All posts tagged Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Sun Media – not its squalid commentator Ezra Levant – is the problem

Ezra Levant, on the job with his Sun News microphone. Mr. Levant is not the problem. Sun Media is the problem. Below: Justin Trudeau, Bernie Farber, and Brian Mulroney.

Ezra Levant is a squalid nuisance, barely worth contemplating.

Sun Media is the problem.

On Monday, Sun Media apologized for Mr. Levant’s repellent and sexually obsessive hysterics about Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s parents, one dead and the other an elderly grandmother and thus neither in a position to defend themselves.

This only happened, of course, because Mr. Trudeau threatened no longer to talk to legitimate Sun Media journalists, of which we have been repeatedly assured there are a few, after Mr. Levant’s Sept. 23 rant, and because former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney intervened in his current role as a member of the board of Quebecor, which owns Sun Media.

Within seconds of the apology being read by an anonymous narrator, Mr. Levant’s smug visage was back on the air and, not long after that, in the pages of the local edition of Sun Media’s newspaper here in Edmonton. No apologies from him, thank you very much.

In other words, thanks to his enablers at Sun Media, Mr. Levant has gotten away with it again, just as he got away with his sinister racist screed about an entire people, the Roma, his false statements about George Soros, his reference to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council as “idiots” and “censors” for mildly ruling that he really shouldn’t tell people he disagrees with to “f**k your mother” on the air.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’m compelled to inform readers that Mr. Levant has called me personally “a snitch,” “a weasel,” “a bully” (presumably for daring to criticize Sun Media), a person who unprofessionally sneaked union propaganda into Calgary Herald news stories, a “union boss” – if only it were true! – and a big chicken for refusing to appear on his program. Plus the Spanish obscenity translated above, of course.

As an aside, it’s interesting to note in light of this that when the shoe was on the other foot, and the self-described free-speech advocate was being criticized for his Roma commentary, he did not respond to my three requests for his comments about the situation.

As far as I am aware, only in the case of the hate-filled monologue about the Roma – when according to Rabble’s Karl Nerenberg charges were seriously considered under Article 319 of the Criminal Code for public incitement and willful promotion of hatred – did Mr. Levant himself apologize.

So we can count on it that Mr. Levant will make inappropriate comments again – and again, and again – and that each time Sun Media will say, sorry, so sorry, it’ll never happen again … all the while tacitly encouraging Mr. Levant to continue.

In other words, it’s Sun Media that gives Mr. Levant a multi-media platform for hate, obscenity, hectoring abuse and bullying. It’s Sun Media that allows him to play unsupervised on national television. It’s Sun Media that defends his excesses. It’s Sun Media that apologizes for them – usually with enough qualifiers to render the apology meaningless. So it’s Sun Media that ought to be held responsible for what he does.

Sun Media’s defences of Mr. Levant can be quite elaborate. In 2012, Sun News Network Vice-President Kory Teneycke publicly defended Mr. Levant’s noxious rant about the Roma. The former member of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s political praetorian guard barricaded himself inside Sun Media’s “message box” while doing his best to sound contrite about Mr. Levant’s savage commentary.

Mr. Teneycke refused to acknowledge the patently racist overtones of Mr. Levant’s sinister remarks and suggested they were merely meant to be satirical. Anyone who heard the original nine-minute episode of Mr. Levant’s program knows this explanation is so preposterous that Mr. Teneycke himself may have been engaging in satire.

Thankfully, other respected public figures, like Bernie M. Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, treated Mr. Levant’s appalling remarks with the gravity they deserved.

Unfortunately, though, readers will be hard pressed to confirm any of this now, since Sun Media seems to have washed all copies of Mr. Levant’s poison down the corporate Memory Hole. A recording placed on Youtube.com by a third party was removed “due to a copyright claim by Sun News Network.”

And even Sun Media didn’t bother apologizing in 2011 when Mr. Levant dressed up in an orange wig and mocked the death from cancer of NDP leader Jack Layton.

Why would Sun Media encourage this kind of behaviour by its commentator?

I can only speculate, of course, not being privy to their strategies. But it seems reasonable to conclude Sun Media fully endorses Mr. Levant’s messages, even when they disavow particular examples like his rant about the Roma and now the attack on Pierre and Margaret Trudeau. Surely, at least until Mr. Mulroney stepped in, Sun Media also supported the attacks on the elder Trudeaus as a way to get at their son.

Finally, presumably Sun Media underwrites Mr. Levant’s efforts to debase public discourse for the same reason as does Prime Minister Harper’s Conservative Party, which is closely allied to Sun Media: because it is an effective voting suppression tactic that helps keep the Conservatives in power.

So don’t expect Mr. Levant to act any differently, or Sun Media to do anything more about it except issue meaningless apologies, as dictated by circumstances, in future.

This may be good enough for Mr. Trudeau – whose spokesperson said yesterday, no doubt with a sense of relief, that the Liberal leader would talk to Sun Media reporters again.

It ought not to be good enough for anyone else. Sun Media is the problem.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

CRTC ruling notwithstanding, Sun News and its campaign for subsidies will continue

Sun News Network gets ready to take Phase II of its campaign for subsidies on the road. Actual action plans by the right-wing broadcaster in light of the CRTC’s denial Wednesday of free cash from consumers and a favourable location on the TV tuner may not turn out to be exactly as illustrated. Below: Sun TV VP Kory Teneycke, commentator Ezra Levant.

Canadians troubled by the loony right Sun News Network’s tireless campaign for “mandatory carriage” on cable TV and the forced subsidies from consumers that would have gone with it are entitled to feel some satisfaction at this week’s ruling by the federal broadcast regulator denying Sun TV’s demands.

But opponents of Sun’s style of gutter broadcasting should not assume the ruling Thursday by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is the end of the network’s campaign to bury its snout in the public trough.

Don’t imagine for a moment that without cash from mandatory carriage Sun News Network is going away, as Vice-President Kory Teneycke and other network officials repeatedly promised during their campaign to bully the CRTC into supporting Sun’s bid to dip into cable-subscribers’ pockets, or that their demands for a more favourable ruling are likely to slacken even momentarily.

No sooner had the CRTC’s decision been announced than Sun News unblushingly changed its story, vowing to continue its fight for subsidies and a better position on the tuner for its dogmatic ideological bias, dubious facts and at-times hateful commentary.

In a story in yesterday’s Edmonton Sun headlined “Sun News battles on,” the parliamentary bureau reporter for the self-described “plucky, upstart news channel” and its newspaper arm noted that the CRTC’s decision “lays out a proposal for a new category of licenses for Canadian all-news channels” that may solve SNN’s problem with the flaccid market for market-fundamentalist bromides and hateful on-air rants.

“We intend to participate fully in those proceedings and will continue to operate pending an outcome,” said Mr. Teneycke, who by no coincidence was once Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s communications director.

In this regard, the defiance of the network and its parent, Quebecor Inc., may very well be justified.

Elsewhere in the same edition of the paper, commentator Michael Coren proclaimed, “the Sun shines on” – or, at any rate, it is said here, to adopt the American vernacular, the Sun will continue to shine you on.

Mr. Coren adopted the whining tone typical of thwarted ideologues in such circumstances, claiming the network called “Fox News North” by supporters and opponents alike is a spunky little challenger of the political and economic establishment it in fact represents, and that it speaks for tens of thousands of people it in reality does not, including many Christians.

It would be fair to say Mr. Coren was engaging in habitual behaviour when he used the article to equate the views of all Christians with his particular take on Christianity. His appears to be a branch of the religion that has devalued to base metal the Golden Rule prescribed by Jesus when he said, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”

But then, this is a rhetorical technique not so different from that of all Sun News commentators when they claim their angry and tiresome screeds are somehow equivalent to the efforts of the CBC!

Still, Mr. Coren was right when he stated that Sun News and its incessant demands for favourable rulings from the Government of Canada are not going to go away.

With all thus brouhaha, it’s important to note ample funding has been available and likely remains available for the network – from the same sources that finance Canada’s vast network of market-fundamentalist think tanks, Astro-Turf groups and institutionalized laundries for corporate political donations.

Indeed, it seems likely that at the main goal of Sun News Network’s campaign was not so much the paltry $17 million the network claims to be losing and that mandatory carriage would have replenished, as the favourable and accessible place on the TV tuner it would have given the network’s offerings.

So it is said here this fight was as much about encouraging larger numbers of Canadians to stumble upon Sun’s broadcasts – and, perchance, to believe them – as it was about cash.

So, for a little longer, Sun News commentators like Ezra Levant will have to work a harder to reach and retain their audience.

Speaking of Mr. Levant, it is interesting to speculate on how much his unsavoury and occasionally sinister rants, like his racist diatribe against the Roma people in September 2012 or his obscenity-laden attacks on a corporate executive who failed to toe his line on bitumen exports, may have hurt his employer’s application.

Mr. Teneycke has publicly defended Mr. Levant’s notorious rant about the Roma, barricading himself inside Sun’s “message box” while doing his best to sound contrite about it. In an interview last March, he refused to acknowledge the patently racist intentions of Mr. Levant’s remarks while suggesting they were merely meant to be satirical!

As noted here at the time, anyone who heard the original nine-minute episode of Mr. Levant’s program would find this explanation hard to square with what was actually said. Unfortunately, readers will be hard pressed to confirm that now, since Sun News long ago washed all copies of Mr. Levant’s screed down the corporate Memory Hole and a recording placed on Youtube.com by a third party was removed “due to a copyright claim by Sun News Network.”

It is probably impossible to know how much, or even if, Mr. Levant’s exertions hurt the Sun News Network application. It seems self-evident, however, that they can’t have helped it very much.

Regardless, as we have seen, the network’s efforts to win a better platform for his on-air propaganda are not likely to abate, and citizens who accept such Canadian values as fairness, tolerance and decency will have little choice but to remain on guard.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Evil twins: Alberta Progressive Conservatives assail Wildrosers, and vice versa

This is not a photograph of Alberta Premier Alison Redford and Alberta Opposition Leader Danielle Smith. For one thing, these two are far too friendly with one another. But you get the point I’m trying to make, I’m sure. Below: The real Ms. Redford and the real Ms. Smith.

I’ll admit I laughed out loud when I read in the Calgary Herald that Alberta Premier Alison Redford had accused her far-right opposition, the Wildrose Party, of being an organization ready to break any rule to win.

Not that I doubt Ms. Redford for a moment on this one, which she delivered in a speech Friday night at the start of her Progressive Conservative Party’s policy conference in Edmonton. Indeed, I reckon she pretty much nailed it as far as the Wildrose Party and Opposition Leader Danielle Smith are concerned.

The Wildrosers are, after all, the Alberta home office of the lyin’, cheatin’, vote-suppressin’, Senate packin’ federal Wildrose Party down in Ottawa that’s headed by Prime Minister Stephen “Calgary Steve” Harper. And the ties between the Calgary Gang in the national capital and Wildrosers back here on the western edge of the Great Plains are well understood by all and Sundre (Alberta joke, that) to be extremely cozy.

So it was pretty hard to argue with Ms. Redford when she took note of the $90,000 fine levied by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission against the Wildrose Party for an improperly identified robo-call just before the 2012 provincial election and suggested between the lines Ms. Smith’s party must have known they were breaking the rules when they broke them.

The company that made the robo-calls for the Wildrose Party, evocatively, was the same Edmonton firm used by the mysterious Pierre Poutine to direct voters identified by Conservative campaign callers as supporters of other parties in numerous ridings to the wrong polling stations or polling stations that didn’t exist.

It’s just that the party Ms. Redford leads is one that, you know, is also ready to break pretty well any old rule to win pretty well any old fight!

Ms. Redford’s PCs were, after all, the conservative party that saw nothing wrong with drug store bazillionaire Daryl Katz’s $430,000 donation, which magically turned out to comply with the province’s maximum $30,000 donation law after an investigation by Elections Alberta. (See, it was actually several donations, just rolled into a single cheque for convenience sake.)

Nor were the PCs concerned about generous insider shares once sold to another PC premier’s wife, or the high cost back in the day of undocumented verbal advice to a minister’s political aide who was nevertheless later rewarded by being made the party’s executive director under Premier Redford.

Nor, for that matter, were they seemingly troubled by the possibly illegal use in 2011 of the PC Party’s own membership list to help a polling firm conduct a survey that just happened to vault a certain leadership candidate into the premier’s job. You know, the leak that prompted the stinging rebuke by the party president, who vowed to launch an investigation to get to the bottom of whom the leaker was, a promise that was forgotten as soon as Ms. Redford emerged victorious.

And all that’s without even raising the topic of public service labour relations!

Anyway, you get the picture.

Meanwhile, one has to give Ms. Redford credit for keeping the $90,000 CRTC fine on the agenda longer than it was thought here that she could, and indeed for managing to up the ante a little.

The premier challenged the Wildrose to release the details of the CRTC’s ruling – which was communicated to the party by the national broadcast regulator but not published, and only revealed by Edmonton Global TV News – instead of trying to pass it off as a mere administrative penalty.

This, the Wildrose Party refused to do, at least over the weekend, giving the Tories a credible reason to keep the issue on the front burner for a little longer.

The tone of the weekend policy conference – notwithstanding a few hundred protesters in the rain outside on Saturday – suggests any actual internal party opposition to the premier in advance of next fall’s leadership review is subsiding.

So instead of trying to appear as hard-edged as the Wildrosers to woo back Tory turncoats, Ms. Redford seemed to be returning to last year’s efforts to paint her party as less extreme on economic and social issues than Ms. Smith’s version of Alberta conservatism.

“We know that the Opposition will redouble their efforts to deny who they really are in the months ahead,” Ms. Redford told the Tory policy conference. “And I fully expect them once again to sweep some of their extreme policies under the rug, and to pretend to be something that they’re not. But they’ll only succeed in exposing their own hypocrisy.”

And who can doubt Ms. Redford’s parallel assertion that “we see every day, and we certainly saw today in the news, political parties that are prepared to get involved in tactics that undermine the political process.”

Count on it that everyone at her party’s policy conference understood that through this none-too-subtle reference to the federal vote-suppression court judgment last week she was connecting the dots from the vote suppression tactics used by Mr. Harper’s federal party, to the prime minister himself, to his close friends in the Wildrose Party back here in Alberta, to that party’s own robo-call woes.

What she didn’t say, of course, is that while most Wildrose members are also federal Conservatives, so are a similar percentage of her own party’s members.

In other words, if you want to put an end to these kinds of shenanigans, you’re probably not going to achieve that goal by voting for either of these two conservative parties. Just saying.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Wildrose deftly defuses robo-call crisis while federal Cons suffer Scotch verdict

Members of the Wildrose Party try out their new robo-calling technology, which should avoid future problems with the CRTC. Right-wing Alberta politicians may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Wildrose Party Executive Committee President David Yager.

You don’t have to agree with Alberta’s right-wing Wildrose Party to admire the skill with which it stick-handled yesterday’s revelation it had been fined $90,000 by the federal broadcast regulator for a series of improperly identified robo-calls made to voters during the 2012 election campaign.

Compared to the federal Conservative Party’s blundering response to its various recent troubles, it seems mildly astonishing the two parties are essentially the provincial and federal branches of the same organization.

Slapped with the significant fine by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Wildrose Party officials responded deftly.

When the CRTC decision was reported by Global TV, party officials fessed up immediately, then followed with an immediate, contrite and seemingly sincere admission they were wrong and a promise never to do it again. They’d already paid their fine by the time the matter was in the news and that was the end of it. There will be no appeal.

Party leaders left the embarrassing admission to David Yager, president of the party’s executive committee, instead of Opposition Leader Danielle Smith.

The tone and speed with which the matter was handled was pitch perfect. Under the circumstances, the party’s claim it didn’t realize it was breaking the rules will sound quite believable to voters. As a consequence, the whole potentially embarrassing business will likely fall off the radar within 48 hours.

Given the size of the fine and the Canadian right’s issues with regulators like the CRTC, the temptation must have been strong in Wildrose circles to make a fight out of the dispute – but someone obviously made a cool-headed assessment of the facts and realized that would only prolong and magnify the agony.

This contrasts dramatically with the federal Cons’ ham-handed handling of the continuing Duffygate Senate expense scandal and the coincidental court ruling yesterday in the election fraud case stemming from the last federal vote in May 2011 – a case less that coincidentally involved Rack 9, the same Edmonton robo-call company that made the Wildrose calls.

In fairness, there’s a significant difference in gravity between the Wildrose Party’s failure to identify itself as the source of partisan robo calls and the outright electoral fraud in which targeted Liberal supporters were misdirected to incorrect or imaginary polling stations by callers pretending to be from Elections Canada.

Still, if the federal Conservatives had adopted a similar strategy, contritely admitted they had done wrong, paid the party’s debt to society and perhaps tossed in a few extra “overenthusiastic” low-level flunkies to accompany party operative Michael Sona under the bus, the whole affair could have been forgotten by now.

But Prime Minister Harper is almost pathologically incapable of admitting error. His party tried to block the proper investigation at every turn.

Now, in a classic “Scotch Verdict,” the judge in the federal case appears to have let the Conservatives off the hook because, despite powerful circumstantial evidence, the facts were well enough hidden to make it difficult to tie the well-established fraudulent activities to the only party in a position to benefit from them.

According to the Globe and Mail, this result clears Mr. Harper’s Conservatives, Tory candidates and two telemarketing companies of wrongdoing. However, the political reality is quite different. The case is merely “not proven,” while the odour of corruption will stick to Mr. Harper’s party like a miasma.

Moreover, federal Tory pain is bound continue, since the Council of Canadians will now likely take its demand for election results in six ridings to be overturned to the Supreme Court of Canada. Win or lose before the Supremes, the Council’s case will continue to bedevil the Harperites.

Given the ways they dealt with these superficially similar cases, you’d almost think the Harper Conservatives in Ottawa were the farm team, and the Wildrose Party in backcountry Alberta were the pros!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Sorry for anti-Roma rant? As It Happens interviewer demolishes Sun News VP

CBC interviewer Carol Off, photo grabbed from the Internet. Below: Kory Teneycke, Ezra Levant.

If you think Sun News Network is bad now, just wait until they’ve got their ruling from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that their broadcasts must be carried on basic cable television and paid for by cable subscribers.

Any listener could infer they’ll be much worse after listening yesterday evening to CBC interviewer Carol Off demolish Sun News Network Vice-President Kory Teneycke’s slippery attempt to defend the far-right network’s commentator Ezra Levant for his racist diatribe against the Roma people six months ago.

In a short segment on the CBC’s As It Happens radio program last night, Mr. Teneycke, a former communications director for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, remained determinedly barricaded inside his “message box,” doing his best to sound contrite while refusing to acknowledge the patently racist intentions of Mr. Levant’s remarks on the Sept. 5, 2012, episode of his regular Sun News program.

“I don’t believe his intent was racist,” Mr. Teneycke insisted at one point in response to Ms. Off’s persistent questioning, which could serve as a textbook example of the now mostly forgotten art of how to conduct an interview with an evasive subject. “I don’t think his intent was spreading hatred.”

Indeed, Mr. Teneycke suggested at one point, Mr. Levant’s rant was just misunderstood … it was merely meant to be entertaining and satirical, even if it didn’t quite make the grade in that regard.

And why did Mr. Levant himself wait six months, Ms. Off wondered, to apologize for his remarks? Really, Mr. Teneycke seemed to suggest, the network’s sly apology in September 2012 ought to have been enough.

As has been noted in this space, it was hard to take that apology very seriously when it stated, “it was not the intent of Sun News, or anyone employed by Sun News, to promote negative stereotypes about the Roma people.” Excuse me!

“Why didn’t you fire him?” Ms. Off persisted, noting, “I would have been fired for saying that.”

Ah, Mr. Teneycke responded, but he knows Mr. Levant. “There’s no hatred in his heart.”

Anyone who heard the original nine-minute episode of The Source back in September would find this explanation very hard to square with what was actually said by the well-known commentator. Unfortunately, readers will be hard pressed to confirm that now, since Sun News as washed all copies of Mr. Levant’s vicious screed down the corporate Memory Hole and a recording placed on Youtube.com by a third party has been removed “due to a copyright claim by Sun News Network.”

Ms. Off’s interview left listeners with the inevitable conclusion that the timing of Sun News Network’s pleas to the CRTC for must-carry instead of optional status for its broadcasts on basic cable service – and the $18 million or so in consumer subsidies that would flow to it each year as a consequence is what is driving the network’s untypical and convenient remorse.

Not having that money, Mr. Teneycke claimed, poses an “existential threat” to the survival of Sun News – a bit of a stretch to anyone who understands the economics of the broadcast industry in Canada.

Still, the timing of Sun News’s CRTC application and the market fundamentalist network’s desire to get its snout deep into the public trough is no doubt part of the story. Its application is scheduled to be heard by the CRTC in less than a month, on April 23.

But other commentators on the Internet, like Rabble’s Karl Nerenberg, have made a persuasive case that Mr. Levant came very close to being charged with hate speech by the Metro Toronto Police Service and was saved only by highly unusual political interference with the police investigation by senior officials of the Ontario government.

Now that would have looked really bad for the network’s shredded credibility!

The Ontario officials, wrote Nerenberg, were “deterred by Levant’s well-known reputation for being a loud-mouthed bully, and didn’t want the Ontario government getting into a public spitting match with Sun News’ professional ranter. So Levant, ironically, was saved by his own notoriety and unsavory reputation.”

The Toronto Star’s Haroon Siddiqui reports that staff of Toronto’s Roma Community Centre were told by police “they found more than enough evidence to charge Levant under the Criminal Code, and the Crown attorney agreed.” Detectives said they’d never before encountered a decision to reject charges in such circumstances.

This is why, of course, Mr. Teneycke’s previous employment in the Prime Minister’s Office is important, as is the warm and prominent reception received by Mr. Levant at the recent Manning Centre conference on conservative big ideas – which one hopes do not include encouraging organized attacks on identifiable cultural groups.

As Mr. Nerenberg wrote, “despite his near-buffoon status, Levant is still capable of striking politically-motivated fear in the hearts of senior decision makers.”

Well, we all know from experience how bullies operate.

If the Sun News Network and Mr. Levant are now rewarded for their glib and evasive apologies – which parsed carefully were only for causing offence, not for the offence caused – they will be further empowered.

If there are no consequences for their actions because they have friends in high places, their behaviour will grow more extreme.

This is just the way bullies are. So if you think Sun News Network is bad now, count on it they’ll be much worse if the CRTC forces cable subscribers to subsidize their activities.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

With no market for hate and right-wing drivel, Sun News comes cap in hand for public subsidy

More gruel, sir? The face of Sun News Network that Sun News Network would like you to see as they beg for public subsidies. Below: The real face of Sun News Network.

Sun News Network, that fearless foe of state subsidies for the CBC, wants you, Dear Television Viewer, to directly subsidize it to the tune of $18 million a year.

Have no doubt, that’s just the beginning, but it would nicely cover losses the company says now amount to a modest $17 million a year – hardly a corporate killer, one would think, but apparently enough to get Sun News queuing up at the public trough.

It turns out, as others have discovered before them (Ted Byfield, c’mon down!) that there’s not much of a market in Canada for the kind of market fundamentalist pap Sun News peddles – at least when consumers have the choice not to pay for it.

There’s even less of a market, by the sound of it, for the filthy language and outright hate-mongering indulged in by some of the network’s so-called commentators.

Given the opportunity to choose to watch Sun TV, viewers run away in droves. And who can blame them with boring drivel like Ezra Levant’s regular venomous rants about the Roma, Idle No More protesters, Hispanic business executives, environmentalists and anyone else who provokes his ill-managed anger to fill the seemingly interminable 24-hour broadcast day?

Now the so-called news channel, which disseminates anything but news, has gone with its grubby cap in hand to one of Mr. Levant’s targets, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, to beg for the right to inject its poison directly into almost every Canadian home because it desperately needs the wholesale revenue that would then automatically flow back into its coffers.

To put this in broadcast-speak, Sun News and its separatist bosses at Quebecor Inc. want the CRTC to grant it “mandatory carriage,” which means you can’t keep it off your TV dial because it would be included in basic cable coverage everywhere in Canada. That way, I guess, it’ll be easier for them to campaign against opposition parties led by committed federalists from Quebec, of which there will soon be two.

In the normal course of events, a broadcast regulatory agency like the CRTC is the sort of group that would provoke one of Mr. Levant’s trademark jeremiads, complete with accusations it is staffed by civil servants itching to help out “union bosses” by “censoring” his harangues.

But for the moment, Mr. Levant and the chorus of right-wing hysterics employed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s semi-official and ideologically approved state broadcaster are silent on the topic of the CRTC while they direct their supplications to it for a flow of public subsidies to be directed their way.

You see, Sun News Network is going deeper into the hole every day, with erstwhile Harper Government spokesthingy Kory Teneycke, now a vice-president of his former boss’s favourite network, pleading that opening the money tap “is live or die for us.”

For its part, the company claims it has market research that shows viewers would watch its programs if only they knew where to find them. But this is highly suspect, since cable companies push packages that include the network and viewers aren’t biting.

The fact is, if you wish, you can get a well-run focus group to endorse a ham sandwich for prime minister – which, come to think of it, is pretty much what Sun News Network spends its days doing right now to the minuscule audience of angry white gun-owning males and zitty-faced Internet trolls it has managed to attract so far.

The subsidy Sun News Network is seeking now would add up to about $4 a year from all cable subscribers to directly subsidize hate and propaganda, but you can count on it that, in the manner of all their ilk, the corporation will soon be back at the well for more.

So tell me, with Sun News imploring a federal agency for a quick infusion of cash from hard-pressed taxpayers, granted in the form of a bogus “user fee,” where’s the always noisy Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation? They’re like the proverbial cop, I guess, never around when you actually need them.

Regardless, according to the Globe and Mail, Sun News faces “stiff odds” in this effort, seeing as there are lots of other more credible and creditable broadcasters vying for the 10 channels that must be carried by all cable companies.

But Harper cronies and sympathizers are now deeply embedded in key positions at the CRTC and it has a proven track record of backing down and running away from confrontation with Sun News, as when the broadcast regulator hastily dropped its investigation of Mr. Levant’s on-air obscenities last fall after the network issued a vague and insincere apology.

Given all that, I don’t think we can count on the CRTC not to agree to put the Tory back into regulatory.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Sun News Network apologizes … sort of … while the CRTC runs and the CBSC surrenders

Intrepid CRTC investigator looks into Sun News Network’s on-air obscenities. Agents of the Canadian broadcast regulator may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: Sun News commentator Ezra Levant; Bernie M. Farber.

Canada’s broadcast regulator has dropped its investigation of foul-mouthed commentator Ezra Levant’s obscene on-air language last June after Sun News Network issued a vague apology a few days ago.

The door was opened to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s retreat from doing its job when the industry-run Canadian Broadcast Standards Council quietly shelved its objections to investigating complaints about Mr. Levant’s obscenity-laced June 13 commentary. According to the CRTC, the CBSC changed its mind because of the Sun News Network “apology” that was aired with little fanfare on Sept. 17.

Back on June 13, the CBSC issued a ruling condemning Mr. Levant for his use of the Spanish phrase “chinga to madre,” which is normally translated as “f**k your mother,” during a broadcast criticizing someone the broadcaster had taken a dislike to in December 2011. The CBSC ruling was made in response to complaints by several citizens, including the author of this blog.

The same day, Mr. Levant broadcast another episode of his program on the issue, in which he repeated the phrase numerous times, directing it at the four volunteer CBSC panelists who ruled against him, as well as Yours Truly – the only complainant willing to publicly identify himself.

Mr. Levant also referred to the CBSC panel members in that broadcast as “idiots,” “stupid,” “a group of nobodies,” a “secretive group of censors,” “a kangaroo court,” “busybodies, know-it-alls and snoops,” and “arrogant little bureaucrats.”

Interlaced among all this childish insult and profanity was a statement on the ruling that Sun News Network was required as a voluntary member of the CBSC to read on the air.

When new complaints were filed with the self-regulating industry-run CBSC about that broadcast, however, the voluntary body kicked them over to the CRTC on the grounds “the comments in question are about the CBSC and identified individuals who volunteer as our Panel members.” The CBSC said in a letter to me at the time that it found itself to be in a conflict of interest and was therefore not in a position to deal with complaints arising from the June 13 broadcast.

Since then, it appears the CRTC has done little investigating. Behind the scenes, I am guessing, the broadcast regulator’s board, which includes Conservative government appointees, was searching for a way to ditch any meaningfully official investigation of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s favoured broadcaster as quickly as possible.

Whatever the reason, according to correspondence sent to me by the CRTC on Sept. 26, the CRTC found that as a result of Sun News Network’s Sept. 17 “apology,” the CBSC was now willing to take the investigation off its hands.

The Sun News apology, which according to the CRTC was read on the air, says in part: “Earlier this summer and last spring, our program The Source broadcast several episodes in which the Spanish phrase ‘Chinga tu madre’ was used. … Sun News and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council received many complaints about our use of the phrase, which has a well-known vulgar meaning. We have listened to those complaints. We understand and accept that it was inappropriate to air that phrase at that time of day and without a viewer warning about vulgar content that might be offensive to some viewers. Sun News does not accept any restriction on our right to use sharp or hard-hitting language as part of our editorial commentary… .” (Emphasis added.)

From this, it is fair to conclude that Sun News Network admits to doing no wrong in its statements about the CSBC volunteer panel members, reserves the right to use such language in the future, asserts its right to ignore regulations that apply to other broadcasters, and disdains the authority of any body that attempts to regulate the use of the public airwaves.

Moreover, the statement contains the implication common to many half-hearted political apologies that the words complained of would only be offensive to some viewers, presumably not the kind of red-blooded Tim Horton’s drinkers who obsessively watch Sun News.

The semi-official state broadcaster’s only concession? They won’t do it again in prime time … without a caution, anyway.

This statement seems to have been reported only by a cable TV industry on-line newsletter, where the entire apology may be read. Complainants – this one, anyway – were not informed of Sun News Network’s plan to make a statement.

It is difficult to see how this apology solves the CBSC’s former problem with its perception of a conflict of interest, since the Sun News statement does not mention the volunteer CSBC panel members, whom Mr. Levant in effect accused of representing their employers in order to harm Sun News Network, let alone apologize to them for that outrageous inference.

Nevertheless, the CRTC said in its letter to me: “We now understand that Sun News Network has acknowledged to the CBSC the inappropriateness of the language used in several episodes of the program The Source broadcast last spring and earlier this summer and read an apology on air on Sept. 17, 2012, and that the CBSC is satisfied with the apology. Therefore, in the view of the Commission, this matter has been addressed by the CBSC with its member as is appropriate and this is not a situation in which the Commission would involve itself. Accordingly, your complaint is being returned to the CBSC for the CBSC to address.” (Emphasis added.)

As noted, it is not at all clear from this letter how the Sun News statement addresses the CBSC’s concerns. Nor is it clear what the CBSC intends to do next – strike a panel to address the complaints about the June 13 broadcast or merely drop the matter.

Meanwhile, Sun News Network concedes no ground on an additional complaint made by me about Mr. Levant’s use of multiple photos of me taken from Internet sources, including this blog and my Facebook page, in a broadcast attacking me for making my original complaint.

While I share Mr. Levant’s conviction that my views are of value to his viewers, I inferred a message of intimidation in Sun News Network’s combination of numerous photos with abusive commentary, as well as its publication of private correspondence from me to the CBSC and CRTC. It is reasonable to conclude that this was intended to have the effect of discouraging other Canadians from using the CBSC’s complaints process about Sun News.

In a July 16 letter to the CRTC, Sun News parent Quebecor Media’s senior corporate affairs vice-president responded that its use of photos and disparagement of my complaint correspondence, which had been forwarded to Sun News by the CRTC, was reasonable because I had publicly identified myself as a complainant.

“Under the circumstances, in naming the complainant in the June 13 broadcast, Sun News was simply commenting on matters that the complainant himself had already made public to a wide audience,” wrote J. Serge Sasseville, who also at that time was still arguing the other complaints about Mr. Levant’s use of the Spanish obscenity should be rejected. The letter also makes it clear that Sun News feels it is entirely justified in complying with a CBSC ruling in a manner that mocked and insulted the CBSC as long as the required words are actually read aloud. Click here to read the entire letter.

For his part, Mr. Levant has moved on to attacking an entire cultural and linguistic group in an on-air screed that the former head of the Canadian Jewish Congress called “contemptible,” “hateful” and “shocking and offensive.”

Bernie M. Farber, writing with others in the National Post, observed of Mr. Levant’s Sept. 5 commentary on the Roma people, “the Jewish community understands where such hate can lead.” Sun News Network has since removed Mr. Levant’s Sept. 5 commentary from its on-line video archive.

Mr. Levant did not respond to my queries about his Sept. 5 broadcast.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Question for regulators: Can Sun News Network be trusted to keep inconvenient agreements?

Promises, promises: It’s not a musical, and it’s not funny. What confidence can Canadian broadcast regulators have that Sun News Network will abide by the agreements it makes? Below: Broadcaster Ezra Levant.

Whatever one may think of the value of obscenity to public discourse, the debate over the use on the air of an obscene Spanish phrase by Sun News Network commentator Ezra Levant established an unrelated but important fact about the broadcaster that employs him.

Sun News Network cannot be depended on to keep all its agreements.

This is an important consideration for Canadian broadcast regulators because Sun News Network is sure to be back at the well seeking improvements, extensions and changes to its licence.

As is normally the case in such matters, as the steward of a resource owned by all Canadians, the Canadian government or its agency the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission may ask Sun News Network for certain undertakings in return for the privileges it wishes granted. This is, after all, the nature of negotiating an agreement.

But as we can clearly see from Sun News Network’s pivotal role in the “Chinga Tu Madre Affair” – which is about more than merely a childish outburst by a foul-mouthed broadcaster – undertakings of this nature don’t appear to mean much to Sun News Network.

This should concern the CRTC, and it will certainly be of interest to Canadians opposed to any future Sun News Network applications for whatever reasons – be they other broadcasters, opponents of the company’s highly biased far-right “news” coverage or even wild-eyed radicals bent on “censoring” Mr. Levant’s desire to inappropriately criticize people he disagrees with under cover of the Canadian Constitution.

It will also be of interest to garden variety Members of Parliament, including many Conservatives, who presumably unlike Mr. Levant’s close friends at the heart of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s inner circle, share their constituents’ attitudes about the kind of discourse that is appropriate on Canadian public broadcasts.

Sun News Network itself appears to have been essentially silent on this matter, ceding the ground to Mr. Levant as its employee and de facto spokesperson.

For his part, Mr. Levant dealt with this question in one of his broadcasts and his conclusions are not promising from the point of view of a regulator or a government that wishes assurances agreements it makes with private corporations will be honoured.

As is well known by those who have been following this imbroglio, on June 13 a broadcast industry self-regulation agency called the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ruled against Sun News Network for Mr. Levant’s use of an obscenity in what the CBSC referred to an on-air “tirade” in December 2011.

Mr. Levant responded the same day by reading the required CBSC statement rolled into a bombastic and immature attack on virtually everyone publicly identified as being involved in the complaint or the CBSC ruling. He closed the episode of his program by repeating the phrase originally complained of.

During his long polemic, Mr. Levant stated of the CBSC:

“On paper, they’re a private voluntary club. No TV or radio stations have to join them or submit to them. That’s the theory. But in practice, they do have the power of the state behind them, because in order to get a license, a TV license, from the Government of Canada, we’re required to join this ‘voluntary’ organization. Paragraph 6 of our TV license requires it. Talk about Orwellian. Did you get that? It’s a ‘voluntary’ organization. You’re forced to join by the government. …” (Emphasis added.)

In other words, by the sound of it, Sun News Network regretted the agreement it had made, and therefore decided simply to ignore it.

Well, they wouldn’t be the first to do something like that, would they? This is a bit like someone saying: “…in order to get a license, a marriage license, from a government in Canada, you’re required to join this ‘voluntary’ partnership!” Yes indeed, talk about Orwellian! And how inconvenient!

Returning to Mr. Levant, in the background of the TV station’s news set as he carried on a passage from a document appeared. It read: “The commission notes that the applicant stated that it would accept the standard conditions of licence for competitive mainstream national news services set out in Broadcasting Regulatory Policy 2009-562-1 including the conditions requiring a licensee to adhere to various industry codes relating to broadcast standards. The commission also notes that the applicant will be subject to various industry codes, including the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics and the Journalistic Independence Code, as a member of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.”

So there you go. As Mr. Levant himself conceded, Sun News Network agreed with the CRTC that it would abide by certain conditions in order to get its licence, then ignored those conditions when it became inconvenient.

Doubtless every one of us has made a deal that, upon consideration, we wish we hadn’t. But honour, if not contract law, requires us to abide by these agreements.

Buy something you don’t like? You still have to pay. Marry someone you regret? You still ought to behave yourself, at least until the divorce. Sign a collective agreement you can’t stand? You nevertheless must live with the management-rights clause.

And thus do broadcasters sometimes agree to live by rules of conduct they may wish they didn’t have to in order to get their license. Saw offs are how deals get done – you give up a little, I give up a little and we both get a bargain we can live with. That’s why it’s called bargaining.

Society’s view of people who don’t keep their bargains is a low one, and rightfully so. It’s all about integrity.

What confidence can Canadians now have that Sun News Network will abide by the agreements it makes?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Broadcast Standards Council tosses latest Sun News Network vulgarity back to CRTC

Sun News Network commentator Ezra Levant assails your blogger for his many ideological imperfections. Great picture! …of me.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has asked the federal broadcast regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, to investigate complaints about a June 13 broadcast by Sun News Network commentator Ezra Levant.

The CBSC said in a letter to this blogger that it will not itself investigate complaints about Sun News Network’s June 13 episode of Mr. Levant’s program The Source because “the comments in question are about the CBSC and identified individuals who volunteer as our Panel members.”

As a result, the CBSC said, it finds itself in a conflict of interest and is therefore not in a position to deal with complaints arising from the June 13 broadcast. Complaints about the broadcast will be forwarded to the CRTC, the federal agency that oversees the broadcasting and telecommunications industries, the CBSC letter said.

In normal cases, the CRTC refers complaints it receives about the content of television or radio broadcasts to the CSBC, which describes itself on its website as “an independent, non-governmental organization created by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters to administer standards established by its members, Canada’s private broadcasters.”

On June 13, Sun News Network and Mr. Levant complied with a ruling of the CBSC censuring them for using on the air in 2011 a Spanish profanity universally understood to mean “f**k your mother,” and for clearly identifying the individual at whom Mr. Levant directed this and other insults, by reading a required statement.

The ruling noted that Mr. Levant had made the following remark on the air as part of his Dec. 22, 2011, commentary about a report the Chiquita Brands food company had announced it would avoid using oil from Alberta’s bitumen sands: “Hey you. Yeah you, [name of Chiquita executive]. Chinga tu madre.” Referring to the commentary as “a tirade,” the ruling noted Mr. Levant also said “in a distinctly aggressive tone” that the Chiquita executive was a liar.

Under the terms of Sun News Network’s voluntary membership in the CBSC, the June 13 ruling required the right-wing U.S.-style broadcaster to read on the air a statement that it had breached the CAB’s Code of Ethics in the 2011 broadcast of Mr. Levant’s program. “The program contained a coarse insult directed at a specific named person,” said the statement Sun News Network was required to read. “This violated Clause 6 of the Code.”

But during the June 13 broadcast, in addition to reading the words of the statement required by the CBSC, Mr. Levant repeated the same offensive phrase several times, and harshly criticized the four members of the panel that issued the ruling. (He also criticized this blogger, who had filed one of 22 complaints about Sun News Network’s use of the phrase.)

At various times during the broadcast, Mr. Levant referred to the CBSC as “idiots,” “stupid,” “a group of nobodies,” “the secretive group of censors,” “a kangaroo court,” “busybodies, know-it-alls and snoops,” and “arrogant little bureaucrats.” During the broadcast, he also implied that federal Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair belonged on a list of enemies of Canada.

Mr. Levant argued, moreover, that “even if I told Chiquita to ‘chinga tu madre’ every day, it’s not against the rules that the censors claim to be following.” Based on this argument, he called the statement Sun News Network was asked to read “a false confession” and “the lie they wanted me to tell.”

Mr. Levant closed his broadcast with the following words, which included a reference to the first names of each of the four panel members: “Hey censors! Yeah, you, Troy, Pip, Lea, Andree, the whole Broadcast Standards Council, Chiquita, ForestEthics. I’ve got a message for ya! ‘Chinga tu madre!’” (Andree Noel, the chair of the panel, is the national chair of the CBSC and a former Quebec regional commissioner of the CRTC.)

On June 20, a lawyer for Quebecor Media informed the CSBC and the 22 complainants in an email that “…the statement was broadcast during The Source on Wednesday, June 13, 2012 and again on Thursday, June 14, 2012. … The two broadcasts of the statement therefore met the requirements for airing the statement set out in the CBSC’s decision.” (Emphasis added.)

As leaders of an organization arguably created for the benefit of its member corporations, the officers of the CBSC must have been gobsmacked by Sun News Network’s response, which was not restricted to Mr. Levant’s remarks. The Sun News website referred to the CSBC as “a kangaroo court manned by Sun News competitors.”

It is easy to infer that the destruction of the CBSC must be Sun News Network’s goal, and it may well succeed with that part of its program.

However, as has been said in this space before, a government agency charged with enforcing broadcast standards is a more appropriate venue for examining questions of this nature than a toothless voluntary organization that, it can be persuasively argued, exists principally to inoculate its members against the possibility of actual regulation being enforced in the interests of Canadians, who own the airwaves from which its member companies generate handsome profits.

But it is not clear if the CRTC today has the will, the regulatory tools or the internal mechanisms to deal with complaints of this nature, a situation that would effectively leave the public’s airwaves in the hands of completely unregulated and clearly irresponsible corporations with an extremist political agenda.

So it needs to be repeated that the line that connects Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his market-fundamentalist Conservative Party of Canada to the foul-mouthed hyper-partisanship of the Sun News Network and its offensive commentators is short and direct, and that they act in the service of common goals.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.