Quebecor national news service plants story about Quebecor bid
The question of whether a “conservative” news agency like Fox News Channel can be truly Fair & Balanced® may have just been answered by a Canadian counterpart with its own moniker of “hard news and straight talk”.
With rumour mills and Twitter twits tweeting overtime, a Canadian media conglomerate has just launched its bid to get federal regulatory approval to launch a 24-hour Canadian cable news channel that touts itself as “similar in tone to that of the American Fox News.”
Pierre Karl Péladeau, the billionaire Québec media magnate is spearheading the campaign on behalf of Quebecor Inc., the $9.8 billion media conglomerate that is 55-per cent owned by his family.
But already Canada’s new would-be “Fox Channel North” is raising eyebrows by the manner in which Quebecor‘s media holdings company Quebecor Media Inc. (QMI) went about publicizing its bid and raised questions about the upstart 24/7 news station’s journalistic integrity and credibility.
Yesterday the June 10th edition of QMI’s Osprey Media newspapers, including the Belleville Intelligencer, ran a story that was credited to QMI’s own in-house company, The QMI Agency–which QMI has been touting since last year as “Quebecor‘s new national news agency.”
Like established news agencies such as the Associated Press, Canadian Press and Reuters, QMI’s news article yesterday appeared under the headline “Quebecor looks to start English news network” and ran with an accompanying byline indicating it had been “posted by the QMI Agency.” The “news story” which accompanied the headline read, as follows:
Quebecor has asked the CRTC for permission to create an English-language news network. QMI Agency has learned that, if the licence is granted, the network could see the light of day in 2011. The new network would create a an alternative source of information and opinion in a tone similar to that of the American Fox News. All indications are that the project would be piloted by Kory Teneycke, a former communications director for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Teneycke took to Twitter yesterday to say that he had become the new vice-president of development for Quebecor Media. Teneycke left the PMO in July 2009 for short stints with CTV and CBC. For now, Quebecor is refusing to comment on the story. If the licence goes through, the new network would share the market with CBC Newsworld and CTV News Channel.
Essentially, the parent company Quebecor Inc. ‘s corporate media holdings company,Quebecor Media Inc. (QMI) planted its own “news story” through its own QMI Agency news service about what is at heart a story about the Quebecor group’s own bid to gain access to the cable news market.
“Great mix of hard news and straight talk”
The authors of the QMI piece, who are employed by Quebecor, are nevertheless attempting to present this corporate press release as a “hard news” story. That catch-phrase already appears destined for the trade marks registry if its recurrence in recent coverage of the fledgling news channel is not just a happy coincidence.
As with its American cousin Fox News, it appears already from this single “news” piece that the line between corporate propaganda and news is prone to deliberate blurring. And an analysis of the wording of the anonymous article leads one to challenge the claims of its proponents that it will offer bona fide news and not only ideological rants-of-the-day by a roster of right-wing pundits.
For example, by using the timeworn and totally misleading news-gathering phrase “has learned that,” the authors are implying and attempting to convey to the readers that there is an arm’s length or quasi-independent relationship between the story’s source and the news agency (QMI). Any but the most naive will discern that no such arm’s length relationship exists: The QMI Agency “learned” of the bid because it is a wholly-owned subsidiary and foot-servant to QMI head office, not because it sent journalists into the field.
Similarly the story’s assertion that “all indications are that the project would be piloted by Kory Teneycke” is also presented as a surmise to reinforce the appearance of there being a so-called “Chinese wall” between the parent company and its “national news agency. Ditto the penultimate sentence that “for now, Quebecor is refusing to comment on the story.”
Although the man earmarked to be the channel’s operating mind was careful to indicate “no comment” in yesterday’s Globe and Mail story about the new channel, like so many other Twitterers he was apparently unable to contain himself from telegraphing some not very veiled hints about what was in the works.
In fact, around about three-ish on Thursday afternoon, while the QMI Agency “news story” was about to be or had already been posted to the Osprey Media newspapers’ online editions, Teynecke was or had just finished “tweeting” this not so cryptic teaser about you-know-what: “Recruiting is in hyper-drive. Can’t wait to share some of the names. Great mix of hard news and straight talk.”
Péladeau Redux: is left-wing news taking up too much space?
It literally remains to be seen what personal imprint Péladeau puts on the news channel he hopes to inaugurate by next year.
Its media holdings, under the banner of Québecor Media Inc. (QMI), include cable TV and internet provider, Vidéotron, the Sun Media and Osprey Media newspaper chains, the French-language Québec TV network TVA and its magazine publishing branch TVA Publishing Inc., the Canoe.ca internet domain and associated websites, a bookstore chain, a book publishing company.
Péladeau is one of several progeny of Brian Mulroney’s longtime friend and political supporter and newspaper publisher Pierre Péladeau who famously opined to a Québec magazine in 1990 that “the Jews take up too much space” in his native province. Péladeau the younger has been CEO of the parent company since his father’s death in December 1997.
Though not as flamboyant or outspoken as his father, the current CEO of Quebecor is one pomme who doesn’t appear to fall all that far from the tree. Like his father before him, Péladeau the younger hob-knobs with la crème de la crème of Québec’s glitterati, including the Mulroneys, and was on hand to sip champers with Mila and Brian at the wedding of their son turned TV game-show celebrity gossip shill, Ben Mulroney. The former PM currently sits on the board of the parent company.
P.K. maintains a less lavish and public lifestyle than his father, resides in modest digs in Montréal and has in the past even been accused of owning cheap, worn-out furniture unbecoming a publishing “magnate.” But with law and business degrees and his father’s penchant for corporate strategizing, he has expanded the family media empire at an exponential rate since taking over the reins.
After The Colbert Report do Canadians really need another conservative news voice?
According to yesterday’s Globe and Mail report, any high-fiving or tweeting at this stage of the game may be a tad premature. The station’s much-prized CRTC license cannot be literally taken for granted and “according to sources familiar with the plans, Quebecor is seeking a ‘must-carry’ designation for the channel” which “would guarantee the network a spot on basic cable, and a pipeline to almost every home in the country – but it’s a long shot to be approved.”
In the event that the federal regulator does not approve Quebecor‘s bid on that basis, it may have to make due with an ordinary cable license. Under that regime, Quebecor would lose out on the built-in captive audience–of basic cable subscribers who pay for non-premium channels only–that it would otherwise acquire as a “must-carry” station. To acquire the “must-carry” status, the company will have to establish to the satisfaction of the CRTC that it is meeting a “public need.”
In that situation, it would be up to Messieures Péladeau et al to convince the CRTC that another channel carrying right-wing, conservative viewpoints is a cultural and social necessity for the average viewer. It may be recalled that when the CRTC initially approved the Fox News Channel to be carried on Canada’s digital airwaves in November 2004, it did so after ruling that the U.S. station was not “partially or totally competitive with any Canadian pay or specialty service” and because at that time the Fox channel would “significantly boost digital penetration in Canada” and increase the availability of digital services in the country.
It remains to be seen (literally) whether a Canadian variant of the Fox format–which is top-heavy with former politicos-turned-conservative “news contributors” like Sarah Palin and Karl Rove–will pass muster with Canadian cable audiences. Since a substantial portion of Canadian viewers get their only exposure to Fox News Channel through the satirized and ridiculed excerpts which appear nightly on the CTV and Comedy Network feeds of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or The Colbert Report, it is difficult to guess what the demographic target audience would be for a like venture north of the 49th parallel.
Not living in a culture as “gun-positive” as the United States, and without the same paranoid affinity for extreme, demagogic political views as our neighbours to the south, it is hard to know if tabloid-style American “talk TV” will catch on.
Not long ago, for example, when one of the Fox news channel’s late night offerings broadcast a “news panel” discussion in which the program’s host and guests ridiculed Canadian troops in Afghanistan, there was sufficient backlash in Canada that a number of Alberta cable subscribers complained to their cable carriers.
So offensive was the segment found by some Canadian viewers–who apparently sat through to the end before activating their remote “off” button–that it drew criticism from the Tory minister of defence Peter Mackay and even “conservative author, columnist and commentator” David Frum. [Programming note: look for David as one of the news "pundits" being lined up to co-host a prime time show with former Ontario Tory "Little Shit" Jaime Watt: The Frum-Watt Factor]