The so-called "Fox News North" aka Sun TV launched is service a few days ago. The Toronto Star has been reasonably critical and not overly harsh, while still calling it full of "rookie mistakes." The Globe and Mail's John Doyle is less restrained and describes it as "dead boring."
First reviews in the blogosphere have been equally scathing: "Spartan sets," "Are we watching a news network or a sketch-comedy show?" "Terrible, almost unwatchable..."
Its hosts aren't exactly household names: Krista Erickson is a former CBC TV journalist who resigned under a cloud after being too cozy with a Conservative MP. Charles Adler is a former radio host who seems to know something about broadcasting. Ezra Levant is one of Sun's higher profile hosts. Levant made a name for himself by taking on various forms of political correctness, including the human rights tribunal in Alberta.
It's Levant's rants against the CBC that have caused the most notice. His approach is far to the right while devoid of serious analysis. More than anyone else, his screeds are likely to allow CBC management to relax under the impression that Sun TV is mostly the harmless plaything of Quebec media baron, Pierre-Karl Péladeau.
Levant will probably become the face of anti-CBC sentiment in Canada. As such, all anti-CBC criticism will be easy to ignore when lumped together with Levant's sophomoric tirades. There can be responsible criticism of public broadcasting, but you won't find it on Sun TV. Unlike some critics of public broadcasting on Fox and in conservative blogs in the US, Sun TV is -so far - neither entertaining nor pithy. Pity.
But the CBC shouldn't break out the champagne just yet on the belief that the threat has passed.
Sun TV is still in its infancy. It can and will only get better. And when it does, like its southern cousin, it will become a rallying point for opposition to any and all forms of standard journalistic practice especially at the CBC.
Rupert Mudoch's relentless attacks on the BBC for being anti-competitive and a drain on the public purse have paid off. According to the New York Times, Prime Minister David Cameron regularly needles BBC reporters at news conferences for sending three or more reporters when other media only send one. The BBC is now is serious downsizing mode.
This tactic of public shaming is regularly leveled against the CBC by this and previous governments. As a partial response, the Canadian public broadcaster has made an effort to make news gathering appear more efficient by limiting the number of reporters and "mike flashes" visible at news conferences. But it's only a gesture. Diminished quality of the reporting and a narrowing of the range of ideas may also be a consequence of letting politicians influence assignment decisions. More serious is the prospect of major cuts to the CBC budgets, especially if the present Tory minority government is returned to power next week with a fresh mandate and a majority of MPs.
The name of the game everywhere is putting public broadcasters on the defensive. This well serves commercial broadcasters who resent that they must share their audiences. Attacks on NPR and PBS have caused some serious reflections inside public broadcasting in the US. It also seems to be working in Britain.
With Sun TV's help, it will work in Canada.