Fox News North: Your national, pro-war TV network

Murray Dobbin
By Murray Dobbin
December 6th, 2011

You will no doubt recall the controversy surrounding the efforts of Quebec billionaire Pierre Peladeau to get a prized licence for his Sun News TV network. If he had succeeded, the cable companies would have been obliged to carry his extremist right wing news channel, dubbed by many as “Fox News North.” In the end, the CRTC stood up to the bullying of this aggressive supporter of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and everything Republican. They received a license – but cable companies can take it or leave it in regarding offering it to customers.


There was a huge campaign against Peladeau’s TV move by those concerned about the airways being polluted by the kind of one-sided, dishonest coverage that passes for news on Fox. Still, a lot of commentators dismissed the worries as far-fetched and alarmist.

But, while Sun TV is not, thankfully, being piped into every Canadian living room, the prediction that it would mimic Fox News is undeniable. The most recent example is the networks nasty, over-the-top attack on Steven Staples, the man who runs the Rideau Institute and its anti-war project, Ceasefire.ca

This particular attack was prompted by a fund-raising letter sent out by ceasefire which made some very pointed and uncompromising criticisms of the arms industry lobby – namely, the Conference of Defence Associations (CDA). The CDA has gotten away with political murder for decades, casting itself as a kind of military think-tank, acting in the interests of the nation. But there is nothing neutral about this gang of arms peddlers and retired generals.

Its sole purpose is to ramp up Canadian military spending and to promote the most aggressive Canadian military stance possible. When someone advises you to “follow the money” the CDA is one of the classic examples. The CDA has never seen a military procurement proposal they didn’t love–especially the proposed $30 billion purchase of F35 jet fighters (it doesn’t matter that they don’t work, have cracks in the fuselage and will be delivered years late, if ever).

What Staples said in his letter that really drove the Sun gang crazy was this: “A pro-war advocacy group made up of retired military generals, called the Conference of Defence Associations, used the bodies of soldiers killed and wounded in Afghanistan to lobby for more money.”

The CDA had appeared at a parliamentary committee hearing that was looking into ways “…to maintain social programs and deal with the country’s finances.” Into this serious discussion and debate entered the “old generals” (another phrase Fox North didn’t like) to lobby hard to keep military spending at the current astronomical levels (at $22 billion higher than at any time since WW2).

The war lobbyists shamelessly used the image of dead soldiers to back their case: “After the sacrifices made in Afghanistan and the casualties taken there because we weren’t ready, let us never again find ourselves having to rebuild essential military capabilities which we should have kept up all along.”

No mention of course, of the fact that it was their friends in the Defence Department who sent Canadian soldiers into deadly Kandahar ill-equipped and undertrained for the complex mission. But never mind the blatant opportunism and greed – Sun TV came to the rescue when Brian Lilley, one of its more aggressive program hosts, did a nine minute rant attacking Staples for his “despicable” fund-raising letter.

Framing the debate as “Big Labour versus the Military” Lilley invited another right-wing commentator, John Robson on to the show to back him up. Robson argued that Canadian troops had been faced this before, in WW1 and WW2 when facing down “aggression.” But there was no discussion of the recent wars Canada has eagerly participated in – Afghanistan and Libya. Just how these wars were dealing with aggression against Canada was not explained.

One of Staples’ main points in his letter was the fact that this lobby group actually gets funded by the Defence department to the tune of $500,000 a year – one of the most incestuous relationships that exists in government. Ironically, Lilley actually stated that he agreed with the letter’s argument that this funding should be cancelled – but then declared that this “…wasn’t the point.”

Staples had also attacked journalists for accepting a prize from the CDA for pro-military reporting. One example was Mathew Fisher of the Ottawa Citizen – who also distinguished himself by calling reporter Jane Taber, who had announced she was going to interview Staples, and told her she shouldn’t be interviewing him. Lilley defended Fisher nonetheless.

Lilley was also unimpressed with Staples’ revelation that the $500,000 yearly grant to the CDA was tied very directly and explicitly to favourable Defence Department news coverage:

“…the Conference of Defence Associations is required to ‘attain a minimum of 29 media references to the CDA by national or regional journalists and reporters . . . 15 opinion pieces (including op-eds and letters to the editor in national or regional publications) . . . [and] a minimum of 100 requests by media for radio/television interviews and materials.’

There is one certain way to know you are being effective in your exposure of the right-wing and the military: they publicly attack you. But Ceasefire turned the tables on Sun TV and the CDA by informing its 20,000 members of the attack and asking whether or not Staples should accept Lilley’s invitation to come on his show. As a result Staples did go on – and raised a lot of money from his members in the process. You can help teach Sun TV and the CDA a lesson, too, by going to ceasefire’s web site and making a contribution.

Murray Dobbin is an author, journalist, and activist. This column originally appeared in his blog.


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