CRTC rethinks call for rules changes

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TORONTO -- Canada's newly installed TV watchdog on Tuesday backtracked on an earlier call for new rules on corporate takeovers in light of recent TV industry consolidation.

Early in March, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission chairman Konrad von Finckenstein said that separate hearings on the proposed CAN$1.4 billion ($1.2 billion) takeover of Chum Ltd. by CTVbellglobemedia would consider possible new rules on common ownership of domestic media companies amid a flurry of recent mergers and acquisitions.

But von Finckenstein on Tuesday said the CRTC has "decided to withdraw any review of its common ownership policy" during the CTVglobemedia-Chum hearing, indicating it will not single out one corporate deal over another as it weighs all for regulatory approval.

"Regarding the major ownership transactions that have been filed or publicly announced as of this date, the commission is of the view that procedural fairness demands that such applications be heard in a timely manner and pursuant to the rules in force when the transactions were announced," von Finckenstein said.

The CRTC instead will hold separate public hearings this fall on whether the current industry consolidation has reduced the "diversity of media" in Canada.

"Holding a public hearing in the fall will allow us to give these issues the thorough and in-depth study they deserve," the CRTC chairman said in a statement.

"This exercise will result in clearly articulated policy guidelines that will further the evolution of the Canadian broadcasting system from that point forward," von Finckenstein added.

In addition to the Chum deal, the Canadian broadcasting industry has recently seen newspaper giant Torstar Inc. acquire a chunk of CTVbellglobemedia; CanWest Global Communications Corp. and Goldman Sachs & Co. propose paying CAN$2.3 billion ($1.98 billion) for Alliance Atlantis Communications, which owns 50% of the "CSI" TV franchise; and radio and TV broadcaster Astral Media Inc. offering CAN$1.2 billion for Standard Broadcasting, the country's largest radio station operator.

The Alliance Atlantis acquisition is especially sensitive for the CRTC as most of the purchase price will be paid by Wall Street player Goldman Sachs, potentially opening the Canadian TV industry to increased foreign ownership.
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