Harper's Fox News luncheon

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My guess is it's pretty easy to arrange lunch with the Prime Minister. No doubt Stephen Harper often lunches with labour leaders and advocates for the homeless.

So it should be considered no big deal that, among those the PM has lunched with, is U.S. media billionaire Rupert Murdoch, who has probably done more than any single individual in recent years to push American politics sharply to the right.

It's interesting to imagine, however, why our Prime Minister would want to meet with Murdoch, whose Fox News TV channel has poisoned U.S. political debate and nurtured America's extremist right-wing Tea Party movement.

If you subscribe to the notion that Harper has no particular political agenda, his lunch with Murdoch in March 2009 might seem harmless, perhaps a purely social affair.

But the evidence suggests they were discussing plans to transform the Canadian political landscape by creating a right-wing, Fox-style TV station in Canada. Present at the lunch was Fox News president Roger Ailes, known for bringing cutthroat Republican campaign tactics to the screen. (Ailes designed the infamous race-baiting Willie Horton commercials that brought George H.W. Bush to power.)

Also present at the lunch was Harper aide Kory Teneycke, who has since become the front man in the bid by Quebec media mogul Pierre Karl Peladeau to get a specialty TV licence for a Fox News-style network in Canada.

Then there's the fact that the lunch, during an official Harper visit to New York, was kept secret -- until being unearthed recently by Canadian Press reporter Bruce Cheadle.

Harper also met twice in early 2009 with Peladeau, according to Cheadle.

Ian Morrison, of the group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, says "all the information I have suggests that Harper has taken a personal interest in this matter."

Of course, Harper doesn't hand out TV licences. That's the job of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

But Morrison says he's heard that Harper has been trying to encourage CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein to resign, by offering him plum jobs. Von Finckenstein appears likely to stymie Peladeau's bid for a first-tier licence that would deliver his station to all cable subscribers in the country.

There's been a tendency in the Canadian media to dismiss the threat of a Fox News transplant, on the grounds Canadians wouldn't fall for that sort of nasty, right-wing extremism.

But that comforting notion may be naive. Most citizens don't have time to follow political stories in detail. If they hear constant sound-bites suggesting global warming is a hoax or public health care just doesn't work, after a while the message starts to seem believable.

Indeed, the Canadian political debate has already moved considerably to the right, particularly since Conrad Black created the National Post in 1998.

While the Post has struggled to capture audience share, it's had a big impact on the media landscape. Its sneering attitude toward progressive ideas -- now echoed by the Harper government -- has pushed other media rightward, including the CBC, which is ever frightened of offending those in power. The CBC even hired Teneycke, an Ann Coulter-style pit bull, as a commentator.

The media already blast Canadians with a steady chorus of right-wing ideas. A Fox-style network here -- if Harper gets his way -- would turn that into a deafening cacophony.

Linda McQuaig is author of It's the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil and the Fight for the Planet.

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