Last week, The True North Times had the chance to chat with Ezra Levant, human rights activist, lawyer, and freedom fighter. In order to offer an independent, alternative media platform in Canada, Levant has recently launched therebel.media. Below is the transcript of our interview with him, edited for brevity. Read our write-up on therebel’s launch here.
The True North Times: You’ve recently started therebel.media. What is it and what are you rebelling against?
Ezra Levant: It’s called therebel.media and it captures some of the spirit of the old Sun News Network that was such a passionate project for so many of us. [Sun News] didn’t succeed financially, but the people are still around and the ideas are still around, so we thought, let’s go to the next technology—which is getting away from your legacy TV stations and cable companies and CRTC regulated media—and let’s go right to the people. So, the word rebel, I suppose, refers to a few things. I like the name, I like the sound; it feels contrary and independent. But it is a rebellion against the CRTC bureaucracy and the cable company monopoly. Our attitude is rebellion against what I call the consensus media or the media party. And, you know, it just sounds small and independent and the underdog—which is exactly what we are.
TNT: So this isn’t a student protest?
EL: No. I mean, we’ve done, I don’t know, 10 or 15 little videos, and we’re getting into other forms of communication: podcast, little news stories. I think you can already see that we’re [addressing] a range of topics, from the war on terror to union negotiation to question period on Parliament Hill to, you know, and every week I’m hopeful new people sign up on the team. We’ll have some news reports, we’ll have some opinion journalism, we’ll have some activism. So, it’s sort of, it’s a place where all these things will happen, and it’s direct with the people. There’s no intermediary of a cable company or the CRTC.
TNT: So can anyone be a rebel?
EL: Sure, why not? I mean, it’s a state of mind. It’s a political persuasion, or it could just be a name. I have no doubt that people who are part of the empire will visit—in fact, I know they already have. Perhaps to mock, perhaps to study. I wouldn’t put too much stock in our name. I would look more at what we do than what our URL is.
TNT: You’ve made a lot of friends and enemies over the years. How do you plan to leverage that network in building therebel.media?
EL: It is true that the Sun News Network and my own show in particular engendered a passionate response. Some people loved it and some people hated it. And so, when we shut down and went off the air, there was both glee and sorrow. I contrast that with any other all-news channel. Let’s say CTV news channel or BNN, the Business News Network. If BNN or CTV News channel went out of business (and I hope they don’t, by the way), I don’t think you would see an outpouring of emotion that way. I don’t think you would see people saying, “yeah, finally, they’re off the TV!” and I don’t think you would see people who are deeply lamenting or even crying because [those other platforms] just didn’t get a passionate response. The Sun News Network and my show did, so what does that mean? Well, it means that there is a core of enthusiastic supporters out there who are likely to follow the people and the ideas to this new medium. Can we transfer that enthusiasm from the TV show to therebel.media? I believe we can. We have already more than 19,000 people who are supporters of the new project, and over 523 people who have registered as volunteers online for the project. I don’t think the entire CBC entity across all of Canada could muster 523 volunteers. I just don’t believe there’s that much enthusiasm. I mean, maybe across the whole country after 75 years of being a government monopoly, you could find 523 people, but we already found them in eight days for therebel.media. Why? Because people care. That’s a passion. I don’t care if we also have our detractors because how can that stop us? I mean, I don’t believe that our detractors are as numerous, or as passionate as they may seem on, say, Twitter.
I think our worst enemies are, let’s say a dozen of the mean girls in the parliamentary press gallery who hated us for personal reasons or for reasons of rivalry. I don’t think your average Canadian actually has an opinion about us. So, I’m not too worried about the noisy trolls out there who celebrated our demise. I’m much more interested in the thousands of people who lamented our demise.
TNT: We noticed that you’re still using a video format with a news desk style of reporting (just without the news desk). Will therebel.media focus on online video, or are you planning to use other platforms as you grow?
EL: Well, we literally started this thing in my living room, so we’re still figuring it out. I like to say it’s like we’re building an airplane while we’re taxiing down the runway. We’ll figure it out. I have no doubt that what therebel.media looks like months from now will be quite different from what it looks like today. I think, a few months in, we will stabilize what we look like. We’re hiring, we’re building, we’re trying things out, we’re adding new features to the website almost every day. I mean, just a couple of days ago we put up a new comments feature. We are trying to activate our volunteers today. We will reveal our crowdfunding strategy imminently. This thing is happening very quickly in real time. Most companies don’t go from conception to operation in the same day, but we did. There are some downsides to that, but the upside is that we’re catching the enthusiasm while it is there.
TNT: Taking it a bit more broadly, how has the media changed over the past five years and what changes do you foresee over the next five?
EL: People want more media than ever in more ways than ever: on demand, on their phone, on a tablet. I think we spend more time looking at a screen every day than we ever have. People drive with a screen in their hands, walk with a screen in their hands, and sleep with a screen an arm’s length away from their faces. There is a lot more of a connection to people, but, as I’ve just illustrated, it’s non-standard, non-traditional. If you are a legacy TV station that expects people to sit down, clear their calendar and watch you at 8:00 pm every Thursday night on a certain channel, that probably won’t work. I mean, think about industry leaders like Netflix and iTunes condition you to want and to get things on demand. The same subscription is on your phone, on your desktop whatever, on Apple TV. These things are changing, so I think a lot of the legacy media—the actual media channels—are in for a tough go. I think TV stations are probably starting to encounter what print newspapers encountered ten years ago: people migrating away from their medium. And there’s going to be an enormous amount of upheaval. But, for every job lost, I think there will be more than one new job created. I think there will be more content than ever. The good news is, after using an echo of the legacy media model—you know, display ads or whatever—unsuccessfully for ten years, I think Netflix or iTunes are conditioning people to accept paying a modest monthly fee or an ad-hoc fee for quality content. So that’s good news for the industry; we see proof that people will pay what, eight bucks a month or whatever, for Netflix. That’s a very healthy sign.
TNT: With Sun News off the air, Postmedia cutting jobs, and CBC continuing its eternal struggle, as well as with a bloat of online content, how will therebel.media survive and persevere?
EL: Well, I think enthusiasm is the key. If people are enthusiastic about us, it’s gotta be for some reason. Why do they care about us more than they care for other news sources? That is, why are we not just another commodity? If we were just a commodity, then we would be like things sold at a convenience store. You go for what’s convenient and what’s cheapest. But if we are something that people seek out in a passionate way, why? If we can understand what people truly care about in the Sun News Network and my show, and Brian Lilley’s show, if we can understand what they really wanted, maybe we can get them to support it—like people who are passionate about a show on HBO or Netflix, demonstrate that passion by supporting the show—and turn that enthusiasm into financial support. There is no model that I know of that could sustain what I do or what we’re doing based on display ads alone. I think, if we encourage our community to become supporters on a membership fee basis, through merchandise, or even through crowd funding, then we can tap into that passion to make it go a bit. If I simply become a commodity, commoditized news, or the same as everybody else out there, then there’s no chance.
TNT: Given that you expect this to tie you up for the medium-term future, I take it this means you’re not open to taking a seat in the senate?
EL: [Chuckling] Well, listen, we’re starting a big company, I mean, we’re starting a little company that we hope to grow big. We have big plans. We already have a team working on it full time, so, besides sleeping and spending some time with my family, it’s just all I do now. So it’s an enormous commitment, especially these early weeks and months. On the senate, I think that would feel more like a prison sentence. I mean, it would be comfortable, but I don’t think I could stand the pace of it and I have a lot more things to do before I go to my retirement home.
Cover photo retrieved from therebel.media