Canada: Diversity of voices policy needed, says CRTC

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Sep 19 14:00:17 UTC 2007

Diversity of voices policy needed, says CRTC
by: Norma Reveler Sep 17, 2007

GATINEAU, QC -- The Canadian Association of Broadcasters and two of
its biggest members insisted on Monday that no new regulations were
needed to ensure a diversity of voices, as the CRTC wrestles with what
rules would be needed to deal with media consolidation in the future.

Although the seven-member CRTC panel continuously pressed the CAB,
CTVglobemedia and CanWest MediaWorks -- the latter two both being
involved in major recent media acquisitions -- for recommendations on
what the new rules might look like, the response was always that
consolidation to date hasn't resulted in a decline in diversity of
voices in the media, so nothing needed to be done.

"It's a solution looking for a problem that doesn't exist," CAB
president and CEO Glenn O'Farrell said, while referring to "a surplus
of diversity" in Canadian broadcasting. He said media mergers were
creating stronger Canadian media companies that were increasingly
getting into niche markets and providing more voices in an age of
fragmenting audiences. He also noted that a number of new players have
entered the broadcast market, such as Stornoway Communications and
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

Meanwhile, CTV president Rick Brace noted there could never be a
surplus of diversity, but that the industry was indeed seeing a growth
in media voices.

CRTC commissioner Stuart Langford pressed, asking: "Is there not a
point we shouldn't go beyond? When does the [media] package get too
big? Is it at three or two or one national broadcasters?" He noted the
CRTC needs to have policy plans laid out in advance, rather than
waiting first for a "calamity" to occur.

CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein told Shaw Communications CEO Jim
Shaw, the last intervener to appear on Monday, that the commission was
"very concerned about concentration," and that the market couldn't be
left to resolve these issues.

The CRTC chair added that media mergers couldn't be dealt with on a
case-by-case basis because companies needed regulatory certainty in
developing their businesses plans.

"What if there was a major merger, such as CanWest and Shaw -- would
the present rules still apply? We have to be more prudent as a
regulator [than to just wait]," von Finckenstein said to CanWest,
after its execs noted there were already policies in place.

By contrast, the CBC noted that media concentration had already become
unhealthy in some Canadian cities.

Recommendations from CBC execs included: that a company not be allowed
to own a TV, radio and newspaper in the same market -- a benchmark
already set in Australia; that ownership limits be expanded from the
over-the-air universe to specialty TV (with a suggested 33% ownership
cap by any company); and that broadcast distributors be prohibited
from owning two distribution undertakings in one market.

CBC Television EVP Richard Stursberg pointed out that Australia's
points system -- which was outlined in a Nordicity study prepared for
the CFTPA -- demonstrates that media concentration is too high in some

The study applies Australia's points system to the markets of Halifax,
Montreal (English), Montreal (French), Ottawa (English), Toronto,
Calgary and Vancouver, before and after the three recent major media
mergers of CTVglobemedia-CHUM, CanWest Global-Alliance Atlantis and
Astral-Standard Radio.

After the mergers, Montreal's English- and French-language markets
would be in an "unacceptable media diversity situation," according to
the Nordicity study.

Also on Monday, von Finckenstein noted that there would be a public
hearing on the Canadian Television Fund. He said "a few limited
issues" raised by the controversial report by the CRTC task force on
the CTF would be the subject of the hearing, which has yet to be
formally announced.

The diversity hearings continue Tuesday, with Quebecor Media, Astral
Media, Pelmorex Communications, Bell Video Group, Evanov
Communications, Stornoway, Independent Programming Services and John
Bitove scheduled to appear.

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