CRTC slaps limits on cross-media ownership

Private broadcasters will be allowed one TV station and one daily paper or radio outlet per market. Market share limits were also placed on mergers, sparking complaints from CAB.

The CRTC introduced new restrictions on cross-media ownership yesterday. They allow owners of private, over-the-air TV stations to also hold only one radio station or one local daily newspaper in the same market.

The new regulations also spell out that the regulator will not approve any future merger that would result in a conventional broadcaster controlling more than 45% of the total television audience share in a market. But the 45% audience share restriction will not apply if a broadcaster grows its existing assets beyond that amount.

‘It is an approach that will preserve the plurality of editorial voices and the diversity of programming available to Canadians, both locally and nationally, while allowing for a strong and competitive industry,’ explains CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein.

The new regulations were rebuked by both the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and several media unions, including the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union and the Canadian Media Guild, but for entirely different reasons.

CAB president/CEO Glenn O’Farrell was particularly perturbed with the new 45% restriction, complaining that the limit was never debated during the ‘Diversity of Voices’ public hearings held in September in the lead-up to the new policy. ‘New initiatives have to be properly debated. We are encouraging the commission to do what it normally does – seek comment on a policy before it comes into place. This doesn’t contribute to the transparency of the regulatory environment.’

During the hearings, the CAB, along with Shaw Communications, CTVglobemedia, Canwest and others, argued that no new rules were needed, since media consolidation had brought an increased diversity of voices in Canada. The private broadcasters argued that mergers of concern should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, while Von Finckenstein continually pressed for concrete benchmarks.

Current rules that restrict a broadcaster from owning more than one over-the-air station in one language in a market will remain in place. The new rules also prevent a cableco or satellite TV distributor from merging if it would result in one distributor effectively controlling delivery of programming in a market.

During the hearings, smaller independent broadcasters such as Pelmorex, Stornoway Communications, APTN and Channel Zero argued that some broadcast distributors were hindering diversity in the country by refusing to carry their channels.

The new cross-media ownership regulations currently don’t affect any broadcaster. CTV owns a conventional TV station, radio stations and the Globe and Mail in Toronto, but the latter is a national paper – as is Canwest’s National Post – and the rules apply only to local dailies.

Therefore, the Canadian Media Guild and the CEP contend the new rules don’t go far enough. ‘The commission has taken the smallest step possible to limit local media ownership concentration, while allowing, in some areas, increased concentration,’ says CEP VP of media Peter Murdoch. ‘The new policy does nothing about media empires that currently have a stranglehold on some large markets, such as Vancouver, or about what happens on a national level.’

The CRTC also upheld its 10% rule for benefits packages and said it expects broadcasters to draft or sign terms of trade agreements with independent producers as part of their upcoming license renewals. The commission went so far as to say if this did not occur, it ‘may choose to arbitrate the negotiations’ to develop terms of trade.

From Playback Daily