Sun TV head Luc Lavoie: "I don't have a social mission"
How are you different from CTV News and CBC News?
We’re inspired by LCN (an all-news channel owned by TVA), a personality driven network with on-air personalities who appeal to viewers, like Jean-Luc Mongrain and Denis Levesque. At Sun News, we’ve got Charles Adler, the biggest talk radio personality in English Canada. We want to work with good communicators who present information in a different light, to enliven and encourage debate. Viewers can relate to this type of communication. This is what will get them talking about politics around the watercooler, not listening to a University of Toronto professor.
We’re also inspired by the Sun newspaper chain that has a very unique tradition. It was founded in 1971 and it developed its own personality, irreverent, populist, very blue collar, very close to its readers. It’s a chain that isn’t afraid of covering things that others won’t cover because they’re not politically correct.
What do you mean by "politically correct"?
We believe that there is a pervasive standardization of content across all mainstream media. It manifests itself in the tone, in the choice of topics covered and in the mental constraints they impose upon themselves and it’s not healthy.
For example, last year, the question of the Afghan detainees received a huge amount of attention from the media. It was dragged around like a big issue. Soldiers in battle took people who were attacking them as prisoners and then brought them to the local authorities. And it appears that these local authorities weren’t very nice to these prisoners. We did some surveys and asked people what they thought of this issue and 95% had never heard about it. Just because the media is scandalized by something doesn’t mean it’s a scandal to the rest of the population.
Isn’t the role of the media to raise public debate?
That’s a mental restriction. Information is a service. We’re not there to judge what people should care or think about. I don’t have a social mission. My mission is to connect with my public. It’s not because the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, CBC and others like them decided that we shouldn’t really cover an issue because it could make waves that we’re going to stop doing it. I’m not an organizer of social change.
If you go anywhere in Canada, you’ll realize that one of the biggest issues right now is immigration, but nobody’s talking about it. We can’t talk about it because if we do we’re labelled a racist. However, it’s mind-blowing that we’re the only country in the world that doesn’t know how many illegal immigrants we have! I’m convinced there are tens of thousands. Is that bad? That’s for others to judge, but we should be talking about it.
Will there be international news coverage on Sun News?
I think international news will be about 35-40% of our coverage. If you look at how Sun outlets acted in response to recent crises, either Egypt or Japan, we sent teams there immediately. Our broadcast technology will be state-of-the-art, so our journalists will be able to travel around the world with super-portable equipment that will allow them to transmit from anywhere.
We want to get away from the model that’s been around for 35 to 40 years, where news is neatly produced in a 1:45 segment that ends with a stand-up by a journalist. We don’t want that, we’ll have presenters who will present the images and the sounds and who will turn to the journalist for an in-depth conversation. It will be more conversational and more realistic.
Then you consider yourself as contributing to the evolution of the industry...
Exactly. First by jumping over hurdles which by and large are artificial, which say that a print journalist can’t do television because it’s a different beast. Not with us. News is news: the cultivation and treatment of information. Our journalists will be capable of telling news across all platforms.
The 1,000 Sun TV journalists have been in intensive training for some months to learn the tools and the technology. Everyone will be asked to go everywhere and do everything so that we can optimize resources. You won’t see four cameras and 12 Sun News staff at a single press conference like you would at CBC. We don’t have access to public funds to do that.
What do you think of the Fox News model?
We have no relationship with Fox, except we do watch them to see what they’re doing and how they work. Fox is the most successful news network on the planet. If I am as successful as they are, I will pop open the champagne.
We don’t see ourselves as on any one side of the political spectrum, but on the side of people, discussing the issues that they discuss. Some people may say we’re right-wing, but I couldn’t tell you how some of our journalists might vote, like Charles Hadler and David Akin. Warren Kinsella will be one of our contributors, and he worked for Jean Chrétien and was considered a left-leaning Liberal, but above all he’ll debate with vigour and that’s what we want.
Sun is the largest news media organization in Canada. We have ethical criteria that matches if not surpasses our competitors’, we count on quality from our journalists, we don’t need advice from anyone.