CanWest bankruptcy a wake-up call

For Immediate Release

October 8, 2009

OpenMedia.ca and the Council of Canadians are raising concerns about what the CanWest filing for bankruptcy protection means for increased concentration and foreign ownership of Canadian media. The organizations are calling on the federal government to use the filing as an opportunity to expand media democracy in Canada rather than use it as a pretext for potentially reducing foreign ownership restrictions on Canadian Media.

“Following the failed business model already employed by the Aspers and Goldman Sachs in television has been a profound mistake for CanWest,” says Garry Neil, a Council of Canadians board member and cultural policy expert. “It is worrisome that the Aspers might be kept around in order to satisfy ownership rules, possibly just as window dressing to mask a major foreign takeover of Canadian media.”

"We believe that US creditors are already running CanWest, and Canadians should be very concerned that asset sales will undermine Canadian ownership regulations as they did with the Goldman Sachs deal to buy Alliance Atlantis," says Peter Murdoch, Vice President Media of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, which represents more than 1,000 media workers at CanWest television stations.

“In looking at the CanWest job losses, the blame can be placed squarely in corporate mismanagement,” says Steve Anderson, coordinator of OpenMedia.ca (formerly the Campaign for Democratic Media). “What is the debt from? Not unprofitable journalism, but rather acquisitions and mergers that were entirely unnecessary, and profoundly unpopular with the public.”

In a presentation to the CRTC two years ago, the Council of Canadians cautioned against allowing the purchase of Alliance Atlantis by broadcaster CanWest Global, which granted U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs nearly two-thirds ownership of two of Canada’s largest media companies.

“Foreign ownership restrictions are critical to maintaining appropriate regulations in our broadcasting system,” says Neil. “In turn, such regulations are essential to ensuring that the private sector players have appropriate responsibility for achieving the objectives of the Broadcasting Act, including editorial diversity and bringing Canadian stories and artists to our television screens. All of this is essential for our democracy, our culture.”

“This further indicates a need to support independent, community and public media so they can step into the void left by big media,” says Anderson.

“The CanWest crisis highlights how our newspapers are owned by an anonymous group of international investment funds,” says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “These developments are a very troubling sign for media democracy in Canada.”

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For More Information:

Dylan Penner, Media Officer, Council of Canadians, 613-795-8685

Steve Anderson, Coordinator, OpenMedia.ca, 604-837-5730

Peter Murdoch, Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, 905-516-5720