Canada may finally be getting a "fair and balanced" news channel. Quebecor boss Karl PÉladeau is paying the dough towards a new Sun TV News channel. Leading the project is a former communications director for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Kory Teneycke.
This has all the promise of becoming a Fox North. The parallels are stunning. In the U.S., Fox News was founded and financed by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and his handpicked CEO for the new right-leaning channel was Roger Ailes, former media consultant for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.
It's unlikely that Canada can produce the sort of loons that dominate the right-wing airwaves in the U.S. As media blogger Geoff Meeker points out in a recent post, Sun TV will likely end up with personalities such as Ezra Levant, who is more of a libertarian than a hard righter.
This is not a bad thing because, well, if you've seen the likes of Fox's Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity in action, you know what I mean. Meeker has a few links to the sort of buffoonery you'll find daily on Murdoch's madhouse. (You can find his blog on The Telegram's main web page.)
What is disturbing, though, is the widely accepted myth that "mainstream media" has an inherently left-wing agenda.
It is usually cited as the justification for more "balanced" coverage, and it's the usual defence against any refutation against right-wing fabrications. O'Reilly, when he has no counter-argument and can't shout someone down in person, writes valid criticism off as a "vicious attack" from mainstream leftists. (It's ironic this false dichotomy is still in vogue, considering that Fox's ratings have pushed it into the mainstream category.)
One might safely argue that most journalists in this country cling to left-of-centre ideals. But that's not a rule. And there is certainly not an agenda to influence the political landscape. Any hint of such bias usually gets wide exposure.
CBC's Terry Milewski found that out the hard way. While covering protests during the 1998 Asian Pacific Economic Conference, Milewski was accused by Prime Minister Jean Chretien of biased reporting.
E-mails Milewski sent to a spokesman for protesters, which jokingly referred to the government as the "forces of darkness," didn't help his case. Milewski found himself briefly banished from the airwaves, and only recently returned to his respected position as a senior correspondent.
In fact, Milewski reported on all sides of that issue with real fairness and balance.
The occasional tinge of sarcasm or disdain in Milewski's voice -- or, worse, Neil MacDonald's - may make some cringe. But it's a rare day when one of them ignores or makes up the facts. At Fox, on the other hand, you're expected to do just that. On Fox, slant is a daily occurrence.
Former Fox employees talk of daily memos that told producers and hosts to tone down the criticism of former president George Bush, for example, or to play up John McCain's war record. In election time, Fox becomes a high-exposure Republican campaign headquarters.
Hannity now spends most of his show explaining how U.S. President Barack Obama is a Nazi Communist antichrist who wants to kill off seniors and indoctrinate children. He lambastes Democrats with zeal, while Republican guests on the show get the kid-glove treatment and even pick up a few useful talking points.
Hannity's former partner, token left-winger Alan Colmes, left the show in 2008. No doubt, he was tired of getting cut off and insulted every time he tried to insert a few facts.
This is the sort of media we don't need here and should avoid at all costs. Because it's not media; it's propaganda. And it's dangerous. It lures people into hateful, polarized thinking. And we have enough of that in Canada as it is.
Perhaps Sun TV will be a welcome antiseptic. Maybe it will take a fresh, informed approach to news. It's much too early to say.
But judging from some of the pro-right responses to Meeker's blog, I fear there may be a potential audience for the extreme-right rage machine. These are people who are fed up with all that nonsense about pro-choice, gays, unions and Islam. They want more ... what? I dread to think.
Whatever it is, I don't think I want it. And I hope Sun TV doesn't want it, either.
Peter Jackson is The Telegram's commentary editor. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.