The CRTC should reject special status for Québecor's Sun TV and defer consideration of its all news channel application because it is incomplete, according to the watchdog group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.
This morning, FRIENDS submitted its written brief to the CRTC, which will convene a special expedited hearing to consider the Quebecor application on November 19, 2010.
While Québecor has described its bid as an application for a Category 2 licence, the company is asking the CRTC to approve a licence with Category 1 benefits such as "mandatory access" status which Sun TV themselves project will deliver more than $80 million from subscribers' pockets over the first licence term. This, in spite of the fact that the Commission recently announced no such applications are to be considered from any other broadcaster until October 2011.
In FRIENDS' brief to the Commission, spokesperson Ian Morrison writes: "FRIENDS recommends that the request for the initial three-years' mandatory access be rejected by the Commission."
Commenting on the special public hearing the CRTC will convene, Morrison writes "Jumping a queue and demanding mandatory access for any part of its licence period is highly unfair to other applicants who have played by the rules. If the applicant wishes the privileges of a Category 1 licence, it should apply at a time that the Commission has a public call for Category 1 submissions so that all applicants can be considered on their own merits in a fair and equitable manner."
FRIENDS' brief takes issue with Québecor's low-ball spending commitments for Canadian programming, noting that they are only half of the proportion spent on Canadian programming by all news channels such as CBC News Network and CTV News Channel which enjoy Category 1 status.
"Québecor wants the benefits of a Category 1 licence without the obligations. For mandatory access even to be considered, the applicant should be required to spend a proportion of revenue on Canadian programming equivalent to the CBC News Network, CTV News Channel and CP 24."
FRIENDS brief characterizes Québecor's threat to surrender its existing Sun TV licence because the company has lost $50 million since it first acquired the local Toronto station as an attempt to blackmail the CRTC.
"Before acquiring Toronto One, TVA Group Inc. and its parent Québecor knew, or should have known, that Toronto One was a very weak participant in the Greater Toronto market. They took a business risk and subsequently lost a substantial amount of money. The disappearance of Sun TV from Toronto's "overcrowded" market will hardly be noticed, and should not influence the Commission's determination regarding the current application."
Noting that the application refers to business arrangements that currently are not in place, FRIENDS recommends "that the Commission defer consideration of the application until such time as these business plan issues are finalized and presented for consideration."
Also, according to FRIENDS, if the CRTC grants Quebecor a licence to operate an all news channel it should be required to adopt the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Code of Ethics for fair and balanced programming and news coverage.