Canada b'casters: Aussie system not for us

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OTTAWA -- Canadian private broadcasters on Monday told the country's TV watchdog to reject an Australian regulatory model that bars mergers in unduly concentrated media markets.

As the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission opened public hearings on media consolidation, Richard Stursberg, executive vp English-language operations at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., called for the application of an Australian-style points system in Canada to measure the state of ownership concentration.

"Our view is, generally speaking, the level of concentration is too high," Stursberg told CRTC commissioners.

But rival private broadcasters criticized the Australian points system, which gives one point to each media outlet in a particular market, and deems one media group owning multiple outlets as potentially an "unacceptable media diversity situation."

"Rules developed in other countries speak to the specific conditions in those countries and are not designed for Canadians," Charlotte Bell, chairwoman and vp regulatory affairs at the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, said at the CRTC hearing.

"We share a common language (with Australia), but our broadcasting systems could not be more different. Australia developed its point system for measuring concentration to respond to changes in its business environment produced by easing of restrictions on foreign ownership. That was the driver of change," she said.

The Australian points system was earlier proposed for Canada by the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn., which represents independent producers here.

Rick Brace, president of national network CTV, told CRTC commissioners that he found applying the Australian model to Canada "bewildering" and that it was like comparing apples and oranges.

"It is interesting to note that there are only four national newscasts in the U.S., the same number as in Canada, despite the fact that their population is nine times the size of ours," Brace added.

The CRTC called the weeklong public hearing after three major media mergers in the past year: CTVglobemedia inked a CAN$1.4 billion ($1.32 billion) deal to buy Chum Ltd.; CanWest Global Communications and Goldman Sachs & Co. paid CAN$2.3 billion ($1.99 billion) for cable channel broadcaster Alliance Atlantis Communications; and Astral Media signed a CAN$1.1 billion ($1.03 billion) deal to acquire Standard Broadcasting Corp.'s radio stations.

Those mega-deals prompted the CRTC to consider if new rules for the domestic broadcast sector, given fewer, larger players are now jockeying for position in the emerging digital universe.
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