Rupert Murdoch, the PM's lunch mate

The Canadian Press says Canada can’t have a Rupert Murdoch-style phone hacking Gotcha! moment because Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s hostility toward journalists “immunizes him against any suggestion that a similar scandal could happen in Canada.”

Oh, please!

Really, I’m not making this up. Joan Bryden of the Canadian Press actually wrote this a few hours ago and it continues to be published all over the Interwebs.

The thesis of the CP drivellist’s story boils down to this: You have nothing to worry about Canadians. Go back to sleep!

This is, in a word, codswallop!

Look, Harper and Murdoch and their various cronies are as thick as thieves, if you’ll pardon the expression, and those of us with sensitive sniffers have even been able to catch a whiff of a hackerish scandal right here in the True North.

If Canada’s had the good luck not to have full-blown Murdochian phone hacking going on behind the scenes, it’s only because Murdoch doesn’t own any newspapers or broadcasters in Canada, which does tend to limit the extent of his companies’ depredations in this country.

Nevertheless, despite the blessed shortage of Murdoch-owned and influenced media outlets here, it seems highly likely that both Murdoch and Harper have been working to change that, both in spirit and in literal fact.

That is why — not so long before the News of the World phone hacking scandal blew open in the United Kingdom, U.S. authorities began looking at Murdoch and his minions in the United States on the suspicion they’d hacked the phones of 9-11 victims, and even the Australian authorities began grumbling about the Dirty Digger’s doings –Harper and Murdoch sat down to break bread together.

Obviously, the purpose of their get-together in New York City in the spring of 2009 wasn’t to discus the catch of the day special at whatever chi-chi eatery they chose to sup. They were accompanied by Roger Ailes, president of Murdoch’s Fox News Channel, which broadcasts far-right propaganda in the guise of news in the United States, and Kory Teneycke, then the PM’s communications director.

Teneycke, as alert readers will recall, left the service of the prime minister not long thereafter, in June 2010, to join Quebecor Inc.-subsidiary Sun Media’s effort to establish a right-wing broadcasting network in Canada similar to Murdoch’s channel south of border. The Canadian version came to be known by its detractors as Fox News North.

So there is very little chance that this tête-à-tête was only, as the prime minister’s chief spokesthingy of the moment later soothingly assured us, “a perfunctory lunch meeting to frame Canadian perspectives on issues of the day.”

Why else, do you think, did the PM and his flunkies try so hard to keep the meeting a secret? It only came to light when the CP did a search of the mandatory U.S. government activity filings of media consultant Ari Fleischer, another right-wing political “communicator” late of the Bush II White House. To this day, the PMO and its denizens have refused to comment on what was actually discussed.

It’s much more likely that the gruesome twosome and their sidekicks were in fact discussing how Murdoch could get his toe in the Canadian door and then work to move the one-dimensional political debate in Canada — such as it is, thanks to the likes Conrad Black and the Asper Family — ever further to the right.

This hasn’t happened already, as Geoffrey Stevens (not Simpson), late of the Globe and Mail and lately of Cambridge, Ont., pointed out recently, because “three obstacles stand between Canada and a Murdoch invasion.”

To wit: “First, the Income Tax Act requires that newspapers and magazines be 75 per cent Canadian-owned. Second, the Broadcasting Act limits foreigners to a 33.3 per cent stake in broadcasting. The third obstacle is the political resolve of the federal government to continue to protect Canadian cultural industries from foreign control.”

However, as Stevens observed, the resolve of the federal government under Harper — for both ideological and practical reasons — is weak.

That was the topic of discussion in New York, and one doesn’t have to have been a fly on the wall to know it.

Which brings us back to Teneycke’s association with the effort to create Fox News North.

As reported by the CBC, he left his brief post-PMO employment with Sun Media after an uproar about … a hacking scandal. Now, according to Teneycke, his reason for departure was because more than 80,000 Canadians signed an on-line petition protesting to his role with FNN after having worked for the prime minister, and that this was becoming a distraction to the effort to establish FNN in Canada.

But the group that organized the petition campaign, avaaz.org, “formally requested the Ottawa Police and the RCMP to begin a criminal investigation to determine who posted ‘fraudulent’ signatures to the petition from an Ottawa internet protocol, or IP address.” (Emphasis added.)

At the time, Teneycke did not answer reporters’ questions about whether his departure was related to the avaaz.org request for a police investigation. Regardless, according to the Wikipedia, he has since been welcomed back to Quebecor, where he presumably continues to work on the FNN file.

Who organized the hack into avaaz.org‘s petition, or why they did it, will probably never be known for certain. But the presence of Murdoch’s organization, with its culture of corporate hacking, on the sidelines of these events is certainly evocative.

Bryden, meanwhile, also asserted “that Canadian politicians simply don’t need the news media in the same way they do in Britain.” She wrote: “Past attempts by Conrad Black and CanWest Global to create powerful, agenda-setting media empires have failed.”

This too is baloney. The fact is that Canadian politicians — the so-called Conservative ones, at least — have such a comfortable relationship with this country’s heavily concentrated media that they just don’t have to work as hard to court it as do their counterparts in Britain and the United States. And notwithstanding their difficulties turning a profit, the efforts of Black and the Aspers have succeeded beyond their wildest imaginings.

The important and obvious point somehow missed by Bryden is this: Harper may hate journalists, but he most certainly does not hate the people who employ them. This presumably includes Teneycke, late of his own staff.

That is why Black will be welcomed back to Canada even though he renounced his citizenship and was jailed for corporate crimes in one of the numerous countries he once preferred to ours.

That is why the prime minister’s staff and Quebecor Media are working together to build a right-wing Canadian Pravda on the model of Murdoch’s Fox News.

And that is why the odious Murdoch himself will be welcomed to open one of his corrupt enterprises in this country if he can overcome the immolation he has brought upon himself in other jurisdictions.

And that is why Canadians should not just go to sleep, or for that matter speak injudiciously on their cellular phones, as the Canadian Press risibly suggests.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...