Canada prime minister in Fox News furor

Mon Sep 6, 2010 9:43pm EDT
 
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By Etan Vlessing

TORONTO (Hollywood Reporter) - The media furor over Fox News North has received new fuel from the revelation that Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper lunched in New York City with News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch and Fox News president Roger Ailes.

Montreal-based Quebecor has faced a drum-beat of opposition since it proposed launching a right wing 24/7 news channel Sun TV News from January 1, 2011 to compete with existing local news channels run by the CTV and CBC networks.

But evidence of the secret March 2009 lunch -- uncovered by the Canadian Press newswire service through filings with the U.S. Justice Department in Washington -- has divided pundits here.

Harper's critics allege his conservative government has conspired with News Corp. to bring a Fox-style news channel to Canada, while opposing voices insist Canadian prime ministers routinely participate in working lunches during overseas visits.

Also present at the Manhattan lunch was Kory Teneycke, a former communications chief for Harper, and now vp of development at Quebecor, spear-heading the drive to secure a broadcast license for Sun TV News.

"It may look odd, but it's no proof that Harper is engaged in a politically motivated drive to bring a 'Fox News North' to Canada with Teneycke as its head," the right-leaning Calgary Herald newspaper said Monday in an editorial.

But the liberal Toronto Star begged to differ: "The media already blast Canadians with a steady chorus of right-wing ideas. A Fox-style network here -- if Harper gets his way -- would turn that into a deafening cacophony," Star columnist Linda McQuaig warned.

Much of the controversy over Sun TV News turns on what broadcast license it will ultimately receive from the CRTC, Canada's TV regulator. The CRTC initially rejected a bid by Quebecor to see Sun TV News carried on basic cable, which would have required local cable and satellite TV services to carry the new channel.

Now Quebecor has warned that Sun TV News will require "mandatory access" to the Canadian market, meaning it must be offered by cable and satellite TV operators to Canadian consumers, if it hopes to survive against competition from incumbent CTV and CBC players. The CRTC will hear Sun TV News' application for a broadcast license at hearings set to start September 19.