News of the World dead, Rupert Murdoch news-model lives on
The news model employed by Rupert Murdoch’s 165-year-old tabloid will live beyond the publication’s recent demise, in papers and TV networks around the world, whether controlled by Murdoch or not. But has the Murdhoch model really rooted in Canada?
Sun News Network is hosted and steered by well-known conservative Canadians, like Ezra Levant, a convicted libelist and former press secretary to former Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day, and Kory Teneycke, former press secretary to Prime Minister Harper.
They say the network is taking on Canada’s mainstream media, providing something that’s always been lacking.
"Canada is calling out for a news leader we can be proud of. It's time for a new choice, a new voice, a new genre, a new information and analysis specialty service for Canadians," reads the Sun News Network website. "The time has arrived for Sun News."
In the months running up to the arrival of Sun News, a Stop Fox News North petition emerged, earning the signature of Canadian literary icon Margaret Atwood, along with more than 80,000 others so far.
The petition reads:
"Prime Minister Harper is trying to push American-style hate media onto our airwaves, and make us all pay for it. His plan is to create a ‘Fox News North’ to mimic the kind of hate-filled propaganda with which Fox News has poisoned U.S. politics. The channel will be run by Harper’s former top aide and will be funded with money from our cable TV fees!"
Meanwhile some Canadian media seemed to describe the arrival of Sun News as farcical, unimportant.
"If you’ve got a devilish sense of humour, it is the most hilarious news channel you’ve ever, ever seen. You want weird comedy? You got it by the bucketful with these people," wrote John Doyle in the Globe and Mail last month.
Anything for a buck journalism
So "Fox News North" is here, and perhaps not really making a big difference in the public conversation. But has the true Murdoch-model, that many so vehemently loath, really rooted in Canada?
Consider Kai Nagata’s recent tell-all fulmination of Canadian broadcast news posted on his blog just days after cutting loose from a coveted Quebec City bureau chief position at CTV.
"What the Murdoch model demonstrated was that facts and truth could be replaced by ideology, with viewership and revenue going up," Nagata writes. "Simply put, you can tell less truth and make more money."
"Well, Canada now has its Fox News," he writes. "Krista Erickson, Brian Lilley, and Ezra Levant each do a wonderful send-up of the TV anchor character. The stodgy, neutral, unbiased broadcaster trope is played for jokes before the Sun News team gleefully rips into its targets."
While there is no evidence to suggest the Sun News team is scandalously intercepting emails or phone calls or fraudulently obtaining personal details of political figures, widowers and fallen soldiers, like the News of the World appears to have done, they are following the very same ethos that guides that type of journalism: anything for a buck.
And it's a model cropping up elsewhere in Canadian journalism, according to Nagata.
"The people who are supposed to be holding decision makers to account are instead broadcasting useless tripe, or worse, stories that actively distract from the massive projects we need to be tackling instead of watching TV," writes Nagata.
"On a weekend where there was real news happening in Bangkok, Misrata, Athens, Washington, and around the world, what we saw instead was a breathless gaggle of normally credible journalists, gushing in live hit after live hit about how the prince is young and his wife is pretty. And the public broadcaster led the charge," he writes of Canadian broadcasters’ most recent obsession with Kate and Will and their visit to Canada.
Nagata’s rant received almost instant praise, some condemnation, but mostly resounding approval. Some came from prominent journalists like the Toronto Star’s Antonia Zerbisias and the CBC’s Duncan McCue, who both re-tweeted the link to their followers.
Even Sun Media’s national bureau chief (the print side of Sun News Network) David Akin re-tweeted the blog, saying “Must read: Young reporter (@kainagata) despairs of TV news, quits network job,” with a link to the post.
This on the same day Akin posted a link to his paper’s front page story complete with a revealing photo of Kate Middleton's backside, saying "It's a a picture of what happened! We stood there and took pictures -- like thousands of others!"
Nagata’s exit-rant tells a story of vanity over talent, celebrity over politics and dollars and cents over public interest, a model made ultra-profitable by Murdoch. While Sun News Network hasn’t garnered much of an audience yet, with ratings far below expected in it’s first weeks, Nagata comes from CTV, which reaches millions of Canadians every month, and speaks of the same unfortunate demise at CBC, who broadcasts to even more.
While News Corporation routinely earned billions of dollars every year, Murdoch has lost a significant foot hold in the British media market and may stand to take a hit in America too. Depending the result of investigations into the alleged 9/11 phone-hacking, some have suggested Murdoch could lose his license to operate a media outlet in that country.
But none of that will matter if media outside of the Murdoch family follow his news model anyway.