Canadian unions warn on ownership

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TORONTO -- Canadian TV unions and guilds on Wednesday claimed that Canada's national security and cultural sovereignty will be undermined if Ottawa allows first-time American control of domestic broadcasters and other media content carriers.

"We are on the verge of losing ownership of our airwaves" to U.S. media interests, Stephen Waddell, national executive director of ACTRA, which represents 21,000 domestic performers, said ahead of a public meeting in Calgary.

Representatives for ACTRA, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEPU) and the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting also unveiled a poll that indicates 66% of Canadians believe domestic TV content carriers are too important to Canada to allow first-time foreign control over them.

The Calgary gathering was timed to coincide with a possible national election early next year.

"At a time when the country could be thrown into an election at any moment, the poll contains a strong message to politicians who may favor opening Canada's media to foreign ownership. There is no political upside for any party to support the sell-off of our media," Peter Murdoch, vp media for the CEPU, said.

Currently, foreign companies are limited to a 20% direct equity stake in Canadian broadcasters and other culturally sensitive media companies.

The Canadian government in October established a blue-ribbon panel to examine a reduction or end to foreign ownership restrictions on domestic broadcasters (HR 11/1).

Ian Morrison, a spokesman for the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, a group that represents about 50,000 domestic TV viewers, urged Ottawa to resist persistent overtures from lobbyists for cablecasters especially to relax or scrap foreign ownership rules.

"Powerful lobbyists for the cable industry are at work right now, quietly trying to persuade the federal government to allow Americans to buy them out. If they succeed, there's nothing to stop foreign companies from taking control of Canadian media and telecommunications too," Morrison said.

Canadian foreign ownership rules over domestic broadcasters is already under test by a pending takeover of Alliance Atlantis Communications by rival broadcaster CanWest Global Communications and equity partner Goldman Sachs & Co.

The country's broadcast regulator in mid-November held hearings to consider approval of the CAN$2.3 billion ($2.23 billion) takeover deal and is expected to render a decision by the end of the year.
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