Silencing a Voice: The Closing Of Sun News
By Michael Coren
It’s been a few weeks now since the Friday the 13th that I will never forget. That was the day – 5 a.m. to be precise – that Sun News closed down. I hosted a nightly show called The Arena on the network for almost four years, having been dragged over from what was then CTS and is now YES TV screaming and crying. Well, not actually screaming or crying really because both parties were immensely generous and kind. Quebecor too showed the same courtesies while I worked for them and since I left.
There has been a great deal written about it all, some of it accurate and compassionate, some ill-informed and mean-spirited. There should be no particular sorrow for the prime-time hosts; we were well paid and all of us have alternative sources of work. I am even now writing another book for writing Random House – two of the last four have been best sellers - and I have numerous columns, radio work and speaking gigs. It’s the backroom people who we should consider, who are looking for employment in a shrinking market and didn’t necessarily share our horrible, unCanadian, disgusting views.
Here’s the point of course. Sun was conservative and we expressed conservative opinions. Joking aside, these views are far from heretical and are shared by millions of Canadians. I wasn’t, perhaps, as partisan as my colleagues but I’m certainly not always mainstream and I am proud of it.
I also featured guests who boasted an expertise and honesty not always replicated in other Canadian media. I don’t think there was a show that discussed, for example, the Middle East or issues of faith and morality with as much balance and empathy as mine.
While Sun News was certainly conservative, we also gave platforms to Liberal and NDP politicians. Former NDP President Adam Giambrone was a frequent guest and Warren Kinsella, a key player in many left of centre political campaigns, appeared several times a week.
The station employed 200 people and cost the best part of $20million a year to maintain. Our owners were losing too much to continue and I fully appreciate their decision. It’s a simple issue of math. Our audience was limited by cable access but in the first months of our existence, when we were lower on the dial, we sometimes reached 100,000 documented viewers. By the end, with placement up in the hundreds, we were down to under 20,000.
This, however, was not the reason for our demise. Our on-line presence was extremely healthy and as someone who speaks throughout Canada, I was constantly astounded at how many Canadians watched Sun News every night. The problem was income, distribution and, as a consequence, advertising.
If the cable companies had given us what we and the CRTC had agreed upon, the future would have been bright. Some, but not all, did but we needed all and not some. There are networks in Canada that have what is known as a must-carry arrangement, meaning that even if nobody watches them at all, the cable companies pay them enough to keep those networks on-air for as long as they want. You, in fact, pay for them even if you’ve never watched and never will.
The tragedy of the closing is that in a Canadian landscape where an often consensus-driven television world frequently fails to provide room for authentic dissent and a wider purview of opinion, another independent voice has been lost.
In the greater scheme of things we move on and I suppose the world doesn’t change very much. There are broken hearts out there, as I’ve seen from the more than a thousand emails and notes I have received from saddened viewers, but day still follows night. Problem is, the Sun doesn’t shine any longer when that day does dawn. Will it be resurrected? Not as a television network but perhaps in an alternative form – keep watching and reading.
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