Citigroup to advise CanWest on Australia

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OTTAWA -- Canadian broadcaster and newspaper owner CanWest Global Communications Corp. has retained Citigroup Global Markets Inc. to explore opportunities in Australia after the country passed a law this month to abolish a 19-year ban on foreign and cross-media ownership. The legislation is expected to take effect next year.

CanWest said Friday it will examine a "range of possible scenarios" that could affect its 56.4% interest in Australian TV broadcaster Network Ten and Ten-owned outdoor advertising company Eye Corp. as well as its 70% stake in its New Zealand-based TV and radio broadcasting subsidiary, CanWest Mediaworks NZ Ltd.

"No decisions have been taken with respect to possible outcomes, which include continuation of the status quo," CanWest said in a statement.

CanWest's shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange climbed 8% to CAN $10.70 on the news, their highest level this year.

CanWest has recently scaled back its operations, selling its two Canadian radio stations this month for CAN $15 million and agreeing in May to sell its 45% stake in Irish broadcaster TV3 for CAN $198 million.

Australia's Macquarie Media Group is believed to have approached CanWest Global last week about acquiring its stake in the Ten Network. But Citigroup is apparently examining potential acquisitions in the region on behalf of CanWest, including possibly linking with radio network Austereo.

But representatives of Village Roadshow, Austereo's major shareholder, have told Australian media it is currently not for sale. Both CanWest and Austereo target the 18-49 demo and cooperate on the simulcast of the "Australian Idol" series.
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