Canadian Unions Urge Court to Block Feds on Foreign Ownership Decision

Canuck unions weigh in with cultural concerns as federal court reviews government decision to license foreign telecom company.

TORONTO – Erecting a bulwark against foreign ownership of domestic broadcasters, Canadian media guilds are urging a federal court to overturn a greenlight from Ottawa for an Egyptian-controlled phone company to operate in Canada.

“You can’t open up telecommunications to foreign investment without impacting broadcasting, these two industries are increasingly becoming one and our ability to control our media and protect our culture depends on owning and controlling both,” Peter Murdoch, vp of CEP Media, a union representing broadcast journalists, said ahead of a judicial review Wednesday on a 2009 decision by the federal government to allow Egyptian phone giant Globalive to launch a wireless phone service in Canada.

That controversial move by Ottawa was seen as an attempt to relax foreign ownership limits on domestic phone companies, a move likely to produce equal treatment for Canadian broadcasters down the road.

“We couldn’t sit by and let this case go forward without the court hearing about the devastating impact selling-off our telecommunications industry would have on Canadian culture,” Stephen Waddell, national executive director of ACTRA, representing domestic performers, said ahead of the appeal court case getting underway.

The federal government has signaled that a decision on easing or eliminating foreign ownership rules in the telecom sector will shortly be made.

Enabling foreigners to control more of the telecom sector is expected to have a domino effect on domestic broadcasters as Canadian content distribution and broadcasting is fast converging.

This case raises fundamental questions about the relationship between foreign ownership and Canadian cultural sovereignty,” Ian Morrison, a spokesman for the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, representing 50,000 domestic TV viewers, said.

The appeals case follows the sale of 13 of Canada’s most profitable cable channels by Goldman Sachs & Co. to cable giant Shaw Communications after a knock-down legal battle for corporate control.

Morrison also criticized federal industry minister Tony Clement for overruling the CRTC, Canada’s broadcast and telecoms regulator, which earlier decided that Globalive, which is backed by Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Holding, was not Canadian enough to warrant a license to operate here.

“It also raises serious questions about the willingness of the federal government to play by the rules and suggests the need for tighter controls to ensure that industry minister Clement doesn’t misuse his powers under the Telecommunications Act,” Morrison added.

Ottawa, defending its Globalive decision, insists it is looking to open up the domestic telecom sector to increased competition and foreign growth capital.

The appeal of the Globalive decision, and Ottawa deciding on whether to change foreign ownership rules, comes as a possible federal election could take place this spring.

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