TTAWA — Kory Teneycke, the former chief spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper who became the driving force behind Quebecor's proposed Sun TV News Channel, has resigned, admitting he contributed to "debasing the debate" over the right-wing news channel.
The task of securing a broadcasting licence for Sun TV News — dubbed "Fox News North" by its critics and hailed by its admirers as a breath of fresh air in the Canadian media landscape — now falls to Luc Lavoie, a veteran Quebecor executive and former aide to Brian Mulroney.
In a statement delivered on Parliament Hill on Wednesday, Teneycke said his continued involvement in the project would only "further inflame" the controversy over the network. As a result, he tendered his resignation to Quebecor on Tuesday afternoon.
"Over the summer, this controversy has gotten out of hand. It has morphed from one of market differentiation to something more vicious and vitriolic. And yes, at times I have contributed to the debasing of the debate myself," said Teneycke, who served as vice-president of development for Quebecor Media as well as head of the parliamentary bureau for the Sun Media chain of newspapers and websites.
The announcement came a day after a U.S.-based online advocacy group called Avaaz sent letters to the RCMP and Ottawa police asking them to launch criminal investigations into the adding of "fraudulent" signatures to the organization's "Stop Fox News North" petition.
The online petition has garnered more than 80,000 signatures, including that of Canadian author Margaret Atwood.
According to Avaaz, someone connected to the Internet from an Ottawa IP address signed up a series of real and fictitious names and email addresses to the petition on the evening of Sept. 2. The entries included "Snuffleupagus" of Sesame Street fame and the Star Wars character "Boba Fett," but also members of the media such as Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin, Macleans columnist Paul Wells, and CBC blogger Kady O'Malley — much to their surprise.
Teneycke has frequently criticized what he perceives to be the left-wing bias of mainstream media organizations, which he calls the "lamestream" media.
In its letters to the RCMP and Ottawa police, Avaaz notes that, the day after the names were added, the Sun chain published an editorial by Teneycke in which he dismissed Avaaz as "professional Yankee agitators," accused Atwood of putting her "political agenda ahead of principles and patriotism," and noted that the petition has been signed by "Snuffleupagus" and "Boba Fett."
It is an offence under the Criminal Code to impersonate someone "with the intent to cause disadvantage to the person."
Const. Jean-Paul Vincelette, a spokesman for the Ottawa police, said Avaaz's letter was still being assessed to determine if an investigation will be initiated. A spokeswoman for the RCMP said the force doesn't confirm or deny whether investigations are under way.
In his statement, Teneycke didn't mention Avaaz's allegations.
The Canadian co-founder of Avaaz said the organization would continue its campaign calling on the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to deny a licence to Sun TV News. "What we're concerned about here is crony media. It's the incestuous relationship between politicians and the media," said Ricken Patel said in an interview. "We can see on our televisions every night that Fox News pushes an extremely biased, deceptive, often hate-filled content to Americans, which really poisons American democracy."
The departure of Teneycke, 36, marks the end of a two-year run in which he established himself as one of the most colourful — and fiercely partisan — players in federal politics, first as Harper's director of communications, then as an aspiring media mogul.
Last year he left the Prime Minister's Office and then in June joined Quebecor, whose media properties including the Sun newspaper chain and the French-language TVA television network. After being rebuffed in its first attempt to acquire a licence that would compel cable and satellite TV providers to carry Sun TV News, Quebecor recently applied to the CRTC for a special licence under which TV providers would have to offer the channel in at least one of their packages.
But while Teneycke gave the network instant profile, his close connections to the Harper government raised questions about Sun's journalistic independence and accusations of political interference in the regulation of the broadcasting industry issues he acknowledged himself on Wednesday.
"While most of these criticisms are not based in fact, it has become increasingly clear that my continued involvement in the project will only serve to further inflame these issues and misconceptions about what Sun TV News aspires to offer Canadians," said Teneycke. "If this continues, as I believe it will, it could deeply harm the public perception of the channel before it even goes to air, and may even put at risk our licence application itself."
On Wednesday, the company announced that radio-show host Charles Adler will anchor a prime-time show on Sun TV News when the channel launches next year, as hoped. Sources close to Quebecor said members of Sun's parliamentary bureau were expecting the Adler announcement, but were caught off guard by Teneycke's resignation.
Teneycke said he still believes in the value of adding a channel that reflects the brand of Sun papers, with their "populist, irreverent" tone and "conservative editorial stance."
A Quebecor spokesman said Lavoie wasn't available for an interview.