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Maher: Sun TV plays dirty with trumped-up CBC porn scandal by Stephen Maher

Feb 4, 2012

Source: Vancouver Sun

OTTAWA — This week, the opposition and reporters had a bit of fun at the expense of Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who had to stand up in the House of Commons and apologize for the fact that his department sent some civil servants to Sun TV's studios to pretend to be new Canadians taking a citizenship oath.

Kenney is impressive. He has been making overdue changes to our challenging immigration and refugee system. I don't always agree with them — I'm not sure we should force Muslim women to remove their veils for citizenship oaths, for example — but I admire the way he is willing to take responsibility for his decisions, and explain them, blathering on all day, in both official languages.

But it's good for politicians to be humble, so it was good fun to watch him squirm a bit over this tempest in a teapot.

What was more interesting was the reaction at Sun TV, a small Canadian cable news channel inspired by Fox News.

Presenters on Sun admitted to having egg on their faces, but soon pivoted to complain that the dupes in the mainstream media were ignoring a more important (and less embarrassing to them) story which had broken earlier in the week: taxpayer-funded porn.

According to Sun TV, CBC is producing "state broadcaster smut."

They sent a reporter to Parliament Hill this week with an iPad loaded with steamy clips from a program called Hard, a French drama about a woman who discovers after her husband's death that he has been secretly running a pornography business, which she must then run.

The program is streamed online on Radio Canada's tou.tv website, which is an international joint venture with other French language broadcasters.

CBC won't say how much it spends on the site, claiming it is sensitive commercial information.

Stripped of context, the clips that Sun TV is broadcasting do look steamy, and politicians were quick to condemn CBC for showing such smut.

Heritage Minister James Moore, though, declined to take the bait.

"I know you're in the business of just going after the CBC, but I can't comment on something I haven't seen," he told a Sun TV reporter.

Then, off camera, he expressed skepticism about the issue, pointed out that Sun papers run bikini girls, and said the Sun TV reporter is being used as a "pawn" by Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau, who wants CBC de-funded so he can get a larger share of the French language TV audience in Quebec, after which he will shut down Sun TV.

"You know that's going to happen right?" he said.

The Sun ran an editorial the next day calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to fire Moore, and Moore flip-flopped, calling on the CBC to review its online content.

Andrew MacDougall, a spokesman for Harper, told the Sun that his boss doesn't approve of Hard.

"While the government doesn't control CBC's content, we are confused by their decision to purchase sexually explicit content and make it available to children," he said.

CBC has reacted by shutting down the program until after midnight.

This is all so silly I can hardly believe it.

If you actually watch a whole episode of Hard, as I have, you can't call it porn. It is more explicit than Sex and the City — because the French have a higher tolerance for such things than Americans do — but the ratio of sexy bits to non-sexy bit is about the same. There is full-frontal nudity, but most of the show is made up of dramatic scenes, and the point of the whole thing is not sexual arousal.

Quebecor's Videotron, which runs a competing French-language web TV site, does offer hard-core pornography, including a channel called hardtv, which offers explicit gay sex 24-7, and another called Vanessa, which runs heterosexual porn produced by Pega Productions, in Montreal, featuring Canadian performers.

Sun TV's parent company sells a lot of porn. CBC does not sell porn. But somehow Sun TV is managing to get politicians to condemn CBC for selling porn.

It's zany!

What is serious, though, are the government's plans for the CBC.

MacDougall told me Friday that as the government prepares for cuts in all departments, it wants the CBC to focus on its core mandate.

"Their mandate is to make sure that regions that can't sustain news gathering by private companies, that should be their focus," he said. "We want them to do that and not get into all that other web TV stuff. Their focus should be here and we're confused why they thought this would be a good idea. Their focus should be on protecting the service that they do provide to remote regions, and the regions more broadly."

If that's the government's direction, we could soon see a much smaller CBC, which would, incidentally, be really good news for Peladeau.

© Vancouver Sun