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Is Fox News North counting on a sweet deal from the CRTC?

It’s good to see real questions being asked about Quebecor’s new “straight talk” all-news channel. Forget whether we need another right-wing voice or not. Forget whether it’s appropriate that the former communications director to Stephen Harper is the guy in charge.

People are rightly asking whether Pierre-Karl Peladeau is banking on a special deal from the CRTC that would allow him to convert his unsuccessful over-the-air channel in Toronto to a lucrative three-year “category one” specialty channel license.

That’s the license that would force cable operators to carry the channel. And that “must carry” designation is big bucks. Automatic carriage fees can range between 15 cents and 65 cents per month per subscriber. That’s steady income, steady enough that selling ads isn’t so important.

There’s no precedent for such a request at the CRTC, and the Commission says that to be ruled a “must carry” a service has to demonstrate “exceptional importance” to Canadians.

Surprise. Surprise. It looks like Quebecor is counting on being ruled “exceptional”, judging by the excellent interview CBC’s Kathleen Petty did with Kory Tenycke, Quebecor Media’s VP for development. Love the way she doesn’t back down . And how it exposes Tenycke’s lack of a back-up plan and his disdain for Canadians and their ability to understand CRTC regulatory lingo.

I can tell you this: Canadians may not know the difference between a cat 1 and a cat 2 license digital TV license, but they know when there’s one set of rules for us, and another set for people who used to work for the prime minister and whose boss happens to be a close friend of a former prime minister. And they know when something stinks.

Quite apart from the discussion about whether this network is “Fox News North” or not, what we should really be watching for is whether the CRTC degrades itself and defies its own directive to give yet another sweet deal to powerful friends.

If you care about this, check out the media reform group, OpenMedia.ca. It’s all about making sure independent media and solid information survive in this age of punditry and spin.

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