Quebecor Inc.'s bid to create a new 24-hour news channel in Canada has taken another step toward the TV dial. On Friday, the federal broadcast regulator approved the license application for the Sun TV News Network.
The approval had been expected since last month, when the Montreal-based company adjusted its application to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, to request a standard license for a specialty channel.
Sun TV is now set to launch in mid-March, said Luc Lavoie, the head of the project. The launch was originally set for Jan. 1, but technical delays including later-than-expected equipment deliveries have slowed things down somewhat, he said.
The upcoming channel has been surrounded by some controversy, including an online activist group that objected to its launch.
The controversy led to the resignation in September of the head of the project and former spokesperson for the Harper government, Kory Teneycke. Mr. Lavoie - a former spokesman for Brian Mulroney and close associate of Quebecor chief executive officer Pierre Karl Péladeau - took the reins at Sun TV after Mr. Teneycke left in an attempt to "lower the temperature" of the debate.
"When people made the comparison, calling us Fox News North, they were totally mistaken," Mr. Lavoie said on Friday. "The philosophy behind this was not to be Fox News ... it was to be an offshoot of the Sun Media culture."
That includes mimicking the "irreverent" and "provocative" tone of the Sun newspapers Quebecor owns, he said. Sun Media journalists will also be expected to contribute to the network, shooting video and doing on-air commentary while working on stories for the paper. (Sun TV is a joint partnership of Quebecor divisions Sun Media Corp., which publishes newspapers across the country, and TVA Group Inc., which runs its broadcast operations.)
But Mr. Lavoie acknowledged the channel did take some inspiration from Fox News in its mix of reporting and punditry. The channel plans news reports during the day, with more commentary in the prime time hours, beginning at 5 p.m.
Sun TV has already hired conservative activist and Sun newspaper columnist Ezra Levant; former Canwest (now Postmedia) reporter David Akin; current Corus talk radio host Charles Adler; and former CBC reporter Krista Erickson, among others. More hiring announcements are on the way, Mr. Lavoie said.
The company is currently constructing the network's main studio, in downtown Toronto close to the Toronto Sun offices, which will also house a second studio. Others will be built in Ottawa, Calgary, and likely Edmonton.
Sun TV had originally requested a license that would obligate cable and satellite companies to carry it on their services. That was rejected; and Sun TV tried again, asking for a standard license with the exception that distributors would have to offer it to customers on at least one of their packages, in the first three years. In early October, Mr. Péladeau said the company would withdraw that request, and ask for a standard Category 2 license.
"We welcome a diversity of voices. We want to have as much news out there as possible, as many different voices," CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein said on Friday. "As a Category 2 license, there's absolutely no problem. If their original application had been in this format, we would have sent it [the license]to them by return mail, basically."
In a statement, Mr. Péladeau welcomed the CRTC decision, calling it "the dawn of a new era for Canadian news media."