdrive, recording the network for 16 hours a day, then watching it with the remote in hand to fast-forward through some of the repetitive parts and commercials.

After the first week, I realized that Week 2 would be a stronger test of Sun News than Week 1. The royal wedding was scheduled for the coming Friday, and Sun News had promised live coverage just like every other network in the world. And the end of Week 2 would feature the Canadian federal election, a huge test for any network, and an even tougher test for one that’s two weeks old and still trying to find its footing. So I recorded Week 2 as well, from 6am to 10pm (the overnight hours are repeats of prime-time programming).

As it turns out, there was a third major news event during that weekend: the death of Osama bin Laden. An unexpected breaking news event on a weekend evening would also give huge insight into how Sun News performed.

In the end, I recorded and watched (or zipped through) almost 200 hours of Sun News Network broadcasts, including the first two weeks in their entirety.

Afterward, I watched a half-day each of CBC News Network and CTV News Channel, in order to get a proper basis for comparison. (I was reminded, for example, how much 24-hour news networks in general will repeat stories.) I also checked back in with Sun News to see how they filled airtime after the election.

For the past year, I’ve checked in periodically, when there’s nothing better on TV. I won’t be so bold as to suggest that makes me an expert on the network, but I think I’m a bit more familiar with what they put on the air than many of the people who have written about it since it launched.

So for the benefit of those who want a more balanced perspective about the network, and hopefully to counteract the flood of (mostly negative) commentary that comes from people who clearly have never seen it, I’ll offer my review.

I haven’t interviewed anyone at the network, and other than brief Twitter exchanges and a single on-air appearance, I haven’t spoken to anyone there in any other context either. My opinions are based on what has actually been aired, combined with what personalities have said in other media. My research is based on what has aired combined with reputable sources I’ve found online.

(Note: This is really long. Feel free to skip to the conclusions and suggestions at the end if you’re pressed for time.)

History and purpose

Sun News Network is the brainchild mainly of a man named Kory Teneycke, the former director of communications for the prime minister’s office under Stephen Harper. Teneycke was hired by Quebecor, and in the summer of 2010 announced a project to start up a new 24-hour news channel that would be openly conservative, patriotic, opinionative and entertaining in a way the two existing English networks are not.

The project was immediately condemned from the left, who gave it the nickname “Fox News North” even though there was no connection between this project and the American all-news channel. (In fact, it has an agreement with CNN for international news.)

But Sun News’s backers admitted that the model of their new network would be based quite a bit on Fox News Channel: news during the daytime and opinion in prime time. (This is also similar to MSNBC on the left.) The news gets the news junkies and people who can’t find anything else to watch during the daytime, while the opinion shows attract more viewers (particularly those who agree with what the shows’ hosts are saying).

Originally, Quebecor asked that Sun News be given a CRTC license as a “Category 1″ digital channel, even though the regulator had said it prefers not to issue new licenses under that category. The main advantage to this category is that all digital providers (digital cable, IPTV and satellite) are required to offer the channel on a discretionary basis. The argument was that Sun News was an exceptional channel, with 100 per cent Canadian programming, unlike many of the digital channels being launched these days that have mostly reruns of American programming.

Critics, who apparently misunderstood what Category 1 meant, were outraged that Sun News was demanding “must-carry” status and that all Canadian cable and satellite subscribers would be “forced” to pay for it. In fact, the channel would not have been part of any basic package, would not have been on analog cable, and would only be paid for if the subscriber chose the channel or chose a package with the channel in it. But all digital broadcast distributors would have to make the channel available should a subscriber choose to buy it.

Still, after the CRTC made it clear it would not approve a new Category 1 channel, Quebecor relented and made an application for a Category 2 channel instead. This category, which the CRTC prefers new entrants to use, does not come with any guarantees, and Sun News would have to negotiate carriage with each distributor, which includes negotiating a wholesale price with each.

Originally planned to go live on Jan. 1, then postponed to March 1 after regulatory delays, it was finally given a launch date of April 18. At 4:30pm, after a long countdown, the network launched with a half-hour special that was half introductory, half self-congratulatory, and then went right into its opinion programming with Ezra Levant’s The Source. The channel was offered as a free preview, as long as six months under Videotron.

Carriage issues

Before its launch, Sun News signed deals with Shaw (which owns the Global television network and former Canwest specialty channels) and Videotron (obviously, since Videotron is also owned by Quebecor). Others would come later, but after fights. Bell and some smaller providers argued that Sun News was not only requesting high fees for a startup network, but that it also made onerous demands as far as packaging, which might force the companies to put the channel in popular packages and push it onto subscribers whether they wanted it or not.

Complicating matters somewhat is that Sun News replaced Sun TV, a conventional broadcast station in Toronto. For months, CKXT-TV broadcasted a simulcast of Sun News, being the only broadcast station in Canada to broadcast a specialty channel. This had two effects: It forced cable companies operating in Ontario like Rogers and Cogeco to carry the network and make it available to subscribers (but they didn’t have to pay for it), and it frustrated competitors like Bell who wanted to know if they should treat this as an over-the-air station or as a specialty network.

This issue came to a head with Bell TV shortly after the network’s launch. Sun News insisted that Bell pay for the network if it intended to keep it on its national satellite service after the federal election. Bell balked because it was merely rebroadcasting CKXT-TV and Sun News hadn’t made clear what kind of service it was. Without an agreement in place, Sun News was taken off Bell satellite’s grid on the morning of May 3. For Bell, it was at the request of the broadcaster. For Sun News, it was Bell acting as a censor to a competitor for its CTV News Channel and CP24 all-news channels.

Sun News launched an on-air campaign to pressure Bell to bring the channel back. Its hosts repeatedly put up Bell’s phone number and encouraged viewers to threaten to cancel their subscriptions if Bell didn’t offer the channel. (Of course, since Bell wasn’t carrying the channel, it all seemed a bit pointless.) Sun News was also offered as a free livestream during this time.

In the end, it was negotiation, not public pressure that won out. In November, after Quebecor pulled the plug on the over-the-air transmitters (even after having converted three of them to digital), Bell and Quebecor announced carriage deals, putting Sun News, TVA Sports and other TVA specialty channels on Bell TV and RDS2 on Videotron. Quebecor then dropped its complaint to the CRTC alleging undue preference by Bell. Sun News has been available on Bell since Dec. 15.

Around the same time, Sun News struck an agreement with the Canadian Cable Systems Alliance, a group of small independent cable TV companies that had also complained that Quebecor’s demands for Sun News carriage were too high.

Sun News is now carried on most major digital television systems. Packaging varies:

  • Bell TV has it as part of its basic package outside Quebec. Inside Quebec, it’s not part of any package but is available à la carte.
  • Shaw Direct offers it as part of a specialty package with nine other channels (including Fox News and MSNBC). Shaw cable has it as part of its basic package in Hamilton and on discretionary tiers in other markets.
  • Videotron has it as part of its Anglo package, but not Telemax or even Mega. It’s also available à la carte.
  • Cogeco doesn’t offer Sun News in its basic package, or any theme pack I can see. It also doesn’t offer the channel at all in Quebec.
  • Rogers cable offers it in its Digital Plus package (the next step up from basic), as well as in its News theme pack.

A channel with no network

The biggest thing that sets the content of Sun News apart from CBC and CTV’s news channels isn’t political bias or entertainment value or patriotism or even opinion. It’s that Sun News doesn’t have an affiliated network of local stations across the country with news departments that can provide the channel with content. Both CBC and CTV have stations with local news departments in more than a dozen cities across the country. Not only can they send a crew to broadcast live video from the site of a breaking news event, but the channels can take packaged reports produced for local newscasts and air them nationally.

This is significant. The last all-news TV channel to be set up in North America without an existing network of local TV stations was CNN in 1980. There are some foreign channels that have also started up (like Al Jazeera), but that takes a lot of money, and Pierre Karl Péladeau isn’t quite as generous with his money as the royal family in Qatar.

To counter the lack of local stations (Sun News makes no serious use of its common ownership with TVA, except for use of its footage for stories out of Quebec), Sun News setup studios in six cities: Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, and relies on Sun Media reporters (those who work for Sun papers) to provide Sun News with content. Most of Sun News is broadcast from Toronto, except for David Akin and Brian Lilley, who are based in Ottawa, and Charles Adler, who is based in Winnipeg.

The plan appears to have been that Sun Media reporters, who like many print journalists are starting to experiment with video, would produce video reports that would be posted online by their papers but would also feed Sun News. That’s certainly in line with Quebecor boss Pierre Karl Péladeau’s business model.

In reality, though, the quality of reports from print reporters has been mediocre. The audio and video quality has been poor, particularly for a network broadcasting in high definition. Most importantly, it has been inconsistent. Some stories get video reports, but most don’t. And it’s not a question of what stories are more important.

The lack of technological infrastructure also means that Sun News relies a lot more on phone interviews or interviews via Skype than the other networks. Often their newscasts will feature interviews with Sun print reporters, with their photo and a map as the only images. Or you’ll see awkward, highly compressed images of guests holding a phone up to their ear (to avoid feedback) while chatting from their living room.

It also means that Sun News relies heavily on pool video feeds. They’ll carry major political speeches because they can just get the feed from a pool in Ottawa or from CNN. But other major live events aren’t covered as easily.

This was particularly apparent when the death of Osama bin Laden was announced on a Sunday night before the 2011 election. Sun News had to scramble to get people in on the weekend, and didn’t break into its repeats for an hour after the news broke. It finally put together an awkward show with David Akin and Brian Dunstan, with pool feeds of Barack Obama and Stephen Harper’s comments, as well as comments from them about the news, but that was about it. There hasn’t been anything as significant breaking on a weekend evening since then, so it’s hard to see if they’ve improved much.

Overall, there have been some improvements to this since Sun News launched a year ago. They’ve acquired at least one remote truck, which allows them to have actual live hits. When they have enough time to plan coverage, they can arrange to be somewhere live.

But Skype-style conversations are still commonplace, as are low-quality packaged reports and a lot of in-studio chats with reporters and talking heads.

Give them a break, they’re new

It would be easy to pick on every error, every technical glitch, and conclude that Sun News is a joke. But that would be unfair. Sun News is a new network starting from scratch, and their gaffes have more to do with the realities of live television than their age or the quality of their staff.

That said, Sun News is definitely a network that’s designed to produce news cheaply. It started with no foreign bureaus (it later added a Washington bureau, but all its foreign news comes via an agreement with CNN), it has inconsistent regional coverage, and it does no investigative journalism that I can see.

Nevertheless, it’s expensive. It required a large cash infusion at the beginning, and another $3 million in one quarter to offset serious losses.

Canada ends at Montreal

Sun News’s approach to regional balance is certainly interesting. Its bureaus in Vancouver and Calgary are checked with multiple times a day during the daytime news shows. The Roundtable show even has a “western anchor” who contributes via remote, though really only appears to talk about stories affecting Alberta and western Canada.

Sun News will also occasionally talk to a Montreal journalist (usually former CFCF staffer Brian Daly on weekdays and soft-spoken former Gazette intern Giuseppe Valiante on weekends) about news from Quebec. But the face that most appears on the network when talking about anything in “la Belle Provence” (as they say) is Eric Duhaime, a right-wing Quebecor columnist. It’s not always made clear when he’s on that he’s a commentator, not a journalist.

The location of Sun Media’s newspapers – particularly the Sun chain itself – also adds to the regional bias. Lots of news from Ontario and Alberta, a bit less from Vancouver and Manitoba, a little from Montreal and almost nothing from elsewhere.

A segment during the morning newscasts reminds the viewer of this – Once Around the Sun is a roundup of the Sun newspaper front pages, but the Sun chain extends only from Calgary to Ottawa (the Journal de Montréal and Journal de Québec aren’t shown, and 24 Hours Vancouver and other non-Sun Quebecor papers were only added later). The segment is introduced interchangeably as “news making headlines across the Sun newspaper chain” and “news making headlines across Canada”.

As much as I could complain about the low profile given to Canada’s second-largest province (and particularly how odd that is because of all the existing TVA infrastructure here), it’s really Atlantic Canada that gets the short end of he stick. The four smallest provinces were completely ignored by Sun News during its first two weeks. I couldn’t find a single story based out of anywhere east of the Richelieu river during that time.

The Sun News Atlantic bureau

A few weeks in, Sun News added an Atlantic bureau. It doesn’t have a real studio, but merely a reporter checking in via webcam sitting in front of a wall of “Atlantic Bureau” logos.

Even with the addition, it’s still a giant gap in Sun News’s coverage that they need to spend serious effort filling.

French? Bah.

You’d think a network that is so proudly Canadian would embrace both of Canada’s official languages. But, well, it really doesn’t. Its hosts repeatedly argue against bilingualism because it discriminates against unilingual anglophones in the rest of Canada, particularly western Canada. The logic goes that Quebec should be French and the rest of the country English, and Canada should save the money spent ensuring a few whiny francophones in Alberta get their services in French.

Though I’m sure it’s unrelated to their political views on the matter, Sun News was caught unprepared early on to get news in French. On election night, after seeing his party virtually obliterated, Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe gave a speech in which he was widely expected to resign as leader, having lost even his own seat in the House of Commons. As it turns out, he did resign. But Sun News didn’t carry that speech live because its French “isn’t good enough”. Instead, they had Eric Duhaime (a right-wing commentator, not a journalist) listen to the speech and tell them what happened.

Kind of an embarrassing gaffe, if you ask me. (Otherwise, their election night special was actually pretty good for a two-week-old network.)

The Sun Newspaper Network

Perhaps it was silly of me not to realize this off the bat, but Sun News seems, journalistically at least, to be merely an extension of the Sun newspaper chain.

Sun columnists are everywhere. The chain is heavily promoted in the Sun papers. But most importantly, there’s little if any journalism here that isn’t heavily tied to the Sun papers or Sun Media.

Even some of the big scoops – like Michael Ignatieff planning the Iraq war or Jack Layton getting his knob rubbed a decade and a half ago – were scoops of the Toronto Sun, not of Sun News Network. (This even though the former was written in the paper by a Sun News anchor.)

Sun News Network does have its own reporters, but “reporter” might be exaggerating things slightly. Rather than go out and do original journalism on a story, they stay in their studios and learn about the news through other sources. They then summarize the news for the anchors.

It’s not that these are bad journalists. But they’re being asked to do too much. Often you’ll see a reporter asked to talk about multiple news stories. And it’s pretty jarring to hear someone talk about bombing in Libya and then immediately switch gears to talk about the NHL playoffs.

Desk reporting isn’t unique to Sun News, and is done by the other networks as well. But for the other networks, it seems to be something done when there’s no alternative. For Sun News, it seems to be the way they prefer to run.

Journalists by proxy

The result is that while other networks will have live hookups with their journalists on the scene, or will air packaged reports from those reporters, Sun News Network instead talks to one of its handful of journalists in studio about the news. It’s second-hand information, and it shows.

That’s not to say Sun News doesn’t talk to “real” journalists. They often interview Sun Media reporters via cameras in newsrooms in Montreal or Ottawa. They also talk to reporters in the field, and more and more they’re getting and using packaged reports (most are heavy on reporter standups and short on editing and B-roll).

Outrage, 24/7

I’m sure I’m stealing this from somewhere, probably Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert talking about Fox News, but Sun News doesn’t so much report the news as it becomes angry at it. Outside of the major stories, it tends to focus on those that cause them outrage. This story, for example, about a Toronto restaurant owner charged with assault after defending his business against a would-be robber, was talked about for weeks, with just about every personality weighing in, saying how outrageous it was that this man was charged for defending his property, complaining how other media weren’t reporting the story (they were – the Toronto Star and CBC also followed it in depth), and suggesting that this was a sign of a larger problem, and that society has gone mad.

It doesn’t matter that the same arguments were made over and over. It doesn’t matter that just about everyone was on the same side on this issue (even the NDP’s Olivia Chow stood next to the restaurant owner when he made a public statement). This story was a gold mine of populist outrage, and Sun News took full advantage.

Persecution complex

Discussions about other media (almost always in a negative context) are also commonplace on Sun News. The most common target is the CBC (“the state broadcaster” as they refer to it, which is odd not only because it implies that programming is dictated by the state, but because they simultaneously suggest that the CBC is biased against the government). The “CBC money drain” logo even forms part of the opening for Brian Lilley’s Byline show. Imagine any other network that made a logo for a competitor part of their graphics.

It was only eight minutes into Sun News’s first show a year ago that the CBC bashing began, courtesy of Ezra Levant. It hasn’t calmed down much since.

Sun News doesn’t try to hide the fact that its personalities want the CBC shut down completely. Everything they do is a waste of taxpayer money. Every success (CBC News Network, Hockey Night in Canada) is because of the unfair leg up it gets through government subsidy. Every failure is because everyone has turned away from the CBC.

In the early days, Lilley went on about the CBC spending $1 million on an opera about Brian Mulroney and then walking away from the project.

The public broadcaster isn’t Sun’s only target. Its “media monitor” segment, in which Lilley appears on Krista Erickson’s show and criticizes bias and errors by other media (it’s always an error that shows their liberal bias, of course), also counts the Toronto Star (the “red Star” as Lilley calls it), Canadian Press, Postmedia (my employer), CTV and other mainstream sources as being part of the “consensus media” that has a strong liberal bias and is against the government.

Lilley does have a point. There is a liberal bias among journalists. It’s just how their profession works. Journalists comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. They love human interest stories about people who are struggling to get by or who have been screwed by the Man. These tend to lead to left-wing biases.

But Lilley and others at Sun News exaggerate this bias. They consider any criticism of the federal government to be part of some media propaganda war, instead of simply journalists doing their jobs. (One wonders if a Liberal or NDP government was in power whether the media would be accused of having a right-wing bias. I was accused of being right-wing back in my student reporting days, and then suddenly when a right-wing student government came to power I was considered to be on the radical left.)

That’s not to say that every member of the Ottawa Press Gallery is perfect, that there aren’t some injecting their bias into what they report to the point where they give people incorrect impressions of the news. But most respected news organizations try to put a stop to that. At Sun News, journalistic activism seems to be encouraged rather than suppressed.

The Fox News model

I understand that Sun News has no formal relationship with Fox News, and I’m not one to call it “Fox News North”, but the similarities extend far beyond the hard-news-straight-talk model. Anchors who describe themselves as journalists and commentators at the same time, thinly-veiled political endorsements, pretending to present both sides of issues while pushing one side, inviting guests that mostly just agree with the hosts rather than challenging their opinions, attacks on other media (while pretending theirs somehow isn’t part of the mainstream), overemphasis on stories of little importance that fit a preferred political narrative. These are all things people criticize Fox News for (whether Fox News is guilty of these things is up for debate), and they are all reflected in Sun News Network.

Meet your Alan Colmses

In an effort to balance the scales somewhat, Sun News actually does have regular contributors from the left side of the aisle. But the selection is pretty pathetic. Representing the Liberals are Warren Kinsella, who for some reason throws himself at this network in a vain attempt to get his point across without being ridiculed, and Ray Heard, who’s a blue Liberal and has stated numerous times he’d rather jump to the Tories than see the Liberals move any more to the left or (horror of all horrors) consider an alliance or merger with the NDP. For the NDP, it’s Adam Giambrone, former NDP president, Toronto city councillor and Toronto Transit Commission chair.

That’s it. Plenty of conservative commentators (whether big-C or small-C) to fend off against two and a half liberals.

Oh, and the Bloc? Ha. Even if they could find a Bloc Québécois supporter who would want to come on, Sun News treats sympathy with Quebec sovereignty as nothing less than treason. I have yet to see any sovereignist interviewed on the network, nor hear of anyone trying to book someone for such an interview.

News topics

Sun News is very, very heavy on politics. That’s not surprising. It was started to be an openly political news operation trying to give “the other side of the story”. Politics make up large parts of the day, and most content for the prime time shows.

There are advantages to this. Sun News has distinguished itself by covering provincial elections nationally, while CBC and CTV tend to do so only regionally. It was the only one to carry the Saskatchewan and Alberta leaders’ debate nationally so people in Quebec could watch it (surely there are some of us who care). Though it should be noted that Sun News’s regional bias meant it covered provincial elections in Ontario and western Canada much more than those in Atlantic Canada.

But newspapers don’t just have one section. What about the rest?

Business: Sun News carries about the same business coverage as the other networks. One of its morning show hosts, Pat Bolland, has his background in business reporting and will often focus on business news. Sun News also has a dedicated business reporter, Anita Sharma, who focuses on the markets but other business news as well.

Sports: It’s very surprising to me how little Sun News seems to care about sports. It will cover major sports news like any other news story, but there’s nothing resembling a daily or weekly sports highlight show, or even a regular segment on the news shows devoted to sports news. There could be a few reasons for this – for one, there isn’t much live programming in the evening, when a daily sports highlight show would make the most sense. But overall, you get the impression that Sun News just doesn’t care. A look at its online sports section confirms this. They’ll talk about Canadian hockey teams occasionally during the playoffs, but they seem to be fairweather friends with sports news at the best of times.

Contrast this with the Sun newspaper chain, which is heavy on sports.

Arts and entertainment: Like sports, entertainment is given little attention on Sun News. Celebrity gossip stories might be mentioned in brief during the daytime, but that’s about it. There’s no interviews with musicians or live performances or anything like that. And as for arts, well they don’t deal with that at all except to question their funding (see below).

Lifestyle: As with other networks, there’s a bit more focus on lifestyle stuff in the morning and daytime. Correspondents might be sent off with a camera to do quirky things. But there’s never really anything in depth.

Funny YouTube videos: Oh boy, there’s plenty of those. Even during prime time. It’s the cheapest journalism there is, so why not?

Gina Phillips, social media reporter

Social media: Sun News Network has its own social media reporter, Gina Phillips (QMI Agency profile, Twitter). Her role often comes down to scouring Twitter for reaction to news stories and reading tweets on air, or talking about random things that are trending online. It’s not much different from how social media reporters work at other news outlets, and about as pointless.

Michelle Jobin doing weather

Weather: Sun News has regular weather segments, hosted by Michelle Jobin on weekdays and Alexandra Gunn on weekends. The segments are pretty standard as far as national weather goes (Jobin has experience in TV weather at the Weather Network, Global television and CHCH News). But it’s only during daytime, which means no weather between 5pm and 6am on weekdays.

Online

The Sun News Network website is kind of disappointing, when you consider how much content it has access to through QMI, or how well designed some other Sun Media websites are. Stories look oddly formatted, often with embedded videos that are much smaller than they should be, sitting below photos with all-caps captions. In general, it seems like little more than an advertisement for the channel. (Which is fine, it’s not like Quebecor Media doesn’t have enough news websites.)

The one good thing about it is the extensive video collection. Most major segments are posted online for people to share or review. And as you can see from this post they also allow people to embed videos on other websites.

Sun News is also active on Facebook and Twitter, mostly just posting links to stories and video segments on their website or promoting things coming up on the channel.

Advertising

Advertising on Sun News is similar to what you’d find late at night or on a low-rated cable channel: infomercial-style ads, government public-service announcements, heart-pulling pleas from foreign aid organizations, and house promos. About the only difference is that while, say, a CTV-owned low-rated specialty channel can run high-quality ads for other CTV networks and programming, Sun News has no affiliated channels to promote, leaving it with only the same handful of Sun News promos to run over and over again.

Sun News promised advertisers pretty low viewership numbers before its launch, according to the Globe and Mail: 5,000 during daytime and about 10,000 during primetime in the coveted 25-54 age bracket. As a result, many advertisers decided to wait and see, leaving airtime to the infomercial-style crowd.

You can’t blame Sun News for what it advertises. Anyone can buy a spot (and, indeed, they showed that when the first political ad to air on the network came not from the Conservatives but from the Liberal Party). It’s also gotten a bit better since then as advertisers become more comfortable with the network.

But its first year was loaded with ads for Dr. Ho’s Air Orthotics, for Herbal Magic or for a Kate Middleton knock-off ring with “simulated diamonds” that for some reason came with a certificate of authenticity. Then there are those ads that look a lot like outright scams. Like the iRenew bracelet or QRay bracelet, which are ionized bracelets that promise magic healing powers out of an inanimate object.

Most of those ads are gone now, replaced with ones for kitchen utensils you didn’t know you needed, or cheap long-distance phone service, or big-print keyboards.

Sun News has made it clear it also accepts controversial ads, such as those that are against abortion or gay rights. But while there have been some of those ads, there haven’t been many. About the only indication during ads that you’re watching a right-wing channel are ads from dating site ChristianMingle.com.

The most eyebrow-raising ad comes from a company called SierraSil, which is some sort of joint pain relief pills. The ad features Sun News host Charles Adler talking about how great SierraSil is from behind his desk in his studio. And because the ad regularly aired first in a commercial break during his show, it was hard to tell if the ad is actually part of the show or not.

Though Adler talks about his integrity during the ad, it leaves you with the feeling that he and his network have anything but.

There hasn’t been much in the way of campaigns against advertisers (who’s going to launch a campaign against the ionic bracelet people?), but apparently at least one has been scared away by complaints.

The National Post article that launched a sleeveless campaign at Sun News

Is Sun News sexist or racist?

Take a look at the Sun News schedule and you see a lot of white men, particularly in prime time. In fact, all five of the “straight talk” primetime show hosts are straight middle-aged white men. The hosts during the daytime are more diverse, and in fact the argument can be made that Sun News puts strong female personalities in prominent roles. Krista Erickson, for example, technically hosts a daytime “hard news” show, but she’s just as opinionative as the primetime guys.

Still, it would be nice to have one of the “straight talk” people be a woman, or someone of colour, or someone who in any way stands out from the rest in their cultural background.

It was only two days after the launch of Sun News that Tasha Kheiriddin wrote in the National Post that she disliked the network because of its focus on female anchors’ appearance.

“For its women presenters, there seems to be a ban on sleeves. Not a jacket in sight. Only cocktail dresses, as clingy and low-cut as possible,” Kheiriddin wrote. “It’s clear who the target audience is for Sun TV, and it actually isn’t small-c conservatives: it’s men who like their news with a side of T and A and bluster.”

I don’t know if I agree. There’s definitely a focus on appearance, as there is on any television news show – even the CBC cares far too much about how people look on screen. And some of the female anchors have clothing that’s maybe a bit tighter than what you’d see elsewhere or in more professional environments. But it’s a far cry from the Sunshine Girl (even though some of the hosts had tastefully posed for the regular Sun feature).

The comment set off a firestorm in the early days of Sun News. To the hosts, it was an attack on their right to wear whatever clothing they wanted. A campaign quickly began – a “right to bare arms” – whereby more of the female anchors went sleeveless. Even NDP MP Olivia Chow got in on the campaign and went sleeveless during an early interview with the network.

The reality is that while Sun defends the right to titillate, it doesn’t take advantage of it much, beyond Alex Pierson’s and Krista Erickson’s wardrobe choices.

Straight talk vs. hard news

Officially, Sun News draws a line at 5pm between the “hard news” and “straight talk” parts of its schedule. The daytime shows are  live news shows meant to keep people updated on news. The primetime shows are mostly prerecorded and focused on opinion.

But the line is a lot more blurry than that. Many daytime hosts are very opinionated on air, taking sides in debates. Many “reporters” that appear during the day are also not shy about expressing their personal opinions.

On the flip side, you have many apparent opinion-makers who qualify themselves as journalists. Even people like Ezra Levant and Brian Lilley have described themselves that way. And you have David Akin, whose show is listed as “straight talk” but looks and sounds a lot more like a conventional hard news newscast.

The blurred line between news and opinion was most apparent during the early days, when a show by Theo Caldwell, the Caldwell Account, aired as both a “hard news” and “straight talk” show. An hour of it was simply repeated at 7pm, and yet somehow it was in both categories.

Sun News does little to distinguish the two concepts. There are no “opinion” labels during opinion segments.

It’s a blurred line you see elsewhere too. Opinionative columnists regularly appear on news pages in newspapers, with only their logo byline to distinguish themselves from hard news. Many newspaper columnists also see themselves as journalists, even though it seems their goal is often to push a particular agenda.

Sun News would improve its respectability considerably by making a clearer distinction. Or it could abandon the news thing altogether and call it something like Sun Views.

But I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

Meet the staff

Here’s a detailed look at the shows and anchors that appear on Sun News Network (all times Eastern):

Alex Mihailovitch, interim anchor of First Look

First Look (6am to 8am weekdays): Originally hosted by Neelam Verma, First Look was the lowest-rated of the Sun News Network shows, mainly because of its timeslot. The format is pretty forgettable, and consists mainly of recapping headlines, speaking to Sun News columnists who are willing to be in studio that early, and checking the weather.

Sun News is already promoting a replacement, anchored by contributor David Menzies. Menzoid Mornings is set to begin April 30. Little has been said about the format of the show so far, but Menzies likes to be outrageous and it makes sense to expect the same in his own show.

Pat Bolland and Alex Pierson, hosts of The Roundtable

The Roundtable (8am to 11am weekdays): The only show on the network with two co-hosts is also the longest at three hours. Most of the show consists of the usual morning news show stuff, though perhaps a bit more newsy than most. At some point during the morning, the circular table is pushed away and the hosts discuss matters between them. I can’t figure out why the table is moved for this, unless it’s to give viewers a look at Pierson’s bare legs (which are, admittedly, very nice).

Alex Pierson: A journalist and anchor with many TV stations including CHCH in Hamilton and City and Global in Toronto, where she specialized in crime and justice reporting, Pierson is highly opinionated but will also let some seemingly more left-wing opinions come through. (Wikipedia)

Pat Bolland: Born in Flint, Mich. (of Michael Moore fame), Bolland’s background is in business reporting, working for CNBC, Business News Network and CBC Newsworld. His opinions are often right-of-centre, at least on economic issues, but he’s also rarely angry about anything. He prefers to let common sense dictate his opinions, which he expresses calmly and with an open mind. Which is why he seems so out of place here. He also likes to wear bowties. And, you know, the mustache. (TwitterWikipedia)

Andrea Slobodian: She’s billed as a sort of “third anchor” for Roundtable, which is why I’m including her here. And though she does appear regularly throughout the program from her studio in Calgary, it’s hard to qualify her as an anchor. She doesn’t speak with guests, and really only appears to chat with the anchors and talk about news related to western Canada (and Alberta in particular).

As for Slobodian personally, she’s neither particularly outspoken nor particularly shy about her opinions.

(Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook)

Damian Goddard, temporary (?) host of Newswire

Newswire (11am-1pm weekdays): First hosted by Jacqui Delaney, Newswire was a show that didn’t have much of a point to it, it seemed, other than to fill two hours. The idea is that it’s a home for breaking news, getting up-to-the-minute updates from the newsroom. But it doesn’t really distinguish itself from the other news shows.

Delaney was let go by Sun News in March, for reasons that aren’t clear. But the problem with the show wasn’t Delaney. It’s being hosted by Damian Goddard, who you might recall was fired by Rogers Sportsnet over his views about gay marriage posted on his Twitter account. The show page for Newswire doesn’t list a host, and no new show for this timeslot has been announced yet.

Caryn Lieberman, Right Now (1pm to 3pm weekdays): A graduate of Dawson College and Concordia University, Lieberman got her start as an intern at Global Quebec in 2001. (Mike Cohen profiled her briefly last May.) She joined Sun News originally as their weekend anchor, but was promoted to afternoon anchor to replace Theo Caldwell.

Lieberman clearly cares more about getting the news than ranting about things that bother her. That, combined with her Montreal background, makes me want to say good things about her and her show. But the things that make her a good reporter also keep her from fitting in here. Her personality doesn’t come through very well, and the show she hosts is about as bland and meaningless as its title. One of its regular segments is “prime time preview“, in which she walks around the newsroom and talks with hosts and researchers for primetime shows to see what topics they’re going to talk about and what guests they have lined up. When a regular segment of your show is talking about what’s on other shows, you can tell something is wrong.

Still, it would be a shame if Lieberman were to lose out merely because she’s not a blowhard.

(Twitter)

Krista Erickson, Canada Live (3pm to 5pm weekdays): Oh Krista. She’s a Sun News host who should hardly need introduction, thanks to her much-publicized spat with Margie Gillis. But I’ll do it anyway.

I first wrote about Erickson back in 2008, when she was a CBC parliamentary reporter who was transferred to Toronto because it was discovered that she fed questions to a Liberal MP when she couldn’t get the answers directly from the Conservative government. As I wrote at the time, the move was questionable and controversial, but it wasn’t clear to me that it was unethical. Certainly a topic to discuss in journalism ethics courses.

I got an email from Erickson a few months later, pointing out that she had been cleared of wrongdoing and given back her Ottawa job. I updated with another post updating the record, and asked her some questions (like whether she agreed that such actions should be avoided). She wouldn’t answer them, but apologized for that.

When I first saw her on Sun News Network, I didn’t recognize her. She looks a lot different from her time at CBC. And, it seems, she acts a lot different too.

Erickson is at times jovial, promising “great TV” to show us, and at times she’s frustrated and annoyed, like when a graphic doesn’t appear properly (it’s a common occurrence). I don’t need to explain how hard-headed and opinionated she can be. Definitely a prime candidate should Sun News decide to put a woman in one of those prime time “straight talk” slots.

It would be easy to criticize Erickson using sexist terms, to mock her for the way she looks or the clothes she wears. It would be easy to call her a “bimbo” or characterize her as a dumb blonde. But she’s really no different than Ezra Levant or Brian Lilley. I judge her not because of the tightness of her garments or the length of her hair, but because of the contempt she has for people who don’t agree with her, and the way she, like those white-guy prime time hosts, like to mock political opponents with sarcasm rather than try to convince reasonable people to consider her side of the argument.

Erickson also does the “evening news update”, a roundup of headlines that appears during commercial breaks of prime-time shows.

Ezra Levant, The Source (5pm to 6pm weekdays): An Alberta conservative (that’s a small C), Levant is king of Canada’s free-speech movement. He’s made enemies of human rights tribunals, which he decries as undemocratic censors.

Levant has a habit of bringing up old battles on his show. His first week brought back the Mohamed cartoons (showing them on air) and his book Ethical Oil. On June 3, he brought on Stephen Taylor to talk about an incident with then-Gazette reporter Elizabeth Thompson from 2007. He’s a fierce advocate for the Alberta oil sands, freedom in all its forms, and small government, which makes him an enemy of the CBC (he clarifies that he wants to privatize it, not shut it down).

Levant is a fan of stunts, and has used them often. Cutting down a tree with a chainsaw on Earth Day in 2011, scarfing down chicken wings while talking to a representative of PETA, having an intern wear a chicken costume when James Moore wouldn’t show up, mocking Jack Layton after his death, stripping during an interview, the list goes on.

He also walked into CBC headquarters in Toronto, camera in tow, and demanded to speak with people in charge, only to be told by security that he had to leave because he wasn’t authorized to film there. Levant eventually left, then filed an access-to-information request about the experience, where he learned one CBC executive jokingly suggest that they hire him. Levant pounced on that and used it for weeks as evidence that the CBC had no qualms about using taxpayer money to bribe critics. But, he assured us, he would never take government money to stay quiet, as if we were worried about that.

This may sound crazy, but I like Ezra Levant (and not just because he invited me on his show once). I agree with very little of what he says, and his connection to logic and common sense can be tenuous at times, but I don’t doubt that he believes in his opinions, and that he believes he wants to do good by society.

More importantly, though, Levant doesn’t take himself too seriously. Watch the viewer reaction part of his show or follow him on Twitter and you’ll see he embraces even the nastiest of criticism. He’s not easily offended by things, and he’s not as likely as his friend Brian Lilley to resort to name-calling when his argument fails.

That said, Levant’s show is problematic for the same reason as Coren’s and Lilley’s and Adler’s: His guests tend to be people who agree with him, and there’s rarely serious debate. He has a good monologue, but after that there’s not much reason to tune in.

(Twitter, blog)

David Akin, Daily Brief (6pm to 7pm weekdays): The black sheep of the black sheep network. Akin is a political geek who doesn’t spend his days grinding axes. Through his journalistic career covering federal politics for just about every national news service (including CTV and Canwest News Service), Akin has an encyclopedic knowledge of the hill, and an insatiable appetite for political news. Frankly, I wonder if he’s some sort of robot.

It’s not that Akin doesn’t have opinions or is too timid to share them, but his interest in his own opinions is eclipsed by his desire to get more facts, in some cases even the most trivial ones. He’ll start discussions about things like health care, in which his interview with a guest is meant to ask questions, not give statements and have the guest agree with him.

This is what makes him seem like he doesn’t belong on this network. The Daily Brief is a news and interview show, not an opinion show, even though it’s listed under Sun News’s “straight talk” prime time lineup. Akin is the only one of the five primetime hosts who doesn’t begin his show with an opinion monologue. Unlike the other shows, Daily Brief is also done live.

Akin is not afraid to express opinions that go against the talking points of the day being shouted by his colleagues (or, for that matter, by his left-leaning Press Gallery colleagues either). While other hosts were openly mocking recipients of government arts grants and bringing on Canadian Taxpayer Federation  spokespeople to talk about how much waste that is, Akin wrote a piece for the Sun arguing in a reasonable tone that arts grants actually contribute quite a bit to our economy. While his colleagues were cheering the Conservative government’s plan to kill federal per-vote subsidy to political parties and calling it the most ridiculous waste of taxpayer money, Akin wrote another piece arguing for keeping it. Or at least, arguing that other forms of subsidies to political parties should be eliminated first. Akin has also argued, for example, that Conservative MPs have acted unparliamentary toward NDP MPs.

Akin is hardly left-wing, but his eagerness to present reasonable rebuttals to populist right-wing rants probably makes him look like he is. Akin has been invited on his colleagues’ shows to debate the subjects he’s brought up, but otherwise his points are largely ignored and the other talking heads go back to their talking points. Which is a shame because the best moments of political debate on Sun News are when Akin takes on his fellow anchors with his Devil’s Advocate stance. See this argument with Ezra Levant about human rights commissions. What makes this different than other arguments is that Levant, Brian Lilley and others have too much respect for Akin to dismiss him as crazy or stupid. Instead, his arguments have to be fought on their merits. Unfortunately, whether or not Akin wins an argument is irrelevant. His points go in one ear and out the other, and he never changes his colleagues’ opinions.

Akin is extremely active on Twitter, a bit less so on Facebook, and has a blog.

Michael Coren, The Arena (7pm to 8pm weekdays): A former host of a show on CTS, Canada’s Christian television network, Coren is the author of the book “Why Catholics are right“, which should be fairly self-explanatory. I picked it up by throwing 50 cents into the charity bin in the newsroom. It takes just about every criticism of Christianity and the Catholic church, and makes the case that it’s either exaggerated, misunderstood or actually the fault of some other religion or godless creatures. The child sex abuse scandal, the church’s actions during the Holocaust, even the Crusades are watered down by laying the blame elsewhere.

Coren is unsurprisingly the resident religious conservative. He has a history of controversial opinions that have gotten him into trouble, and his attitude toward debates about religion (Christianity is great and so much better than Islam, Christians are persecuted and Islam should be) is very off-putting for people who don’t watch CTS regularly. His British accent also gives him an air of smug superiority, whether it’s deserved or not.

Despite being very religious, Coren thinks nothing of demeaning people who disagree with him by calling them names.

Coren started out as a regular guest on Sun News programs (while he was still doing his CTS show), but was announced as a new show host at the same time as Sun News parted ways with Caldwell. His show replaced a low-rated repeat of the first hour of Caldwell’s program.

(Wikipedia, Twitter, website)

Charles Adler (8pm to 9pm weekdays): The Sun News personality with the most experience as a talk show host, Adler was a big get for Sun News when it launched. Born in Hungary, Adler’s family immigrated to Canada and he quickly started up in radio, working for both CKGM and CJAD in Montreal before moving out west for good. He currently hosts a daily talk show syndicated across Corus’s talk radio stations and others, putting him on about a dozen stations, but none east of Toronto.

Adler’s show, broadcast from Winnipeg where he lives, focuses on what he calls “common sense” – and tends to talk about some outrageous story he’s found out about that involves the nanny state or socialism or something else that may or may not be an actual threat to modern society. Adler is a hawk, he’s pro-gun, pro-military, tough on crime, pro-death-penalty, for small government and anti-environmentalist. He’s also against bilingualism because, outside Quebec, there’s only a “speck” of 150,000 people who are unilingual francophones, and it’s a waste to spend money giving them services.

He’s not nearly as annoying and smug as the other primetime hosts, but it’s hard to get over his impression that government programs to help the disadvantaged will turn this country into a communist dictatorship.

Among Adler’s regular contributors is CHOM radio host Terry DiMonte, who brings out his inner populist (but reasonable) right-winger every Tuesday. He started appearing back when he was in Calgary, and has continued in Montreal. DiMonte and Adler are friends.

(Wikipedia, Twitter, website)

Brian Lilley, Byline (9pm to 10pm weekdays): I’m going to try to be nice here, because I want to stay open-minded, but having watched Lilley and his show many times, it’s hard not to think that he’s just the world’s biggest asshole. He’s got it all, the sarcasm, the smugness, the outright disdain for people who disagree with him, plus the cowardess of mocking people when they’re not there to defend themselves.

Lilley is the standard-bearer in the fight against the CBC, though while Levant’s attacks on the public broadcaster seem to have the larger purpose of pushing it toward privatization, Lilley’s attacks seem to be more for their own sake. He loves going after the CBC so much that the “CBC money drain” logo is part of the opening graphics of his show. But he also attacks the “consensus media”, using arguments as ridiculous as the fact that they’re hiding that Barack Obama is a secret anti-Semite (note the old if-it-was-the-other-side-doing-this-it-would-be-a-scandal imagined hypocrisy argument, which is common at Sun News).

Lilley combines Levant’s economic conservatism and disdain for government (and David Suzuki) with a lighter version of Coren’s religious conservatism, including an opposition to abortion rights. (Lilley doesn’t argue for the criminalization of abortion outright, but rather that the issue should be reopened and re-debated.) But whatever his opinions are, his attitude makes you really not want to share them.

(Twitterblog)

Brian Dunstan, Sun News Live (weekends 9am to 11am, 2pm to 5pm), Saturday Sun (Saturdays noon to 1pm), Sunday Sun (Sundays noon to 1pm): Originally hired to do the weekday evening news update, Dunstan was moved to weekends after Caryn Lieberman was moved to a weekday show.

Dunstan is a hard news guy, and he’s actually quite personable on air. He’s courteous and respectful and has a keen eye for getting the news rather than pushing his opinions.

I would have expected such ridiculousness to get him fired by now, but I guess since he’s on the weekend nobody watches.

(Twitter)

Others: Plenty of regular faces appear on Sun News regularly. They include:

  • Vancouver reporters Jill Bennett and Richard Zussman
  • Winnipeg correspondent Nicole Dube
  • Life and style reporter and weekend weather presenter Alexandra Gunn
  • Business reporter Anita Sharma
  • Reporters Sneha Kulkarni and Alex Mihailovitch
  • Pollster David Coletto

Plus regular Sun columnists and personalities who come in to give their opinions on things, including Brigitte Pellerin, Mark Bonokoski, John Robson and Eric Duhaime.

Former personalities

Neelam Verma, First Look (6am to 8am weekdays, until March 2012): A former Miss Canada (Sun Media focused on this when introducing her, though the network itself didn’t mention it often), Verma came to Sun News from its predecessor Sun TV, where she contributed to its Canoe Live show. Though she seemed very pleasant on air (being a beauty pageant winner, I imagine, gives you experience smiling for hours on end), Verma lacked the right-wing anger that you see from other hosts. (That is, of course, a good thing in general, but apparently a bad thing here.) She was also, it should be noted, the only show host on the schedule when the network launched who wasn’t white (the reporting staff is more diverse, and a black weekend anchor was added later). Not that she seemed to mind. She defended having babes as news anchors, saying “There’s nothing wrong with being smart, accomplished and beautiful.” (WebsiteWikipedia)

The show was mostly news and discussion of news, but also included a “breakfast bites” segment where the people who had just been discussing bombings in Libya start giggling while they talk about funny YouTube videos. It’s currently in flux, hosted by Alex Mihailovitch. Sun columnist David Menzies takes over April 30 with Menzoid Mornings, which judging from the promos looks a bit like Ezra-Levant-style slapstick.

Theo Caldwell, The Caldwell Account (1pm to 3pm weekdays, first hour repeated at 7pm, until June 2011): Caldwell left Sun News for unknown reasons in late June – an archive of his segments has been compiled here. His afternoon show was replaced by Caryn Lieberman’s Right Now, and the evening repeat by Michael Coren’s The Arena.

Caldwell’s show was considered both “hard news” and “straight talk” for some reason, and I wasn’t sure why he was given so much airtime (three hours a day). Caldwell was a business-minded anchor with a big ego and a knack for being overly flamboyant in his discourse, like he thought the very sound of his voice was God’s gift to broadcasting. He also had an obsession with American politics, to the detriment of Canada’s political scene.

No reason was given for Caldwell’s departure, which came unannounced.

UPDATE: Caldwell emailed me after this post went up, noting its thoroughness (and being remarkably nice considering how unflattering my comments about him here are). He wouldn’t shed more light on why he left Sun News.

Jacqui Delaney, Newswire (11am to 1pm weekdays until March 2012): Originally from Newfoundland (and a Habs fan), Delaney also came from Sun TV’s Canoe Live, though her background is more in radio and sports, working for Newstalk 1010, The Fan 590 and appearing on TSN. On the air, Delaney presented a sassy, no-nonsense persona. (QMI Agency profileSunshine Girl photo shoot)

Newswire had a feel of being in a newsroom with breaking news, which is a good thing. Delaney stood during the show, with the newsroom in the background. But otherwise it was pretty well the same as the other daytime shows.

Delaney hasn’t commented publicly on her departure. She didn’t even announce it on Twitter, except in replies to people asking where she went. She did hint shortly after she left that focus groups weren’t friendly. She now lists herself as a freelance radio/TV personality. I wasn’t a big fan of the show because it never seemed to have a point to it other than filling time between morning and afternoon. But Delaney was a perfectly competent host, and a good fit for a network that, despite how it was perceived at first, put some strong, opinionated women on the air, at least during the daytime.

Mercedes Stephenson: She was announced as a cohost for David Akin on the Daily Brief, but left the network for unknown reasons before it launched. She’s now a reporter for CTV News Channel, where you can follow her on Twitter.

Show, don’t tell

It might seem from all these negative comments about Erickson, Levant, Coren, Adler and Lilley that I just dislike conservatives. I won’t pretend to be one myself, so I have to admit the possibility that that’s it. But what bothers me about them is the same thing that bothers me about many on Canada’s political left (including many of the fiercest critics of Sun News): their attitude.

I often find myself agreeing with some of the points raised by the Sun News opinion makers. I’m not a big fan of wasteful government spending, and I believe CBC’s mandate should be reviewed. But rather than trying to calmly and respectfully explain to me their position and defend it in a serious debate, they shout their opinions out in the form of rants and ridicule, as if anyone who disagrees with their position is an evil, infantile moron who has no sense of reality.

None of the people I’ve listed above are stupid. Nor do I think they’re evil. But either they’re so filled with rage after years of being silenced (or at least convincing themselves they’re being silenced) that they just can’t control it anymore, or they don’t care about converting people to their cause and are just preaching to their choir, building a fortress of hate that is constantly reinforced without the ability to expand or even look outside.

It’s a shame. There are many level-headed conservatives out there, and many irrational leftists who could use some education on conservative ideas. But instead of offering a different point of view, the Sun News personalities have done their best to make it easier to hate them.

Sun News sees itself as the black sheep that’s going after the sacred cows and trying to stir things up. They see hatred aimed at them as a sign of their strength, believing that the “if they hate us we must be doing something good” argument about journalism applies to what they’re doing. But it doesn’t.

I can understand why Quebecor wouldn’t have a problem with this. They know the best thing they can do for ratings is go after the red meat, give the conservative base something to get a rise out of them and give liberals something to focus their hate on.

What I don’t know is why the conservatives on the network participate in this. Maybe they think they’ve already won the ideological war. Or maybe they just don’t care as long as they get a paycheque.

Reviews

Journalists who wrote about Sun News Network in its first week said much of the same things: that it’s conservative propaganda, that its daytime anchors seem to have been selected for their looks rather than their skills, and that the quality of journalism is very poor.

But I’ll let them speak for themselves:

  • Bill Brownstein, The Gazette: “With headliners like Levant, Charles Adler, Theo Caldwell and Brian Lilley, Sun News is long on ranting and rambling interviews and short on actual news – which would appear to be problematic for a supposedly all-news network.”
  • Tasha Kheiriddin, National Post: “…despite its virtues, Sun TV really isn’t about Hard News and Straight Talk. It’s about Hot Chicks and Sexy Outfits. And oh yes, after 5 pm, ladies, for the most part, you are dismissed.”
  • Scott Feschuk, Maclean’s: Ezra’s show came off as a little canned, in that its focus drifted from an old story about the CRTC to an older story about CBC’s Vote Compass thingy to a five-year-old story about those Danish cartoons that depicted the prophet Muhammad. On tomorrow’s Source: the latest from the Ford Hunger March of 1932!
  • John Doyle, Globe and Mail: “After all of that – all the fuss, the hype and hysteria – what has Sun News Network amounted to? Cheap, cheesy, terrible television. I encourage you to watch it. You can learn a great deal about the utter banality of well-meant but bonehead TV.”
  • Doyle, again: “Pretty soon, the channel will be something that people watch for charity. You know, sponsor me and I’ll watch this thing. … If you’ve got a devilish sense of humour, it is the most hilarious news channel you’ve ever, ever seen.”
  • Tabatha Southey, Globe and Mail: “They don’t tell you much news, in either the strictest or the most lenient sense of the word, but they do tell you what to think about it.”
  • Brad Oswald, Winnipeg Free Press: “Based on its first week on the air, SNN seems to lack both the ideological zeal and the financial wherewithal to achieve its self-stated goal of changing TV history.”
  • Nathalie Collard, La Presse: “Quebecor semble d’ailleurs vouloir miser sur la beauté de ses journalistes féminines (plus près du style des présentatrices de l’émission Entertainment Tonight que des lectrices de nouvelles de la CBC) pour attirer l’attention des téléspectateurs” (Collard also discusses the network with Christiane Charette on Radio-Canada)
  • Stéphane Baillargeon, Le Devoir: “Trois semaines à peine après son lancement, la nouvelle chaîne d’information continue Sun News TV patauge dans la bouette et la désinformation. Ce réseau n’est donc pas juste la Fox du Nord, conservatrice à regret, prophétisée et crainte par ses détracteurs: c’est aussi carrément de la télé poubelle qui racole aux bas instincts, aux bobards, au sensationnalisme et au populisme.”
  • Patrick Gauthier, Rue Frontenac: “Le plus triste là-dedans, c’est que les principaux intéressés prennent les critiques, qui fusent de toutes parts depuis lundi, comme des preuves qu’ils ont raison.”
  • Bill Brioux, TV Feeds My Family: “all night there was much more talk, little news. You’d never know an election was happening in Canada outside of those political ads. After all the rhetoric of this being Fox News North, there seemed a deliberate reluctance to wave the Harper flag.”
  • Craig Silverman, Columbia Journalism Review: “Sun News is about bringing campaign war room tactics and strategy into the Canadian news game. In that respect, it really is Fox News North.”
  • John Miller: “Giving this polemicist (Ezra Levant) an hour a day to pile on his favourite targets — political correctness, the CBC, human rights commissions, Ignatieff and big government — is going to get really old, really fast. On top of that, the man seems to be a compulsive narcissist.”
  • Journalism professor Elly Alboim, to The Hill Times: “I think everybody jumping with hobnailed boots on them in the first week-and-a-half is a little weird. There are very few organizations in start-up mode who look very much the same six months later. It’ll come.”
  • Martin Patriquin, Maclean’s: “The best thing about the folks who bring you “Hard News, Straight Talk” is their utter lack of consistency. Or, since we’re all we’re straight talking here, let’s call it what it really is: hypocrisy.”

I don’t include Sun newspapers in this, of course, because their “reviews” were not so much reviews as they were self-congratulatory advertisements.

Sun’s reviews of the reviews

If there’s anything Sun News Network seems to like to talk about, it’s Sun News Network.

It’s understandable that a station that has just launched after months of planning will spend some time talking about itself, but Sun News kept the discussion about itself going on for days.

Ezra Levant, at least, had some fun with it, turning the early reviews into a “hot and not” segment. But much of the reaction-to-the-reaction was petty and pathetic.

A tweet by Rick Mercer joking that the studio was full of silicone got a lot of discussion on air, as did Kheirridin’s National Post piece and a tweet she later apologized for referring to the network as “Skank TV”. The sleeveless female anchors and their white-men-opinion-blowhard friends all expressed their outrage at the apparent misogyny, without anyone discussing why there were so many sleeveless pretty women on the daytime schedule in the first place.

Friends of Sun News like Quebecor-employed Sophie Durocher also took up the they’re-saying-you-can’t-be-pretty-on-television argument, as if anyone has actually suggested such a thing.

After he was hired by Sun News, former religious television host Michael Coren alleged that “some of the fiercest” critics are actually people who applied for jobs at the station and were rejected. He provides no evidence to back up this claim, but logic dictates he either relied on rumour, he heard it from the people who were rejected from those jobs, or he gleaned information – directly or indirectly – from Sun’s human resources department.

Exclusive No. 1: Ignatieff is evil

The big exclusive on the second day of the newscasts (and in the middle of the election campaign) was actually a story from the Sun newspapers, written by Brian Lilley, that Michael Ignatieff was on the “front lines” of Iraq war planning. Presented on air by reporter Alex Mihailovitch, even though Lilley himself is an anchor at Sun News Network, the story seemed to be based mainly on two TV news clips from 2003. How replaying footage from C-SPAN and PBS can be considered an “exclusive” isn’t explained. Neither is Lilley’s statement in his article that this constitutes “new information”. There was also discussion on air of Ignatieff gaining access to sensitive information, which was questioned because Ignatieff is Canadian. No explanation was given of what information Ignatieff was given that wouldn’t be accessible to anyone watching TV.

A week later, the big story of the day came out of an article by Quebecor boss Pierre Karl Péladeau (in Sun newspapers, of course, each one teasing it on its front page) accusing a Conservative Party insider (Patrick Muttart, the former deputy chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper) of trying to plant a false story that would have implied Ignatieff was on the “front lines” of the Iraq war. This false Iggy-on-front-lines story apparently being different from the previous week’s true Iggy-on-front-lines story. The big false evidence was a photo of six guys in military uniforms holding guns, one of whom has a passing resemblance to Ignatieff. When Sun demanded a high-resolution version of the photo (as they would have needed anyway to make a front-page story of it), it showed that the man was clearly not Ignatieff.

The leak was passed through Tory Keneycke, himself a former PMO staffer as Harper’s communications director, and now in charge of the Sun News Network.

Péladeau also accused the party of deliberately trying to attack the credibility of Sun News Network with this plant, as if it somehow helps the Conservatives to torpedo the credibility of Canada’s conservative news network. Lots of people found this strange, and I would argue the close relationship between the two parties and the assumption that Sun News would be more favourable to news that’s bad about Ignatieff (see previous story) were probably bigger factors in choosing Sun News as the outlet for the leak. (It would later come out that Muttart did work for Sun News, which makes this even more interesting, and Péladeau’s assertion even more bizarre.)

The Conservatives, having lost the confidence of the conservatives, quickly fired Muttart, who sent out a press release saying he didn’t intentionally try to mislead anyone, and he made it clear he wasn’t sure if the photo was Ignatieff.

It starts off with this very telling paragraph:

Opposition research is a fundamental and essential element of every successful political campaign and the practice of campaigns sharing opposition research with journalists and media organizations is common the world over. Ultimately journalists and media organizations conduct their own research and make their own decisions about what to cover and what not to cover.

Exclusive No. 2: Jack’s jackoff

The evening of April 29, a Friday, three days before the federal election. The NDP was surging, particularly in Quebec, and had unexpectedly become Stephen Harper’s main opponent in the race.

Sun News broke into primetime programming to drop the exclusive bombshell: A former Toronto police officer told one of their reporters that Jack Layton had been found naked at a massage parlour in 1996.

Layton admitted he was there, but said he was only getting a massage and had no idea this place was used for illicit sex work. His wife backed him up.

Layton wasn’t arrested, and police found no wrongdoing on his part, but according to the Sun journalist they were pretty convinced he had just gotten a happy ending before they came in.

The story is gross, so I won’t get into it. What’s more interesting is that it was a negative story about Layton, 15 years old, shopped to a reporter in the midst of an election campaign, and Sun decided to go with it.

I don’t know if it’s true. Politicians lie about this stuff all the time. Layton’s version of events, though a bit hard to believe, are plausible enough that one can give him the benefit of the doubt.

But even assuming it is true, that Layton got a hand job at a massage parlour 15 years ago, did it matter? Sun News personalities defended the story, saying that if it was Stephen Harper the other media would be all over it. I don’t think so. Reporters have given politicians a pass on a lot of personal issues in the past. When salacious details of Conservative minister Vik Toews’s divorce case were publicized, it was a scandal – not for Toews, but for the person who publicized them, even though technically the file was public information.

It’s telling that after the election, when the robocall scandal was breaking, Sun News personalities did their best to minimize it. They repeatedly said there was no evidence that there was any wrongdoing outside of Guelph, that the number of complaints to Elections Canada was far lower than other media had reported, and that this simply wasn’t a scandal.

Partisan, but not Conservative

The Sun News Network thinks of itself as non-partisan. It’s conservative, definitely, but it’s not beholden to any political party. And it’s true. The network often criticizes the federal government – for not being conservative enough. Heritage Minister James Moore gets a hard time because he believes the CBC deserves to exist. And while not scandalized by it as much as they are by other issues, they have reported on the F-35 cost dispute and are critical of government overspending.

But it’s during elections that Sun News seems to get partisan. As it became clear the NDP were surging in the last election, commentators started warning about the dangers of an NDP government and defending criticism of the Conservatives.

We’re seeing it again in an election in Alberta, where the incumbent Progressive Conservatives are facing a challenge from the even more conservative Wildrose Alliance. Sun News personalities like Ezra Levant have renamed the PC’s the “Progressives” and compared them to the NDP. Suddenly everything about Wildrose is great, every criticism of the party is overblown or discriminatory, and the PCs can do nothing right.

I don’t want to play the what-if game that Sun News seems to base so many of its arguments on, but I can’t imagine any other news network doing everything but formally endorsing a candidate in an election and not being called on it. But at Sun News, it’s expected.

Complaints

For such a controversial network, you’d think the complaints and defamation lawsuits would be commonplace. But they’re not. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, which rules on complaints against private broadcasters, has ruled on only two cases involving Sun News.

One was about an episode of Levant’s The Source in which he and a guest complained about free housing given to artists in Edmonton. As it turns out, the housing was subsidized, but not free. Levant corrected the record on a subsequent show, though perhaps in a way that lacked a sincere regret for getting the record wrong. The CBSC ruled that Levant’s on-air correction was sufficient.

The other ruling was about the Margie Gillis episode, discussed in detail below. The CBSC found no violation of its standards there.

As far as defamation, I can’t find any heavily publicized legal case or court decision about Sun News Network. There have been cases involving Sun News personalities for their statements in other media (notably the Sun papers), but nothing I’ve seen about Sun News directly.

Margie Gillis, leftist hero

The first story to really go viral among left-wing critics of Sun News Network (at least, the first to go viral after the network began broadcasting) was an interview that Krista Erickson did with Margie Gillis, a dancer and recent recipient of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for lifetime achievement.

The video from that interview is on Sun News’s website, and was shared via social media, going crazy viral a few days after it was broadcast.

The interview was the culmination of a (for lack of a better term) running gag at Sun News over the previous two weeks making fun of publicly-funded but unpopular art. Sun News personalities, particularly Erickson, Theo Caldwell, Mark Bonokoski and Ezra Levant, targeted Gillis personally, mocking her movements in a video that showcases her interpretive dance moves (the video, which I found on the NFB website because it was created by them for the awards ceremony, was actually taken with high-speed cameras, something that wasn’t mentioned on Sun News). Erickson attended the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards gala on May 14, saw the video the NFB produced about her, and was apparently shocked that not only were we honouring such art but funding it too.

Erickson and Sun News even setup their own awards, called the “Sunnies”, and invited viewers to send submissions that also mocked artistic elites who receive government funding. Those “awards” were given out on June 8 during an interview with Derek Fildebrandt of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. The winner was Craig Williams, who parodied Gillis’s “swan hands” routine while wearing oven mitts.

The interview starts off with Erickson enthusiastically promising “great TV”, and then gleefully lauding Gillis as she introduces her as her guest (this two weeks after angrily asking “who the hell is she?”). This is pretty standard for Erickson, blowing hot air while introducing her guests whether they’re friend or foe.

It doesn’t take long for the interview to turn ugly, as Erickson demands to know why Gillis and her foundation gets so much money from the government (an amount that appears to be a little over a million dollars over a period of more than 10 years, for a foundation that includes far more than just Gillis). The two strong-willed women spend about 10 minutes interrupting each other and talking (even yelling) over each other in the kind of train-wreck “let me finish” interview that is completely useless to the viewer but that you can’t stop watching.

Then, as if it couldn’t become more surreal, it’s time for Gillis’s “Moment in the Sun”. This is a standard part of major daytime interviews on Sun News, in which guests talk about personal lives or unconnected projects while photos of them appear on screen. Suddenly the tone switches to lifestyle-fluff, and it’s as if all that yelling is just forgotten.

Well, certainly not forgotten by the public. Though it wasn’t seen by many people live, the online video spread like wildfire. Hundreds of links to it on Twitter and elsewhere. Lots of people leaving supportive comments on Gillis’s Facebook pageEven a blog was setup about this issue.

The video spread particularly among the dance community here and abroad. Erickson reported getting emails from the Juilliard School in New York. One dancer went through the trouble of writing a long, researched response to Erickson. Gillis’s foundation described to Rue Frontenac receiving letters from all around the world in support. It even got to the point where Gillis herself pleaded for calm, saying she doesn’t condone messages of “hatred” being directed at Erickson.

The interview also spread to French Quebec. Articles from incredulous columnists and writers including Patrick Gauthier of Rue Frontenac, Marc Cassivi of La Presse, and Richard Therrien of Le Soleil. Marie-Andrée Labbé of UrbaniaProjetJ has a roundup. Stéphane Baillargeon of Le Devoir also points out the hypocrisy of Quebecor’s empire being against funding for culture and yet taking government funding for its cultural activities. (Glen McGregor provides a list of money going to Quebecor’s magazines.) And Franco Nuovo invited Gillis on his Radio-Canada show to talk about the ordeal (MP3, interview starts at 48th-minute mark)

Not that Quebec speaks with one voice on the matter. An opinion piece by right-winger Nathalie Elgrably-Lévy, published before the Margie Gillis brouhaha, also made the point that art should not be subsidized by the government. Sophie Durocher defended Erickson’s interview. As if it needs to be said, these columns appeared in Quebecor’s Journal de Montréal.

In the aftermath, a lot of venom was directed toward Sun News and Erickson personally. She has repeatedly complained on air that she has received threats, some apparently threatening physical harm to her or using vulgar language. A look through some of the reaction online and it’s not hard to see that.

Still, she said in late June, the network was “grateful” for the “interest” the controversy has generated in the network, which is still struggling to get attention. That “interest” consists of more than 4,000 complaints filed with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (more than they’d normally get in total for an entire year), so much that they took the incredible step of asking people to stop sending in complaints because they only need one.

That news prompted another flurry of commentary on Sun News. Brian Lilley and Ezra Levant concluded that CSBC complainers are trying to censor Sun News and trample on their freedom of expression. Mark Bonokoski celebrated the interview as “good television and good journalism.” Later, Quebecor lawyer Tycho Manson even praised Gillis for the “tenacity with which she presented the other side of the debate” as the network said it would not back down from attacks by the CSBC that attack its freedom of speech.

Even though we have the video of the interview, its content is reinterpreted according to bias. According to The Sun’s Peter Worthington, “Erickson was ineffably polite and respectful of Margie Gillis”. For The Star’s Heather Mallick, Erickson was “angry, wired” and Gillis was “seriously nice” and had a “wonderful curtain of hair” I can trust neither of them to give me a proper picture of what happened.

In the end, the CBSC ruled that the interview did not violate the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Code of Ethics because Erickson and Gillis were allowed to present both sides of the argument. The CBSC didn’t concern itself with Erickson’s lack of “courtesy and politeness,” but did say there was no personal attack on Gillis that would have violated the code.

One expert raised the question of whether the CBSC used the right code in adjudicating the case. Marc-François Bernier argued that they should have used the RTDNA code, which applies specifically to broadcast journalism, rather than the CAB code that is for broadcasting as a whole. He believed that the interview may have violated the RTDNA code if not the CAB one.

The issue died out after that, though Erickson’s reputation has been solidified. She was even nominated for a Zapette d’Or by ARTV’s C’est juste de la TV, even though I suspect most of its viewers have never seen Erickson beyond the Gillis video. She lost in the category meant to highlight the worst of television.

Don’t mess with Quebec artists

Sun News raised the ire of Quebec’s lefties again when Erickson took on funding for the Oscar-nominated film Monsieur Lazhar. It was an odd choice, going after one of the most critically successful Quebec films of the year, but for Erickson that was exactly the point. She demanded to know how much the film got in public financing, and when she was told how much, she decided that wasn’t good enough and demanded to know exactly how the producers were funding the film. They wouldn’t say, so Sun News published the phone number and email of the producers and suggested viewers harass them until they gave up their secrets.

Needless to say that got people riled up. Columnists, commentators and bloggers lined up to condemn Erickson’s comments and defend Quebec’s film industry.

La Presse columnist Patrick Lagacé appeared on Paul Houde’s 98.5 FM radio show and called Sun News “babboons” – which naturally provoked a rebuttal from Sun News.

Sun News ratings, as reported by the network itself

Ratings

Let’s be honest here, get some “straight talk” out there: The biggest measure of Sun News Network’s success, certainly by Sun Media’s standards, will be ratings. It’s why it has the snazzy graphics, why it has the pretty news ladies during the day, and why it wants to outrage people and get everyone talking about it. If it’s financially successful and get ad revenue, little else matters.

When it made its first splash, Sun News attracted some very respectable numbers for a digital-only cable network on its first day. 31,000 for Ezra Levant’s show (behind CTV News Channel, but not by much), 51,000 for David Akin’s Daily Brief. But those numbers went way down later in the week as people’s curiosity was satisfied and they were more interested in those “boring” news network than what Sun News had to offer. Sun’s marquee shows were getting fewer than 10,000 viewers, while CBC News Network has 200,000-plus.

The Sun newspapers apparently had access to different facts, showing numbers throughout the week in the 30-50,000 range, regularly beating their competition.

Not having access to raw numbers myself, I can’t tell you which of these is more accurate. But let’s just say the ratings in primetime are in the low five digits, and less than that during the day, overnight and on weekends.

A month and a half into the channel’s life, another set of numbers. The Globe and Mail says their average audience is 12,900, about a third of CTV News Channel and 18% of CBC News Network, but about on par with the Business News Network. (See a comparative infographic here.) Sun Media had the same number for the average over a full week (including overnight hours), but focused on prime time, where it had 25,400 viewers on average and occasionally beat out CTV News Channel, despite having only about two thirds of the subscriber base.

In September, during Jack Layton’s funeral, an embarrassing 8,000 for Sun News, according to Bill Brioux, compared with the other networks (main and specialty) each well into six digits, and City just short of 100,000.

In general, reports suggest that except for major news events, Sun News does about as well as Business News Network, a bit behind CTV News Channel and well behind CBC News Network. But Sun News looks on the bright side, pointing out that it has a much smaller subscriber base because Bell TV and some cable companies don’t make the channel available to subscribers.

Ezra Levant also points out to The Hill Times that, because MTS doesn’t carry Sun News Network, the channel is not available in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where he expects the network will be popular because of Prairies-friendly faces like Charles Adler.

Sun News’s biggest ratings came less than a month ago, when Liberal MP Justin Trudeau and Conservative senator Patrick Brazeau faced each other in the ring. Sun News had secured exclusive rights to live video of the fight (so the other networks – except LCN – couldn’t cover it live even if they wanted to). It managed to attract just over 100,000 viewers, which it says is its biggest audience to date.

In the end, it might not matter if Sun News cares more about subscriptions than advertising revenue. As the Toronto Star points out (in an article that quotes a blog post I wrote in October), most of its revenue will probably come from people who subscribe to the channel (either directly or through a news-themed package), whether they watch it or not. The trick is getting cable and satellite companies not owned by Quebecor to add Sun News to their service and to popular packages.

Related events

Advertising and subscriptions aren’t the only potential sources of revenue for Sun News. It organized a winter retreat in February for fans to spend time with their favourite hosts, for only about a thousand dollars a person. Unfortunately, there was no word from it afterward. No blog posts, news coverage, or highlights aired on Sun News. That led some on the left to wonder if anyone even showed up.

Programming: 100% original

About the biggest thing I can credit Sun News Network with is that its programming is 100% original to the network. It buys no American programs, it carries no programs that are shared with other networks. Everything you see was created for Sun News Network and Sun News Network only. Yes, eight hours of it is overnight repeats, but when so many new specialty channels rely heavily on U.S. programming (many even brand themselves after their U.S. counterparts), it’s nice to see something so originally Canadian, even if I don’t like what it actually says.

Boring

One thing Kory Teneycke said when Sun News launched was that it wasn’t going to be boring. They weren’t going to rely on interviews with talking head university professors. They were going to do something different.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of talking heads on Sun News Network. And some of them are even university professors. There’s a reason the other networks use them so much – they’re smart and many of them articulate their thoughts well.

“We’re taking on smug, condescending, often irrelevant journalism,” he told Canadian Press. But that sounds a lot like Sun News.

If Sun News is really going to be unboring as Teneycke promised, they’re going to have to get away from the six-minute talking head interview that makes up so much of both their daytime and primetime programming. And if they want to take on smug journalism, I don’t think going more smug is going to help.

Critics just as bad

Smugness, sarcasm and name-calling also describe much of the criticism of Sun News Network, and much of that from people who claim to be journalists. You can read some of the reviews linked to above or just read the tweets sent to Ezra Levant, and you see how gratuitously nasty people can be. It’s easy to see how, from their perspective, they’re doing good, challenging conventional wisdom and facing against people who can’t defend their positions without resorting to insults.

It’s human nature to get defensive when people attack you. And it makes sense that if people’s attacks on you are based on seemingly irrational anger and hatred rather than rational disagreement, they’re likely to get dismissed. (Or, in Levant’s case, he makes fun of them.)

I wonder if, instead of criticizing Sun News for its wardrobe choices, critics could have looked at more serious issues of Sun News, and whether those criticisms might have been more helpful had they not seemed so angry and confrontational.

That’s part of the reason I’ve written this post (and why it’s so long). I don’t think non-Sun journalists, for the most part, have given Sun News Network a fair shake. Many people’s opinions are based on what they’ve heard second-hand, or what they’ve determined based on a few minutes or a few hours of watching. Many opinions are based not on whether Sun News is of good quality, but on whether or not the person agrees with what is being said.

What bothers me about Sun News Network isn’t that they are saying things I don’t agree with. My problem is that I want to agree with them, or at least acknowledge their side of the debate, but their smug attitude is preventing me from doing so.

Conclusion

How does one judge something like Sun News Network? To someone from the far right, it’s a breath of fresh air. To someone from the far left, it’s an evil menace out to destroy us. To someone interested in informative political debate, it’s the intellectual equivalent of junk food and adds little to the conversation compared to what it could. And to a journalist who’s interested in objective, fair representation of the truth, it’s an absolute travesty.

When Sun News Network was first announced, I welcomed it because it added something to the broadcasting scene, but I worried that it would be cheaply produced news and that there would be little true original journalism produced. My opinion has changed very little. The network came out about as I expected. I’m not a fan of it journalistically, but it’s better than nothing. And so long as people aren’t forced to pay for it if they don’t want it (something that might be under dispute because of its packaging demands), I say keep it. But I’d like to see some changes.

How to make it better

Quebecor has said it has made a five-year commitment to Sun News Network, so there’s still four to go. There should be plenty of time to turn this into a network that is worthy of being on everyone’s cable plan.

First, make a decision on whether you’re news or opinion. If you’re the latter, fine, then change your name, forget the daytime parts of your schedule and nobody’s going to complain you’re doing bad journalism anymore. If you’re the former, you can keep the opinion, but make sure it’s properly labelled as such, and build a solid wall between commentary and journalism. Don’t describe your commentators as journalists and don’t draw your reporters into being opinionative. Keep your monologues, but either cut out the rest of the show or better yet put on people who will challenge those opinions. Nothing is more boring than having people agree with each other on television, and I’m much more likely to agree with an idea if it stands a true challenge.

Second, assuming you’re going to keep the idea of doing news, invest in some actual original reporting. Have reporters work on stories more than five minutes. Put them on beats.

Third, do some editing. Relying on live programming and talking-head interviews is a crutch, and it’s an insult to your audience. If you don’t have the time to edit things down properly, why should we take the time to watch?

Fourth, try some new forms of programming. Broadcast a documentary. Surely there are conservative-minded documentary filmmakers out there whose work you can air. If not, why not fund one? How about a real debate with an impartial moderator?

Finally, take a chill pill. That saying about attracting more bees with honey than vinegar isn’t just liberal propaganda. End your silly media wars. And rather than mock and insult people who don’t agree with you, challenge them and debate with them. You’re much more likely to change their mind that way, and as a side effect you might even educate some of your viewers.

Despite everything I’ve said above, I think Canada is better off having Sun News Network. But I want it to live up to its potential. And to do that it’s going to have to grow up, fast.

See also

62 thoughts on “An open-minded review of Sun News Network

  1. What's In A Name?

    I know you said it was long but, geez, how many words did you use when just four letters would of covered it? CRAP.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      how many words did you use when just four letters would of covered it? CRAP.

      I think resorting to pointless namecalling would have kind of torpedoed my argument about how they shouldn’t resort to pointless namecalling.

      Reply
      1. What's In A Name?

        Why is it pointless? It’s MY point of view. The network as a whole is crap. I don’t give a … crap about their politics. They are trying to do television. It’s awful TV.

        Reply
    2. Bill Lee

      15,700 words. Whew.

      Almost like analysing rise of a cult movement in 1923 Munich. Tedious and detailed.

      But I suppose in this Mayan Year of 2012, and with Dick Clark dead, we should pay attention to the similar signs of the the End Times. ;-)

      Reply
  2. William

    I had Sun TV on my FIBE package for a month, thought I’d give it a try but it is boring and the production values are cheap. When they have someone in Vancouver with that cheap backdrop, it’s embarrassing.

    It was what I expected. News in the day and opinion at night, pretty much the same as FOX.

    If people want to watch this nonsense, go for it.

    I have no time for it.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      it is boring and the production values are cheap. When they have someone in Vancouver with that cheap backdrop, it’s embarrassing.

      Why is it embarrassing? Why are fancy backdrops important when talking about news?

      Reply
      1. William

        It’s embarrassing because I assume they want to be successful.

        It’s a sign, to me, that Quebecor isn’t going in whole hog or they’d have invested more to make it look professional.

        It doesn’t.

        Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      If people don’t like Sun News, like anything else on TV, just don’t watch it.

      They might still be paying for it even if they don’t want it, but you’re right. Nobody’s putting a gun to anyone’s head.

      Reply
      1. News Guy

        There’s a whole other issue about people being forced to take certain channels on their packages.

        You know, I find the weather channel is constantly force-feeding us a political agenda between weather forecasts (wich are wrong much of the time), but I’m still forced to pay for it on my cable package.

        If we are led to believe that stations survive based on their ratings (except the CBC of course) then Sun News will not be around for much longer.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          If we are led to believe that stations survive based on their ratings (except the CBC of course) then Sun News will not be around for much longer.

          Not all of them. Many channels survive on subscription revenue alone. But for an operation like Sun News that puts a lot into daily programming (at least compared to most specialty channels), it’s probably going to need a lot more audience.

          Reply
        2. Derek Cassoff

          What political agenda is the weather channel force-feeding us between weather forecasts? Is “Chance of flurries in Kapuskasing” loaded with some right-wing (or left-wing) agenda that I’m not aware of?

          Reply
          1. Josh

            I’m going to guess the commenter meant that the Weather Network has some kind of agenda with respect to climate change, one way or the other.

            Reply
          2. News Guy

            The weather network, especially the french one, likes to spend time giving us detailed predictions of what climate change will do 100 years from now. Unfortunately they still fail to provide us with an accurate 5 day forecast. They are also forced upon me through my cable bill. I want the weather, nothing more, but that is too much to ask for I suppose.

            Reply
      2. Jim

        You wrote: ” They might still be paying for it even if they don’t want it, but you’re right. Nobody’s putting a gun to anyone’s head.”

        Well, people who don’t subscribe to the cable or satellite package don’t pay for it. Unlike the far-left CBC where we are all FORCED to pay for it (to the tune of a billion bux a year) with yes, literally a gun to our heads. No? Try not paying your taxes to fund it and see if they don’t put a gun to your head! Oh, and if you want to argue that the CBC is more fair and balanced than Sun? You’d be delusional. Sun is flaunting it’s opinions and proudly bringing attention to them, not hiding them with selective journalism and disguised opinions like the CBC does. So in that sense Sun is by far the most balanced news you’ll ever get, because you know exactly where they are coming from. They don’t hide their bias. They advertize it. The rest of the MSM overwhelmingly supports the far left but they pretend that they are objective. They are lying. Sun is not. That’s the difference. That’s why Sun is much more credible.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          Not hiding one’s bias does not make one balanced. I’m all for honesty and transparency in news, but you can’t argue that Sun isn’t engaging in “selective journalism”.

          Reply
  3. bigcitylib

    Its more awful than you portray it and Levant is evil. More specifically:

    The first lawsuit against them was recently launched by Richard Warman:

    http://bigcitylib.blogspot.ca/2012/03/fox-news-north-gets-sued.html

    Also worth noting is the fact that Uncle Ben’s pulled its advertising in the wake of one of their controversial ads:

    http://bigcitylib.blogspot.ca/2011/12/no-rice-for-ezra-uncle-bens-pulls.html

    Nice to see Ho pulling out as well; his inserts are too classy for Sun TV.

    Reply
  4. Derek S

    A point of additional information: Sun News has been available to Saskatchewan residents since fall 2011. Since November 2011, Sasktel Max carries it as part of their “Knowledge Plus” package (http://www.sasktel.com/personal/max-entertainment-services/max-channels.html#knowledge). In addition, Shaw Direct (which is included in your post), the other cable operator in the province, carries it in Sask. as well.

    Though, how much of an audience Sun News has in Saskatchewan is another question. Unusually for such a relatively C/conservative province, there are no Sun newspapers for the major cities of Saskatoon and Regina (though the Edmonton/Calgary Sun was available at some convenience stores and news stands from what I recall from my time living there). I wonder if there is any correlation between markets with Sun newspapers and Sun News viewership. They frequently advertise each other, so the lack of the cheap dailies in Saskatchewan could be limiting the audience to active conservatives who are more familiar with Sun through social networking. On the other hand, popular talk radio host John Gormley has filled in for Charles Adler on a few occasions, so there was probably some promotion there. Another factor is that the conservative Sask Party provincial government is doing quite well; perhaps there is less interest in Sun News when there is no regional enemy to fight (Adrian Dix in BC, Alison Redford in AB, Dalton McGuinty in ON).

    Anyway, I really enjoyed your comprehensive story. I agree that Sun News has the right to present conservative and controversial viewpoints, and it is the angry tone and blurred lines between fact and opinion that weaken its ability to serve as a reputable news source.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I wonder if there is any correlation between markets with Sun newspapers and Sun News viewership.

      Probably. It’s not just a question of newspaper audience, though. It’s also where their journalists are. Sun News Network has a lot more news about Alberta, B.C. and Ontario than it does about all of the Atlantic provinces, so people in those provinces are more likely to tune in.

      I think it’s good that Sun News is focusing on the west, while other networks have tended to be focused on Ottawa and Toronto and maybe Montreal. But if Sun News really wants to be a “proudly Canadian” network, it needs to put serious efforts in its weaker areas, particularly the part of the country east of Montreal.

      Reply
  5. Karla Sofen

    Having an open mind is laudable. Overcoming confirmation bias and the human tendency of projection is almost impossible.

    A few things I have to take issue with though. Sun News is really run on a shoestring budget. The one out-of context graphic that shows Sun News viewers is a springboard for this point. The actual story where that graphic was used had to do with Sun News actual ratings that were higher than everyone except CBC in spite of not being a must carry station like the competition. The total viewers graphic was to compare the potential viewing audience and how given the obstacle their ratings were a nice accomplishment. The story noted that CBC’s weekly budget is greater than Sun News’ annual budget.

    There really isn’t enough news to do hardcore non-stop new and original newspaper style reporting on their budget. That they create as much original and all Canadian content as they do is remarkable. Also, the audience is not expected to continually watch. People pop in and out and the repetition is planned and unavoidable. Just looking at the wardrobe of the on-air personalities, it’s obvious they budget nothing here and have no clothing sponsors as competitors do. They were the same things in rotation over and over. But that’s the nature of a startup like this. I obviously watch too much because I noticed.

    The issue with Margie Gillis doesn’t mention the “complaints” were manufactured and not actual viewers who saw the program and complained. The reporter was cleared and no on except Sun reported that.

    The CBC emails where an executive suggested solving the Ezra Levant problem were not as you assert “jokingly” made. Those emails were leaked by a CBC insider. You should not have casually dismissed that story. Levant made his point.

    Fox News looked a lot like this and had similar cheesy backgrounds and commercials when they first started up. I watched it on C-Band satellite Galaxy 7 when it was unencrypted. They built a personality family structure over time at Fox and Sun will be doing the same. I’d opine that the on-air personalities that departed just didn’t get their contracts renewed because someone felt the “family” demographic needed juggling. The humanity of the on-air people comes across clearly in their Twitter posts. The two most “human” Sun News people are Caryn Lieberman and Gina Phillips. Those two are never going to be let go. Their true personality is something people want to be around and identify with. Alex Pierson interrupts so often she can’t possibly be listening so I wonder how long they’ll put up with that in this little family unit.

    Bottom line it’s low budget. As success comes this will change. I believe that Canada has been exposed exclusively to liberal ideology for too long. Most of the criticism Sun News is Ad Hominem. I don’t see much if any legitimate criticism here as much as I see the aforementioned projection and confirmation bias. You’re surprised there are no defamation lawsuits? What defamatory broadcast have they made that they got away with? You say they call people names and insult people who disagree with them? Where are the in-context examples of this? Your blog post about your personal appearance is demonstrative. Most of the criticism of your experience is immaterial. You got most of your points across that you wanted. Your interview was not edited out of context and you agreed with Ezra Levant’s point. However, most of your blog entry was about petty things that come with the territory and gives the reader a very negative impression in spite of the actual news issue covered and what was said and the issue.

    If any of your views were changed or affected, that’s being open-minded. But in a year of exposure Sun News has had no effect? Is that really proof you are open-minded?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Sun News is really run on a shoestring budget.

      Clearly. And while I take that into consideration, and give them credit for it, viewers won’t care much what a channel’s budget is. If it gives them what they want, they’ll watch. If it doesn’t, they won’t. The free market isn’t very considerate.

      Sun News actual ratings that were higher than everyone except CBC in spite of not being a must carry station like the competition.

      Various numbers have come out about Sun News’s ratings. In general, they show that Sun News is on par with Business News Network, behind CTV News Channel and well behind CBC News Network. There are obviously various reasons for this, with poor penetration and young age being at the top of that list. But even with being available on most cable and satellite systems now, their ratings are about the same. I could be wrong about this (I don’t have access to figures on how many people subscribe, how many want to subscribe and how many have it available to subscribe), but I suspect Sun News has found most of its target audience already, and its ratings won’t go up much further (they haven’t changed much since the channel launched). If they can make it work with an average audience of between 20,000 and 60,000 during prime time, then they can probably survive.

      There really isn’t enough news to do hardcore non-stop new and original newspaper style reporting on their budget.

      Sure there is. There’s plenty of news out there. And while I understand that during a particular 24-hour news cycle stories will be repeated, I find Sun News will keep on stories for days or even weeks, complaining that other media are ignoring it.

      The issue with Margie Gillis doesn’t mention the “complaints” were manufactured and not actual viewers who saw the program and complained. The reporter was cleared and no on except Sun reported that.

      I have no evidence the complaints were “manufactured”, by which I assume you mean not genuine. I agree that most of the people who complained about the interview did not see it live, and many people who complained publicly had never seen Sun News. But I don’t see the complaints to the CBSC as being somehow illegitimate, and neither did they.

      As for nobody reporting on Erickson being “cleared”, there were stories by Canadian Press, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and Postmedia News.

      This incorrect perception that other media are ignoring stories is part of the problem. Sun News describes many stories as if other media are hiding them, when in fact they’re being reported elsewhere too.

      The CBC emails where an executive suggested solving the Ezra Levant problem were not as you assert “jokingly” made.

      What do you base this statement on? I agree it’s up to interpretation, but in context I don’t see how it could be seen as a serious order to offer Levant a job.

      The two most “human” Sun News people are Caryn Lieberman and Gina Phillips.

      I’m not in a position to judge relative humanity but I agree that Lieberman and Phillips come through well online. I wish their personalities came through a bit more on the air. That might just be a question of familiarity and comfort in their positions.

      You’re surprised there are no defamation lawsuits? What defamatory broadcast have they made that they got away with?

      I can’t point to anything I can declare is definitely defamation. But there have been many nasty personal attacks whose relationship with the truth is tenuous at best. CBC president Hubert Lacroix, for example, has been called everything from a fraudster to a thug.

      Most of the criticism of your experience is immaterial. You got most of your points across that you wanted. Your interview was not edited out of context and you agreed with Ezra Levant’s point.

      In general, yes, though Levant simply invented out of nothing the idea that the organization I was talking about was some secret society. Otherwise I have no serious qualms about the interview and am not judging Sun News negatively as a result of it.

      If any of your views were changed or affected, that’s being open-minded. But in a year of exposure Sun News has had no effect? Is that really proof you are open-minded?

      I’m not saying it had no effect. But my main worries were unfortunately justified. Having watched it for a year now I have little memory of my preconceptions about the network to compare with how it actually turned out. But I’m not out here to prove I’m open-minded. If people don’t trust what I say about the network, they can watch it themselves and come to their own conclusions.

      Reply
  6. Greg

    I’ve lived in the US for a few years so I’ve missed out on the wonders of Sun News so far. But I really enjoyed your review. And I laughed when Ms Erickson revealed the big scoop about Jack Layton’s happy ending while she was wearing that cleavage revealing outfit along with the pearl necklace.

    Reply
  7. Far Right?

    Sun News is indeed a breath of fresh air, if only because it is the only alternative to the rampant left-wing and anti-Conservative (both small and big C) bias in mainstream media, which you are either blind to or seem to be attempting to downplay in this otherwise very thorough analysis. Yes, Sun can be depressingly annoying. Yes, it’s cheap, and it’s not a place where you can tune in and get actual news. But it’s not CTV, it’s not CBC, and (for me at least in Quebec) it’s not the decidedly left-wing Radio-Canada, and that should count for something. The consistent contempt and double standards the mainstream media shows vs. anything remotely connected to the right is why I end up watching Ezra Levant and actually enjoying it, knowing full well half of what he says is crazy. I take issue with your characterization of people who like the network as far right types.

    That said, I’m surprised you left out their extremely obnoxious – and franky, embarassing – coverage of the Trudeau-Brazeau fight, especially the 2-3 hours prior to the actual fight, which was about a lot of silly things except Trudeau-Brazeau or the cure for cancer. It sure didn’t do them any favour.

    Thanks again for a very thorough article.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      it is the only alternative to the rampant left-wing and anti-Conservative (both small and big C) bias in mainstream media, which you are either blind to or seem to be attempting to downplay in this otherwise very thorough analysis

      I think Sun News exaggerates this bias. I don’t disagree that journalism tends to be a bit left-wing (media owners and editorialists, meanwhile, tend to be right-wing). But some Sun personalities like to pretend that there’s some secret plot working against them, or that the sole reason journalists are tough on the federal government is because they’re secretly working for the Liberals or NDP.

      More importantly, countering this supposed bias with overt bias on the opposite side is counter-productive. People are being pushed farther to the left, and many are demanding the CBC “fight back” and “take the gloves off” against Sun Media. So long as this continues to march toward a war, everyone loses.

      But it’s not CTV, it’s not CBC, and (for me at least in Quebec) it’s not the decidedly left-wing Radio-Canada, and that should count for something.

      It does. Even discounting political biases, it’s nice to have a new entry into the marketplace, to add to the diversity of media voices.

      The consistent contempt and double standards the mainstream media shows vs. anything remotely connected to the right…

      You’re going to have to provide me with some examples of this to get me to agree with you. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but that’s a pretty serious charge to make.

      I take issue with your characterization of people who like the network as far right types.

      I’m open to being convinced otherwise, but I just don’t understand why anyone who’s not a right-wing political junkie would be interested in this network.

      That said, I’m surprised you left out their extremely obnoxious – and franky, embarassing – coverage of the Trudeau-Brazeau fight, especially the 2-3 hours prior to the actual fight, which was about a lot of silly things except Trudeau-Brazeau or the cure for cancer. It sure didn’t do them any favour.

      The Trudeau-Brazeau fight coverage didn’t really stand out for me, except for the fact that suddenly there was original programming on a weekend evening. It was clear in the weeks leading up to the fight that Sun News was milking this for all it was worth, trying to drum up its ratings. The actual coverage of the fight seemed the usual fare, though I found it interesting how they were clearly pulling for Brazeau, to the point of convincing themselves that Brazeau was a shoo-in to win the fight. Perhaps the most entertaining part of the evening was watching Ezra Levant eating crow.

      Reply
    2. Kevin

      The consistent contempt and double standards the mainstream media shows vs. anything remotely connected to the right is why I end up watching Ezra Levant and actually enjoying it, knowing full well half of what he says is crazy. I take issue with your characterization of people who like the network as far right types.

      You mean like when almost every mainstream newspaper in the country came out in support of the Conservative party last year?

      Reply
  8. Jay

    Overall not a bad review. Very detailed, balanced and you clearly show your bias. Nothing wrong with that especially as too often a left leaning bias is somehow shown as middle of the road.
    Couple of points:
    All the media outlets are reluctant to release ratings. I understand they have to pay to access this but no one is trumpeting good or bad. I would think that all the haters would love to say how bad Suns ratings are. Alternatively, I would expect Sun to be crowing about the high ratings. My only take away is that they are acceptably good for Sun and just unacceptably good enough from the competitors POV.

    Here in BC, Telus does not carry Sun. I watch very many clips on the internet. They dropped their streaming video a few months in citing bandwidth costs.

    They do mix things up. They have broken stories that the rest have not touched. Laytons rub and tug for example.

    I am glad to see an alternative. The left does not see what conservative do. Day in, day out. Whether that is willful blindness, myopia or distortion of the truth, this is what some conservatives want. Nice to actually have it.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      All the media outlets are reluctant to release ratings.

      They’re reluctant to release ratings when the ratings aren’t good. When Sun News does well, it publicizes that. There was one point (I think it was a Friday) that Sun News did better than CTV News Channel, and it wrote a story about that. The story about the Trudeau-Brazeau fight pointed out that it was seen by just over 100,000 viewers, and that that was a record for the channel.

      Reply
  9. Karla Sofen

    Ideas and different points of view are important. Sun News accomplishments in a year:

    1. Ezra Levant – He’s the star of the network. An excellent writer as his monologues and books have proven. His star will rise even higher.

    2. Ethical Oil – The Sun News network has framed the issue persuasively: Canada Good, Dictators Bad. Support Canada. No one else reported that a single Chinese coal plant produced more CO2 than every Canadian oilsands project combined or how coal plants in the USA dwarf Canada’s tiny CO2 emissions by comparison. This kind of story and coverage changes the way people think.

    3. No right to self-defence in Canada. Driving those stories into the ground IS making a point. These laws need changing and probably will be as a result of the coverage.

    4. The “Human Rights” commission absurdities. You don’t have “human right” not to be offended. Sun News is literally single-handedly responsible for the repeal of Section 13 about to become law. Levant’s “Shakedown” book has been the subject of many Sun News segments.

    5. The true nature of Islam. The story was originally about Muslim women wearing a full head to toe covering Nijab with facemask to a citizenship swearing in ceremony. The Federal government had a few employees posing as new citizens and never told Sun News about it. Media reported that Sun News broadcast staged Citizenship ceremony, manufacturing controversy even though Sun News was the one that reported they’d been duped. The story about covering your face during swearing in was lost — but the law was changed and you can’t wear a mask at your swearing in any more. Numerous stories about Islam never seen on other networks. The coverage can’t help but change minds and attitudes. Guest like Robert Spencer and Pam Gellar are persuasive and never appear in mainstream media in Canada. Their coverage of the Shafia trial alone is changing minds and informing people about the true nature of Islam and the consequences of multiculturalism.

    6. Omar Khadr – Levant’s book and TV show has exposed the complete and total lack of journalism in Canadian media in covering this story. This is beyond any possible dispute. Love him or hate him Ezra has the evidence and could not possibly be saying the things he says on air without it. Had ALL the media been true journalists, much could have different. The failure in keeping Khadr out does not detract from the points Levant has made as is making. Khadr’s return CAN be blamed on the lack of proper journalism in Canada.

    7 CBC – the state broadcaster. Sun News annual budget is less that the one week budget for the CBC. Coverage of how CBC dismisses freedom of information requests to conceal spending of tax dollars. Coverage of CBC buying off critics by purchasing lucrative advertising only from those who refrain from criticism. Sun News coverage changed CBCs ad policy and forced them to buy ads from Sun Media. It didn’t change competitors attitudes about criticizing them. Sun News’ story was about why is the taxpayer funding interpretive dance. Media framed issue as personal attack on Maggie Gillis. Many big stories criticizing Sun Media. When reporter was cleared in spite of organized complaint campaign, retractions came only in bits AFTER Sun reported other media ignored story. (See links in Fagstein’s reply to my previous comments). The retractions were no where near the prominence and depth of the original trashing of Sun Media and none admitted being wrong or misleading.

    This year the CBC got a budget cut, only Sun made the point that it was a tiny fraction of the huge budget increase they’d got the year before. Future governments are not going to be easy on CBC waste and excess – because of Sun scrutiny.

    8. The Sun Fight. Without the relentless ridicule of Justin Trudeau, Trudeau would have never had the opportunity to show what kind of man he was. I was impressed not only with Trudeau’s training ethic, but his graciousness in victory. Even with his opponent humiliated and at his mercy while Trudeau held the hair cutting scissors – when Trudeau just cut a few wisps of hair and said the bet was settled, it convinced me that Trudeau was indeed his father’s son and not his mamma’s boy. What a gesture. The killer instinct and a quality of mercy. He is going to be a leader someday. Maybe Sun is responsible for this too. The ratings and charity funds raised are gravy for Sun. I don’t see how Levant could possibly ridicule Trudeau again.

    9. Keystone XL pipeline and Northern Gateway pipeline. While other media were afraid to tell the environmentalists they had no clothes, Sun News pointed out how the pipelines will eventually bring in 17 trillion into the Canadian economy and deny 9 billion a day to brutal dictators. They reported how Canadian competitors were “donating” to First Nations and and US environmental groups were funding protests and giving out charitable receipts and even how Iran was trying to influence First Nations protests. The story became a major election issue in the US presidential election and still is. The CRA is auditing charities that are disguised political organizations.

    10. Election coverage in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Only Sun News covered extensively the Saskatchewan elections. The most prosperous province in Canada is the result of an upstart Saskatchewan Party. It seems like an incredible news event, yet it’s literally dismissed as ho-hum and meaningless elsewhere. Sun News is way ahead of the curve here. Sun News coverage is, I suspect, almost completely responsible for what is happening in Alberta’s elections now. Another upstart conservative movement is about to unseat a party that squandered Alberta’s multi-billion dollar surplus. Why isn’t that a big story elsewhere. CBC had hockey instead of the leadership debate. Can’t blame them too much there. Ottawa Senators in Stanley Cup playoffs and CBC had already dropped millions for the TV rights. But does that excuse all the other Canadian news outlets?

    —-

    I know that you take down these comments, and come up with your responses before anyone even gets a chance to read the comments. So, while you are doing this, give us the links to stories that CBC or CTV news originated that are changing the way people think about Canada, or got laws changed and/or framed issues in a new way in the same manner Sun News has done in a year on a shoestring budget? A single blogger, Vivian Krause has done more real journalism from her home than the major media in Canada is doing. The only way to combat ideas is with other ideas. Sun News has ideas and IS making a difference – EVEN IF THEY HAVE LOW RATINGS. What kind of influence on the County will they have when they are the top rated news station? I think it will happen. This is the beginning of a new and more prosperous Canada. It’s all about perspective. Sun News is just shining a light on a different perspective. All the insults and ridicule in the world can’t change that.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      You list a lot of opinions and views that Sun News personalities have. And I agree that these views should be made public. Conventional wisdom should be challenged. But my point is that the attitude that is being taken, which is very controversial to the point of mocking the opposition, is failing miserably to convince people to switch to their side. If Sun News is making political changes, it is doing so only for conservative governments by drumming up their base.

      5. I’m not sure what attitude you think people should take concerning Islam. Or why that attitude shouldn’t be taken concerning Christianity or Judaism. Sun News hosts rightly point out that all of Christianity should not be blamed for the actions of a few who claim to represent it, and yet that is exactly what it’s trying to do when it comes to Islam.

      When reporter was cleared in spite of organized complaint campaign, retractions came only in bits AFTER Sun reported other media ignored story.

      Did any news outlet get something major factually wrong about this interview? That’s hard to believe considering the interview was online. Just because the network wasn’t deemed in violation of the CAB ethics code does not mean that media aren’t allowed to criticize it. I don’t remember seeing any “retractions” in regard to this story.

      This year the CBC got a budget cut, only Sun made the point that it was a tiny fraction of the huge budget increase they’d got the year before.

      Do you have a link to this? It’s odd because I can find no mention anywhere of a budget increase, let alone a major one, given to the CBC in the 2011-12 fiscal year. The CBC annual reports seem to back this up, showing the parliamentary appropriation being between $1.0 billion and $1.1 billion consistently over the past few years (it’s hard to pin down exactly because different accounting methods result in different numbers, and I can’t find a good list on the government’s budget website).

      10. I do give Sun News credit for reporting nationally on regional elections. CTV and CBC have been carrying them too, but tend to restrict them locally. There doesn’t seem to be much purpose in airing an Alberta leaders’ debate in Quebec, for example. And while I agree with that in terms of the conventional television stations, I think CTV News Channel and CBC News Network can make more of an effort to carry such events live nationally, for those expats and others who might be interested in events from other regions.

      The only way to combat ideas is with other ideas. Sun News has ideas and IS making a difference – EVEN IF THEY HAVE LOW RATINGS.

      The problem with this conclusion is that it’s hard to give credit to Sun News for things that are covered as much in the Sun newspapers as on the air. Even the monologues given by the Sun News hosts tend to appear in their weekly columns. So when people react to what happens, are they reacting to Sun News Network, or to the Toronto/Calgary/Edmonton Sun?

      Sun News is just shining a light on a different perspective.

      Unfortunately it’s also giving that perspective a reputation that is turning many people off. While I have seen some pandering by conservative governments as a result of Sun Media’s focus on certain issues, I haven’t seen too many people change their minds on anything important as a result of watching Sun News Network.

      Reply
      1. JP

        At the same time as the elections in Man and Sask; there were also elections in PEI and Newfoundland. Sun News completely ignored them.

        Guess they only think people west of Quebec matter.

        Reply
      2. Karla Sofen

        So all the news outlets are reporting about China coal plants and CO2 from coal in the US? Section 13 isn’t being repealed? Immigrants can still wear a full body and face covering at citizenship ceremonies? Rival media routinely report on CBC expenditures? Rival media didn’t report the Shafia murders as ordinary “domestic violence”? Self-defence laws would be changed anyway? Islam is being reported objectively by the other media? You’re saying it really is the religion of peace? They don’t subjugate women? The competition oil doesn’t come from dictatorships? They don’t execute gays? They don’t kill children who learned something other than Sharia law? Canada isn’t bending over backward not to offend them at the expense of our own culture? The Omar Khadr case wasn’t a total failure of Canadian journalism? Other media would have exposed environmental “charities” and David Suzuki and got the CRA a budget to do something about it? The elections in Saskatchewan and their success in the economy isn’t national news? The Alberta election isn’t a national story either? The 17 trillion in Canadian resources isn’t important? All the other media have accomplished paradigm shifts of this nature with their popular, slick high-budget presentations?

        The media is saturated with views opposing those of Sun News. What has been accomplished that can compare to my list? Who are the big Canada media stars that are stimulating thought and ideas? Me thinks they all do protest too much.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          So all the news outlets are reporting about China coal plants and CO2 from coal in the US?

          Yes. The media has, I think, made people aware that coal exists and that people are using it for power.

          Rival media didn’t report the Shafia murders as ordinary “domestic violence”?

          I think “honour killings” was the most common term used to describe the case.

          Islam is being reported objectively by the other media? You’re saying it really is the religion of peace? They don’t subjugate women?

          I wouldn’t describe Islam as the religion of peace anymore than I would describe Christianity that way. As for the subjugation of women (and the other things you mention), it really depends on what you mean by “they”. More than 20% of the Earth’s population is Muslim, so you’re going to have to narrow it down.

          Other media would have exposed environmental “charities” and David Suzuki and got the CRA a budget to do something about it?

          I have no reason to believe they necessarily would or wouldn’t. But news outlets have been critical of charities’ use of funds.

          The elections in Saskatchewan and their success in the economy isn’t national news?

          Provincial elections are definitely news, and the media is covering them (in the case of CBC and CTV, through their local stations in those provinces). The economy is also news, though not breaking news so much.

          I don’t want to suggest that Sun News isn’t bringing interesting issues to the forefront, and you list a few of them. But its influence is limited to those people who already agree with it. Perhaps that’s enough for its purposes, but I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to society.

          Reply
          1. Karla Sofen

            It is of interest to society to think about solving problems differently instead of trying the same old failed policies. I am from Saskatchewan originally and it was pathetic how things were run most of my adult life. To see the Saskatchewan Party take over and solve problems and create a budget surplus with basic, small C conservatism is inspiring. No unemployment there and home sales skyrocketing and now with the discovery of oilsands across the Province and new discoveries of conventional oil there too, they absolutely will be as big or bigger than Alberta’s someday. By publicizing the success of Alberta and Saskatchewan (have provinces) where conservatism exists, and the failure of liberalism in Ontario and Quebec from an economic sense they will change the County because more and more people will see the mistakes and how conservatism addresses the issues.

            As far as the issue of Islam and multi-culturalism – I’m shocked that you missed the coverage of one of their biggest and most important stories in Canada. How could you have missed the saturation coverage of the Shafia trial with dozens of examples from other media rationalizing the murders as ordinary domestic violence and saying it happens in all cultures not just Islam. Where were you when the criminologists pointed out domestic violence is spontaneous and committed by a single actor wheras honour killings are a planned conspiracy by family members motivated by religious beliefs? How can anyone still believe there is a moral equivalency between Christianity and Islam as you seem to state in your reply to me? Hardly open minded. You missed a major issue Sun News hammers home at every opportunity with daily examples. Other media are still rationalizing it as you seem to be. It’s really sad. You have missed the big picture in spite of your comprehensive review of Sun News.

            And there was no media in Canada except Sun News that talked specifically about one specific coal plant in China that produces more CO2 that all the oilsands projects in Canada combined. There was no other coverage in Canada that compared the CO2 output of coal fired electricity plants in the US dwarfing Canada by hundreds of magnitude in emissions. They aren’t saying that. Coals existence and people using it for power is not the issue when the perspective is omitted.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              By publicizing the success of Alberta and Saskatchewan (have provinces) where conservatism exists

              I’m not sure how conservatism relates to the existence of oil in these provinces.

              How could you have missed the saturation coverage of the Shafia trial with dozens of examples from other media rationalizing the murders as ordinary domestic violence

              I don’t recall any media referring to the Shafia murders as “ordinary” or rationalizing them. There was plenty of discussion over whether they should be considered “honour killings” or just plain murder. Most seem to agree with the latter.

              I’m not suggesting that religion didn’t play a role in the Shafia murders. But it’s not like Muslims in Canada are routinely murdering female members of their families.

              Where were you when the criminologists pointed out domestic violence is spontaneous and committed by a single actor

              I define “domestic violence” as violence committed on a member of one’s family. I find this fits that definition regardless of whether it fits the stereotype.

              How can anyone still believe there is a moral equivalency between Christianity and Islam as you seem to state in your reply to me? Hardly open minded.

              The problem with making judgments on religions – particularly large ones – is that there are so many different sects, different denominations, different interpretations of their texts that a general statement about the whole thing is meaningless. Do we just tabulate the death count and divide that by the population? Do we just count deaths that seem religiously motivated? Do we not count political killings?

              It’s easy to say Islam is evil and Christianity is good, but the world is a lot more complicated than that.

              And there was no media in Canada except Sun News that talked specifically about one specific coal plant in China that produces more CO2 that all the oilsands projects in Canada combined.

              This isn’t exactly breaking news. It’s a very interesting point, and good for Sun News for bringing it up. But pollution by China and by coal isn’t exactly an issue everyone has been ignoring.

              Reply
              1. Jim

                Karla Sofen here just completely destroyed all your arguments. Bravo Karla. It’s amazing to watch you leftists squirm when you are hit solid in the face with facts that you have to either ignore or lie about to make your case.

                Oh, and don’t come back to me here and say you’re not a leftist. Your bias is most obvious and if you say you are an objective journalist then you just do all the more to prove Karla and Sun as being bang on in nailing you folks.

      3. Jay

        It almost doesn’t matter who they turn off. There is a big contingent of people that will not watch it. Period.
        There is an audience that has not been served and has been crying out for what Sun has to offer. If Sun follows through on the 4-5 year commitment it shall be interesting to see what the viewership is then. Their reach is not full yet, most people do not even know they exist.

        The Fox News north comparison really is applicable. Incredible ratings that took years to build up to yet they dominate all their cable competition. Hated by the left yet consistently beat all cable news every hour, every day. Oreilly beat NBC dinner news a night or two lately. Hate them if you want but this is the model that worked south of us.

        Recent resignation of David Suzuki, the reorganization of Forest Ethics, upcoming reviews of so-called charitable organizations and the sidelining of the Nation Energy Board. These are all things driven by Sun. They have changed minds because of policy changes, resignations and reorganizations.

        Reply
        1. Karla Sofen

          I’d forgotten a few of those issues Jay, you’re right. Another issue I was just reminded of was their coverage of the “Canada’s Most Wanted” list. While CBC didn’t want to presume the guilt of people convicted of crimes in court by publishing their names, Sun went full tilt on it and they are clearing out the whole list pretty much. Previously, it was just a list that wasn’t published by the media or acted on by law enforcement unless a person fell into their lap.

          Reply
    2. Brian Mouland

      Those who do not like Sun Tv have two choices do not watch it or take it off your cable package sadly Canadians cannot take advantage of the latter alternative when it comes to the CBC

      Reply
      1. Fagstein Post author

        Those who do not like Sun Tv have two choices do not watch it or take it off your cable package

        Not all Canadians have the choice of selecting which individual channels are part of their packages. Even Videotron, the king of à la carte channel selection, puts Sun News in its popular Anglo package.

        Reply
  10. Karla Sofen

    I just have to chime in with one more comment to challenge Mr. Fagstein’s open-mindedness. In your last reply to me, you said regarding the economic success of Alberta and Saskatchewan, “I’m not sure how conservatism relates to the existence of oil in these provinces.” You’ve missed a key point in the Sun News coverage of the issue.

    It is no mere opinion that the now in power Alberta PCs squandered a multi-billion dollar budget surplus and created a multi-billion dollar dept. The difference: liberalism. The PC abandoned conservatism and implemented liberal policies. It has been disastrous. This is why Wildrose is going to take the government back. Alberta is conservative.

    Saskatchewan had almost as much in the way of oil resources, potash, wheat – they were in budget deficit in spite of it while NDP’s and liberalism ruled the roost for generations. The province was a dump, no jobs, a fly-over province, housing were worthless even in the hottest markets – no one wanted to move there and the population just aged and declined. Once the Saskatchewan party emerged and introduced conservatism — BOOM. The economy exploded there in spite of the worldwide economic crisis. No unemploymenr, budget surplus, smoking hot property values, business wants to relocate there because of the conservative policies – Saskatchewan is now the model for the nation. It was conservatism. The oil was there all the time. Liberals squandered and mismanaged it and the provinces crashed. Conservative policies were the only difference.

    I realize you just don’t get it or don’t agree, but this is no mere opinion. The success of conservative policies is a fact.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I just have to chime in with one more comment to challenge Mr. Fagstein’s open-mindedness.

      Please feel free to chime in as many times as you want. I like having my opinions challenged, and you’re doing a pretty good job. It’s not like there’s a word limit on the Internet.

      It is no mere opinion that the now in power Alberta PCs squandered a multi-billion dollar budget surplus and created a multi-billion dollar dept. The difference: liberalism. The PC abandoned conservatism and implemented liberal policies. It has been disastrous. This is why Wildrose is going to take the government back. Alberta is conservative.

      Wait, so is Alberta a success of conservatism, or a failure of liberalism? Or both?

      I’m not an expert on the relative economic policies of Canada’s provinces. But I would point out that New Brunswick and Newfoundland/Labrador have conservative governments (albeit progressive-conservative centre-right parties). Are those performing significantly better than Nova Scotia and PEI in a way that can be attributed solely to conservative policies? I don’t know if it’s that clear.

      But like I said, I’m not an expert. I’ll let someone else argue conservative vs. liberal policies. I’m just reviewing a cable news channel.

      Reply
      1. Karla Sofen

        Let’s say you could go back in time and buy Suncor stock in 1980. A $5000 investment would be worth many millions today. With the election results in Alberta, the left has out maneuvered the right politically ( Ezra’s analysis here: http://www.sunnewsnetwork.ca/video/featured/news/868018287001/roses-roots-not-deep-enough/1582227358001/page/2 )

        What I get from the election is that there is a golden opportunity to invest in Saskatchewan resource development as if you were investing in Suncor in 1980. Alberta was politically conservative, but consolidation of liberalism is going to drag them down. Rise of conservatism in Saskatchewan is a real opportunity. I probably would not have realized it without Ezra and John Robson’s breakdown.

        How many millionaires will Sun News create?

        Reply
    1. David Grant

      David Atkin is still on Sun News, but Charles Adler is not. There are some newer faces on the network, but not much has changed. I adree with Steve that David is the only one I would consider a journalist, but his anaylsis of politics isn’t that different from Power and Politics or any of the show on the other networks. I also notice that they no programming in the weekends except for re-runs of the opinion shows and a program called Canada in the Rough. I suppose it is better than MSNBC showing prison reality shows, but there is still little of substance. I hate to say but after 3 years, Sun News hasn’t offered any news. The good news is that I doubt that it will change the culture the way Fox News has done, but the bad news is there is a lot of disinformation out there by Sun News(particularly about climate change)that is damaging to the political culture.

      Reply
  11. jason

    Obviously the guy above didn’t read the review, he just wants denounce anyone that doesn’t agree with him.

    I have heard some of the videos of Sun News, mostly with Cohen. One report particulary drew my attention. He claimed that an interview done by CNN with the brother of the leader of al~queda was done after the attacks on the US embassy when in fact it was aired a week before (i watched it when it first aired on Wolf Blitzer). This kind of deliberate misreporting is something that needs to be reported to the canadian authorities.

    Besides the fact that they are highly opinionated and don’ t report much news, I think the program be looked to see whether or not they are lying to their viewers, I believe they can be fined for such things.

    Reply
  12. Jason F

    What we need in Canada isn’t a network that gets people all riled up and tries to convince the to vote left or right, what we need in Canada is a network that will provide REAL information so that people can make informed decisions and see through all the political mumbo jumbo that all politicians spin. Even shows that are opinion are still designed to get your vote and convince you that the other side is stupid or out of touch.

    The PEW institute found that people that watch Fox are less informed about current events than people that don’t consume any news media (at least not actively) and those that watch MSNBC didn’t do much better and while I know this is in the US, the same applies to Canada. The real news is often times dumbed down from both sides in an effort to get votes one way or another.

    We need someone to provide valuable information to the public. For example, the Congressional Research Center in the US has poven that trickle down economics doesn’t work, this is a major jab to the right, but instead of admitting that someting doesn’t work, they tried to cover up the findings and keep pushing their economic platform, unfortunately, at the expense of the US economy. Yet if you look at Fox, trickle down economics is the ONLY viable option and anything else is socialist garbage. The same holds true to every political party, not just the right.

    If people are well informed we can bury a problem and move forward but this isn’t happening. We are increasingly divided over things that have one clear answer; is climate change happening? The right says no but the left (and NASA) says yes. Does Canada have a gun probem? With such a low violent crime ratio, probably not. We need to realistically face the problems, find the best solutions for them and keep going if we are to succeed in he next century because if not, we will just keep playing blaming eachother for everything and calling eachother names and while it may be entertaining to watch on SUN media, it doesn’t actually get us anywhere.

    Reply
  13. Nadine Lumley

    T.V. News = big fat joke

    But it has become impossible for most citizens in these corporate states to find out what is happening in the centers of power. Television news celebrities dutifully present two opposing sides to every issue, although each side is usually lying. The viewer can believe whatever he or she wants to believe.

    Nothing is actually elucidated or explained.

    The sound bites by Republicans or Democrats, the Liberals or the Conservatives, are accepted at face value. And once the television lights are turned off, the politicians go back to the business of serving business.

    http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/96/chris-hedges-revolution-in-america.html

    Reply
  14. David Grant

    Good article Steve. I think that you are the only person who seems to like him, because I live in Calgary and everyone I know who knew Ezra or had any dealings with him don’t have any nice things to say about him(and they are pretty conservative). When it comes to Sun News Network, I have seen many clips as well as the programs live and it is exactedly what I thought it would be. The Sun is a pretty crappy paper and so likewise, the network is a pretty crappy network. There is very little news and the commentary is very tilted to the right. I don’t think it provides anything that I couldn’t read in the Post, the Globe, or the local TV networks. While the CBC is bloated with a top heavy administration and has been struggling with his its identity, it is still the closed network to the most balanced news that you can find. It is also a network whose boss is PQ member and a committed separatist, something we don’t hear much from the folks at Sun News. The one thing that warms my heart is that the ratings suck, but I suspect it will go on for a long time until PKP decides to stop funding it.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      To be clear, Pierre Karl Péladeau has voting control over Sun News Network’s parent company. He does not, however, manage Quebecor Media.

      Reply
  15. David Grant

    Thanks for the clarification on Mr. Peladeau’s position in Sun News. Since PKP has entered the National Assembly, Brian Mulroney has taken his position. I think that you are right Steve about David Akin. From the few times I have watched his show, he does try to be a fair minded journalist and the examples show this. I laugh about the promo film on the evils of wind power, which they had to cloud source to get. I won’t be fortunate enough to see as I will travelling to France in June, but I doubt it will inform the public on the dangers of wind power. The clip brings out the discredited claim that wind power creates all kinds of health problems but yet no credible peer-reviewed health source is referenced. What bothers me as someone from the West, is that Sun News(and a lot of the media)don’t reflect the views of myself who don’t align with the conservative ideology. The same can be said of the Anglophone and Francophone population.

    Reply
  16. Bill

    I was just looking at an interactive thingy on the G&M where they ask you to pick the biggest name in Canadian Broadcasting. Much to my surprise, Ezra Levant was number one.

    I know this review is a few years old but do you have any current data on SUN’s ratings…the last I saw were about 16k for any given minute.

    Cheers

    Reply
  17. David Grant

    I would like to know, too, what the most current ratings are as well. I can guess that they aren’t much better than when this article was written. If you want a really funny Google comedian Scott Vrooman and Sun News Network. In six minutes, Scott in a Colbertesque character, made a fool of Adrienne Batra and the ideology of Sun News. The video was pulled off Sun News’ website, but Scott made a video on it. I think people should watch it along with the BBC, CBC, Al Jazeera and other news network one can find. Read these sources and think about what they are saying. I use my IPod 5 when I watch the news to test the factual accuracy. People should try to talk back to the media when they encounter biases and inaccuracies they see.

    Reply
  18. Jim

    The facts that everyone wants to ignore is the following:

    Fact: SNN proudly admits their conservative bias. They proudly proclaim it every day.
    The rest of the media, especially the radical hard leftist CBC claims perfect objectivity, yet they are all solid and hard left.

    Anyone who thinks the CBC (who is dependent on government funding and union donations like PRAVDA of the former soviet union) is objective, needs to re-assert themselves into the world of reality, as the CBC is every bit as “objective” as any other state run news source…. Always in favour of the forced funding of their operation. Only government can do that.

    Wake up people!

    Reply
  19. David Grant

    The fact is that there is still no news on Sun News and it is claims that the other networks are biased. The fact is that no one is unbiased, but I think being accurate is still possible, and there isn’t a lot there that I can see. The CBC has produced programs like the Fifth Estate and showcased documentaries that are quite informative. It has produced programs like Quirks and Quarks, Ideas, and many classical music programs. It helped me to broaden my taste of music. When Sun News can produce a journalist as good as the late Knowlton Nash, I will take them seriously.

    Reply

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