Credits: MICHAEL PEAKE/TORONTO SUN/QMI AGENCY
The Sun News Network believes in free enterprise, just like Sun Media newspapers do. But unlike the newspaper business, the TV business isn’t based on free enterprise.
In fact, it’s one of the Canadian industries most regulated by the government.
Everything from what channels are allowed on TV, to how much they charge cable companies each month, to the channel placement on the TV dial, is regulated by a government agency called the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC.
And the dominant TV station in the country, the CBC, is owned by the government. They receive an annual grant of $1.1 billion.
And that’s in addition to the billions of dollars in real estate and equipment that they have acquired over time.
Stop to think what the newspaper business would look like under that system: A massive government newspaper, with dozens of offices across the country, with subsidized printing and home delivery.
And if you wanted to start up a competitor, you’d have to ask the government for permission, and even to be seen on newsstands.
That’s why no Canadian entrepreneurs have ever started up a free-market all-news TV station.
In 1997, CTV launched an all-news channel. But of course it would have been economically suicidal to compete with the CBC’s channels.
So the CRTC granted CTV’s news channel “mandatory carriage” — it was ordered onto every cable package in the country, and a hidden fee was tacked on to your monthly bill, too.
That’s the thing with a massive government presence in the news media: Unless you root it out, the only way to get competition is with more government presence, in the form of CRTC orders.
Two years ago, the Sun News Network debuted without those government favours. We did not get a CRTC order putting us on your TV set, nor did we get a monthly fee.
We were the one free- market Canadian all-news channel in a heavily regulated industry, where some of our customers — the cable companies — were also our competitors.
How did it work out? To this day, the Sun News Network is only available in 40% of homes, and viewers often must go through an onerous process of specially calling in for it.
Placement on the dial? We’re on channel one million. Actually that would be nice — we’re on a half dozen different channel numbers, even on the same cable company. Try marketing that.
The principled solution here, of course, is the free market — to end the $1.1 billion annual bailout to the CBC, and all the other favours the CRTC grants to channels, like mandatory carriage and mandatory fees.
But that’s not happening, even under this Conservative government.
The Sun wants TV freedom. That’s an editorial belief, but it’s not a business reality.
So, do we pack it in? Or do we play by the same rules as the industry — and apply for the same licence that the other all-news channels got when they launched, and that 21 other companies are currently applying for now?
The answer is obvious, if we believe that more voices are needed in Canadian media, a diversity of voices.
I suppose, there will always be other TV choices in Canada — like Al Jazeera English, which is easier to get on Canadian cable than we are.
And then there’s RT — Russia Today. The first is owned by the dictator of the OPEC country, Qatar.
The second is controlled by the Kremlin. Those governments can compete with the CBC’s subsidy. But real Canadian companies can’t, without a CRTC licence.
Do you think there should be more choice on Canadian TV?
That the Sun should have a level playing field with the other channels with mandatory carriage?
Do you think the same rules should apply to all Canadian news channels?
If so, let the CRTC know. Visit CanadianTvFirst.ca and add your name to the list of Sun supporters.