O Canada, we stand on guard for SunTV

Kory Teneycke, former spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has resigned as Vice President of Development at Quebecor Media, where he has led the development of the right-wing Sun TV News network. Citing the distractions to the network’s bid caused by his political associations, Teneycke’s resignation is just the latest stumbling block for the project.

In a press conference in Ottawa last week, he admitted he had helped ”debase the debate” over the network’s future “from one of market differentiation to something more vicious and vitriolic.” Teneycke’s position will now be taken over by Luc Lavoie, a long-standing Quebecor executive and former aide to Brian Mulroney. Teneycke was often criticized in his position at the Prime Minister’s Office for his rude and aggressive style of attacking opponents.

Quebecor and the channel’s supporters say it will provide a necessary alternative to a perceived left-wing domination of Canadian media. But it has attracted fierce opposition and the nickname ”Fox News North” from critics over its intention to provide a Fox News-style alternative to Canada’s other 24-hour news channels, and its possible connection to meetings last year between Prime Minister Harper, Teneycke, and Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News parent Newscorp. Opponents of the channel’s approval charge it will bring Fox’s style of stirring up vitriolic debate and fear-mongering to Canadian political debate.

Just one day before his resignation, online advocacy group Avaaz.org asked the RCMP and Ottawa police to investigate attempts to sabotage its “Stop Fox News North” petition with fraudulent signatures. The petition calls on Prime Minister Harper to cease alleged pressure on the CRTC to approve the channel’s license, and on the CRTC chair to resist those overtures.

The fraudulent signatures were said to have come from an Ottawa IP address, and Teneycke admitted to knowing about the events and the perpetrator’s identity after having quoted the bogus signatures in a statement mocking the petition. His resignation may bring some attention back to more substantive issues over the nature of Sun TV News’ presence on cable and satellite TV.

Quebecor recently abandoned efforts to convince the CRTC, Canada’s broadcasting regulator, to grant it mandatory basic distribution on cable and satellite TV systems, as CBC Newsworld and CTV News have until 2011.

Instead, it has asked the CRTC to afford it mandatory access for at least three years. That would mean every cable and satellite TV provider in the country would have to offer the network in at least one of their packages. Teneycke argued this summer that this kind of designation was the only way to make sure Sun TV News wouldn’t be ”locked out of the marketplace.”

The CRTC has invited public commentary on its website, via mail, or by fax, until October 1 2010, and announced a public hearing in Gatineau to consider the application on November 19.