X
Story Stream
recent articles

It's a dark time for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, often referred to - and not always fondly - as the "Mother Corp."

Created in large part to ward off U.S. dominance of Canadian airwaves, the CBC is a coast-to-coast television, radio and online behemoth with a reputation for first-rate journalism and mediocre entertainment.

But now, as it enters its 76th year, it faces a perfect storm: sagging TV ratings, a hostile government in power, and an upstart competitor, dubbed Fox News North, that's clearly intent on drawing blood.

That competitor, Sun TV, first aired in April and aspires to replicate in Canada what Fox did in the US: influence the news cycle, tilting the public conversation - and the country - to the right.

he mighty, taxpayer-funded CBC is first and foremost among its targets. Its hosts and pundits repeatedly refer to it as the "state broadcaster," a dark allusion to the power wielded by official media in authoritarian states.

And that's if they're being subtle.

"Pro-Taliban," "pro-terrorist," "PR agency for terrorism," "mooches," "a national disgrace," "crazy," "radical," "liars," and "off-the-hook partisan," are just some of the words and phrases used to describe the CBC by Ezra Levant, Sun TV's brightest star and resident pitbull.

Levant's rants generally lack the unhinged theatrics of a Glen Beck, but not always. To mark Earth Day, he donned a hardhat and lumberjack shirt and took a chainsaw to a potted plant.

The shrillness is new, but the criticism isn't.

For years, Canada's right, including many members of the governing Conservative party, have accused the CBC of liberal bias and of being a drain on the public purse. They have called for everything from sweeping cuts to its $1.1 billion a year subsidy, to the curtailing of its broad mandate, to its outright elimination.

That drumbeat has only grown louder since Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally achieved a majority government earlier this year, after two successive minorities.

Harper's victory may help explain why Sun TV is having an impact disproportionate to its evidently-tiny ratings, and its disadvantageous perch in the nosebleed section of the cable dial.

But it's not the entire story.

It's business time

"This is about money, it's about eyeballs, it's about advertising dollars," said John Doyle, longtime television critic for the Globe and Mail newspaper.

Sun TV is owned by Quebecor, a vast media conglomerate with publishing and broadcast interests across Canada that include a chain of major-city tabloids and TVA, which the company describes as "the largest private French-language broadcaster in North America."

TVA's only serious rival is the CBC, known in Quebec as Radio Canada.

At stake is a hefty sum: about $600 million a year in TV advertising revenue, almost 20 percent of the Canadian market.

But it's a base that's been shrinking since the global financial meltdown of 2008. Amid continuing economic gloom and the fracturing of audiences accelerated by the digital revolution, it shows few signs of recovery.

In the third quarter of this year, Quebecor's profits dropped 35 percent, mostly on weak broadcasting and print ad revenues.

It's this backdrop that many observers say explains the intensity of the attacks on the CBC, led by Sun TV but amplified by Quebecor's other properties, in particular its national Sun chain of newpapers, where Levant and others do double-duty as columnists.