Sun News went dark Friday, not with a bang but a whimper.
The Sun News television channel faded to black at 5 a.m. eastern time with no on-air announcement, the screen simply reading, “Sun News Network is no longer available, at the discretion of the programmer. We apologize for any inconvenience and hope you will continue to value all the channels included in your package.”
The network, which has been at the centre of much controversy since its inception in 2011, provided right-leaning news and opinion in the style of the U.S.'s Fox News, earning the nickname “Fox News North.”
Faced with annual losses of $20 million and with no new buyers on the horizon, “there was no alternative to closing Sun News,” a Sun Media Corp. press release said. In October 2014 Postmedia News purchased Sun News papers but declined to purchase the television channel.
Julie Tremblay, president and CEO of Media Groups and Sun Media Corporation, said: “This is an unfortunate outcome; shutting down Sun News was certainly not our goal.”
“Over the past four years, we tried everything we could to achieve sufficient market penetration to generate the profits needed to operate a national news channel. Sadly, the numerous obstacles to carriage that we encountered spelled the end of this venture.”
In 2013 the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ruled the network did not meet the criteria necessary for mandatory coverage on basic cable in Canada.
Tremblay said “the closure is regrettable for the Canadian broadcasting system, which is losing a distinctively Canadian voice in the national news space.”
Responses to the network’s demise have been varied.
Members of the media took to Twitter to express their condolences to Sun News journalists. Others took the opportunity to disparage the outlet.
Liberal commentator and author Warren Kinsella wrote in a mournful blog post about the death of traditional media and how the Sun News Network – as disagreeable as it was – played a role in lively debate.
“In case you haven’t noticed,” he wrote, “our traditional new media are dying.”
“When that journalism disappears, mark my words: our democracy will be diminished, and possibly even in peril. I’m not exaggerating. There is nothing that keeps the powerful in check – not Question Period, not a public opinion poll, not even the policy – as effectively as journalists do. I’ve worked on both sides, and I know, I’ve seen it: every time a newspaper dies – every time a TV network dies – the powerful grow more so. You may think that’s okay, but I sure don’t. They are not always benign in the way they exercise power.”
Writer Omar Mouallem, however, had a different perspective on the network’s closure.
“Everyone at Sun News deserved to be fired,” he wrote on Canadaland’s website. “They were complicit in spewing hatred.”
Mouallem noted that many Canadian journalists were deferential in their goodbyes to Sun News, engaging in “back-patting.”
“It doesn’t matter how many people lost their jobs or how many young and talented journalists Sun News Network took a chance on,” Mouallem argued. The network’s “bigotry is well known and well documented. The network promoted racism – against Arabs, against Romani people, against First Nations – under the veil of ‘opinion,’ a disgraceful abuse of the latitude that is afforded to news commentary and columnizing.”
The network provided a platform for commentators like Ezra Levant, founder of EthicalOil.org. Levant, host of The Source, was perhaps the network’s most notable provocateur.
Writing for The Walrus Jonathan Kay notes Levant's sensational views on race, religion, environmentalism and politics did not represent the entire network.
"One hundred seventy-five people worked at Sun News Network," he wrote. "One hundred seventy-four of those people were not named Ezra Levant. So even Canada’s leftists would do well to keep their schadenfreude in check. The majority of Sun’s staffers were apolitical twenty- or thirty-somethings looking to eke out a career in television. They were not mini-Ezras, and many likely will never find another job in journalism. If you find this to be reason for celebration, you’re a bad person."
Kay added that because Canadians do not display U.S.-style outrage over immigration, abortion and gay rights, Sun News Network was doomed from the start.
"The U.S. has a culture war. Here, we have question period."