Union seethes over Alliance sale, vows appeal


TORONTO -- Canada's largest media union plans to appeal last week's regulatory approval of Goldman Sachs & Co.'s joint bid for domestic broadcaster Alliance Atlantis Communications.

"We are not going to sit back and let the CRTC sell off Canada's broadcasting industry to the U.S.," Peter Murdoch, vp media at the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, said Friday.

He spoke a day after the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approved a $2.3 billion takeover of Alliance Atlantis by rival CanWest Global Communications and equity partner Goldman Sachs.

Murdoch said that the regulatory green light will open up Canadian media to ownership by U.S. bankers.

"Canadians do not want their communications and broadcast industries in the hands of foreign ownership," he added. "It threatens the sovereignty of our cultural industries and needs to be stopped."

Under the deal, CanWest Global will hold a 35% equity investment in 13 Alliance Atlantis cable channels that it has acquired, and 66.66% of the voting shares. Goldman Sachs in turn will retain the balance of both equity and voting shares.

Other Canadian unions and guilds similarly expressed outrage at the CRTC's decision to allow a U.S. investment giant to acquire major equity control of a domestic broadcaster.

"This decision is truly alarming. Now the CRTC has allowed a U.S. company to buy a Canadian broadcaster," Stephen Waddel, national executive director of performers union ACTRA said Thursday.

But the CRTC argued that CanWest Global made key changes to its shareholders agreement with Goldman Sachs which eased earlier foreign ownership concerns.

CanWest Global CEO Leonard Asper said Friday that the broadcaster was happy with the CRTC decision to OK the Alliance Atlantis takeover, which tests Canada's foreign ownership rules by enabling an American company to hold a majority equity stake in a Canadian broadcaster.

"We took every precaution to ensure this transaction met our business needs while confirming to Canadian regulations," Asper said.

But Murdoch said his union will appeal the CRTC ruling to the federal cabinet, which has ultimate responsibility for the Canadian airwaves.

"Changing foreign ownership restrictions under the (Broadcasting) Act is a political decision, not that of a regulator," he argued.