Blog by John Miller

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Sock! Pow! Sun TV!

Sun News Network -- an outfit that promises to give Canadians all the news that fits the right -- is making no pretense that it will honour traditional journalistic values like objectivity, the discipline of verification and the public's right to receive information that can help them become good citizens.

Dubbed "Fox News North," the network will launch itself on Monday, relying on personality and controversy to carve out an audience that one of its architects thinks is bored by what it sees and reads in the "politically correct" mainstream media.

It says a lot that the head of the network is Luc Lavoie, who is not a journalist but a public relations professional who has spent his recent career polishing turds for former prime minister Brian Mulroney and his current boss, Quebecor president Pierre-Karl Péladeau.

In an interview with JSource, Lavoie says Sun News will model itself on two other Quebecor products -- LCN (a personality-driven all-news channel owned by TVA), and the Sun newspaper chain, which he says "isn’t afraid of covering things that others won’t cover because they’re not politically correct."

The goal is not to cover news that informs so much as news and views that "will get them talking about politics around the watercooler, not listening to a University of Toronto professor."

The key difference is that the news will not be presented by journalists but by the televison equivalent of radio talk show hosts, who will use journalists as interview subjects, not shapers of the story. Lavoie added: "We’re not there to judge what people should care or think about. I don’t have a social mission. My mission is to connect with my public."

Cut through the crap and Lavoie is really saying the mission of Sun News is to pander to the lowest common denominator. He even gives an example.

"If you go anywhere in Canada, you’ll realize that one of the biggest issues right now is immigration, but nobody’s talking about it. We can’t talk about it because if we do we’re labelled a racist. However, it’s mind-blowing that we’re the only country in the world that doesn’t know how many illegal immigrants we have! I’m convinced there are tens of thousands. Is that bad? That’s for others to judge, but we should be talking about it."

The real joke is that Lavoie professes to have 1,000 journalists on staff or available to appear on the network. He said: "The 1,000 Sun News journalists have been in intensive training for some months to learn the tools and the technology. Everyone will be asked to go everywhere and do everything so that we can optimize resources."

Oh, really? Isn't Quebecor one of the most notorious downsizers of Canadian newsrooms? Isn't its recent track record one of maximizing profits and minimizing news staff? Lavoie seemed to back off when he was asked about the staff he would commit to any one major story. "You won’t see four cameras and 12 Sun News staff at a single press conference like you would at CBC," he said. "We don’t have access to public funds to do that."

From the sounds of it, Sun News will be light on content and heavy on a certain type of spin. If there's a big market to be had in Canada for the tabloidization of the news, we're in more trouble than I thought.

You'll love this: The network lost one of its prime-time anchors just days ahead of its launch. Mercedes Stephenson, a Sun columnist and military analyst, was supposed to co-host the "Daily Brief" with David Akin, the Sun's national bureau chief in Ottawa. But a spokesman said "the show was not a good fit for her" and the split was mutual.

Not a good fit? Perhaps there are some clues in her bio published on the website of "It's Your Government," an ichannel TV show she appears on: "Mercedes likes Canada, classical music, and raising awareness of the plight, protection and rehabilitation of orphaned grizzly bear cubs. She dislikes narrow mindedness, having to write things by hand… and deadlines."

Nope. Not a good fit.