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Sorry for anti-Roma rant? As It Happens interviewer demolishes Sun News VP

Carol Off

If you think Sun News Network is bad now, just wait until they've got their ruling from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that their broadcasts must be carried on basic cable television and paid for by cable subscribers.

Any listener could infer they'll be much worse after listening yesterday evening to CBC interviewer Carol Off demolish Sun News Network Vice-President Kory Teneycke's slippery attempt to defend the far-right network's commentator Ezra Levant for his racist diatribe against the Roma people six months ago.

In a short segment on the CBC's As It Happens radio program last night, Teneycke, a former communications director for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, remained determinedly barricaded inside his "message box," doing his best to sound contrite while refusing to acknowledge the patently racist intentions of Levant's remarks on the Sept. 5, 2012, episode of his regular Sun News program.

"I don't believe his intent was racist," Teneycke insisted at one point in response to Off's persistent questioning, which could serve as a textbook example of the now mostly forgotten art of how to conduct an interview with an evasive subject. "I don't think his intent was spreading hatred."

Indeed, Teneycke suggested at one point, Levant's rant was just misunderstood … it was merely meant to be entertaining and satirical, even if it didn't quite make the grade in that regard.

And why did Levant himself wait six months, Off wondered, to apologize for his remarks? Really, Teneycke seemed to suggest, the network's sly apology in September 2012 ought to have been enough.

As has been noted in this space, it was hard to take that apology very seriously when it stated, "it was not the intent of Sun News, or anyone employed by Sun News, to promote negative stereotypes about the Roma people." Excuse me!

"Why didn’t you fire him?" Off persisted, noting, "I would have been fired for saying that."

Ah, Teneycke responded, but he knows Levant. "There's no hatred in his heart."

Anyone who heard the original nine-minute episode of The Source back in September would find this explanation very hard to square with what was actually said by the well-known commentator. Unfortunately, readers will be hard pressed to confirm that now, since Sun News has washed all copies of Levant's vicious screed down the corporate Memory Hole and a recording placed on Youtube.com by a third party has been removed "due to a copyright claim by Sun News Network." 

Off's interview left listeners with the inevitable conclusion that the timing of Sun News Network's pleas to the CRTC for must-carry instead of optional status for its broadcasts on basic cable service -- and the $18 million or so in consumer subsidies that would flow to it each year as a consequence is what is driving the network's untypical and convenient remorse.

Not having that money, Teneycke claimed, poses an "existential threat" to the survival of Sun News -- a bit of a stretch to anyone who understands the economics of the broadcast industry in Canada.

Still, the timing of Sun News's CRTC application and the market fundamentalist network's desire to get its snout deep into the public trough is no doubt part of the story. Its application is scheduled to be heard by the CRTC in less than a month, on April 23.

But other commentators on the Internet, like rabble's Karl Nerenberg, have made a persuasive case that Levant came very close to being charged with hate speech by the Metro Toronto Police Service and was saved only by highly unusual political interference with the police investigation by senior officials of the Ontario government.

Now that would have looked really bad for the network's shredded credibility!

The Ontario officials, wrote Nerenberg, were "deterred by Levant's well-known reputation for being a loud-mouthed bully, and didn't want the Ontario government getting into a public spitting match with Sun News' professional ranter. So Levant, ironically, was saved by his own notoriety and unsavory reputation."

The Toronto Star's Haroon Siddiqui reports that staff of Toronto's Roma Community Centre were told by police "they found more than enough evidence to charge Levant under the Criminal Code, and the Crown attorney agreed." Detectives said they'd never before encountered a decision to reject charges in such circumstances.

This is why, of course, Teneycke's previous employment in the Prime Minister's Office is important, as is the warm and prominent reception received by Levant at the recent Manning Centre conference on conservative big ideas -- which one hopes do not include encouraging organized attacks on identifiable cultural groups.

As Nerenberg wrote, "despite his near-buffoon status, Levant is still capable of striking politically-motivated fear in the hearts of senior decision makers."

Well, we all know from experience how bullies operate.

If the Sun News Network and Levant are now rewarded for their glib and evasive apologies -- which parsed carefully were only for causing offence, not for the offence caused -- they will be further empowered.

If there are no consequences for their actions because they have friends in high places, their behaviour will grow more extreme.

This is just the way bullies are. So if you think Sun News Network is bad now, count on it they'll be much worse if the CRTC forces cable subscribers to subsidize their activities.

This post also appears on David CLimenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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