Fox News North hits regulatory hurdle

Canuck regulator denies 'must-carry' license for Sun TV

TORONTO -- Fox News North won't be forced on Canadians, whether they like it or not.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the country's TV regulator, has told Quebec media giant Quebecor it will not receive a category A, "must-carry" broadcast license for Sun TV News Channel, an upcoming right wing all-news channel to be modeled on Rupert Murdoch's Fox News channel stateside.

Quebecor will instead need to convince cable and satellite TV operators to carry the English-language all-news channel, dubbed Fox News North in local media circles, from Jan. 1, 2011.

And Canadians will be able to freely choose whether or not to subscribe to the new all-news channel.

Forcing Sun TV News to compete with existing Canadian all-news channels, CTV News Channel and CBC News Network, undermines Quebecor's best-laid plans.

The Quebec broadcaster proposed converting Sun TV, an existing Toronto over-the-air TV station that receives mandatory carriage, into Sun TV News.

That rebranding exercise aimed to spare Sun TV News from applying for regulatory approval, and competing against the CTV and CBC all-news channels for precious subscriber dollars.

The payoff for Canadians, Quebecor insists, is TV viewers will receive a hard-news channel by day and "straight-talk" opinion shows at night to counter the apparently smug and politically correct CBC and CTV cable news channels.

The CRTC is not playing ball with Quebecor, however.

The regulator did not buy Quebecor's characterization of Sun TV News as an "Information & Analysis channel" in its licensing application to the CRTC.

"The proposed service is referred to as the Sun TV News Channel," the CRTC said in a July 5 letter to Quebecor. If it walks and quacks like a duck, the regulator considers Sun TV News an all-news channel.

What's more, the CRTC isn't handing out new category A, must-carry broadcast licenses until October 2011, when Canada is set to complete its analogue to digital transition.

Quebecor can apply after that date for a must-carry license for Sun TV News. But if it wants to amend its current application to propose a competitive news channel, the CRTC will consider it "without delay," the regulator told Quebecor.
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