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CRTC approves sale of WIC Western International to CanWest by Leanne Yohemas-Hayes

Jul 6, 2000

Source : Canadian Press

by Leanne Yohemas-Hayes

The federal broadcast regulator has approved CanWest's bid to acquire eight new stations, creating a stronger TV network with more concentrated ownership the company says it needs to compete in a rapidly changing media landscape.

The regulator approved Thursday the sale of WIC Western International Communications TV stations to CanWest Global, the country's second largest private television station. The acquisition, valued at $800 million, will see the company more than double its operations to 15 from seven stations, a move which will boost the network's presence in Alberta and British Columbia as well as strengthen it throughout the country.

Leonard Asper, president and CEO of CanWest and son of executive chairman Izzy Asper, said the company was thrilled with the ruling and heaped praised on the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

"We are extremely pleased and very relieved that the CRTC has decided to approve our vision of the future ... in such a forward looking way," he said during a telephone news conference from Winnipeg.

Asper said he's relieved because the content of the decision "demonstrates the CRTC has an understanding of the tremendous changes that are transforming the media industry all over the world and the need for our regulator to lead and not follow the technological revolution."

Although some job-types may become obsolete, there "will be a net-job gain and ... some cross-pollination between people at the WIC station and the CanWest station as we try to bring the two together," Asper said.

The decision means CanWest will maintain ownership of the English-language television stations CIII and CHCH in the Hamilton, Ont., market, and CHAN and CHEK in the Vancouver-Victoria, B.C., market as well as four stations in Alberta – CICT in Calgary, CISA in Lethbridge, CITV in Edmonton and CKRD in Red Deer.

But the commission ruled CanWest won't get all stations it applied for and will have to sell one of its own.

The regulator refused CanWest permission to acquire CFCF Television Inc., formerly owned by WIC and licence holder for an English-language television station in Montreal.

The company will also have to sell its Vancouver television station CKVU "in order to minimize the risk of undue competitive advantage," said the regulator. As part of the ruling, CanWest said it will disburse $84 million to various arts groups, academic institutions and other Canadian programming initiatives.

Ian Morrison, of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, said the ruling will give CanWest, in effect, control over two national networks, and a huge advantage over the CBC and CTV.

The company has leapfrogged over the other two networks because most cities will now have two stations controlled by the same company, says Morrison.

"There will be two separate Global stations in each of the markets wherever you live," he said in an interview.

"The result is that they link up those local signals and provide network programming" throughout Canada.

CanWest owns, operates and holds substantial interests in conventional television, and specialty cable channels, and radio in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. The Company's program production and distribution division and interactive media division operate in several countries throughout the world.

The regulator also ruled that Toronto-based Corus Entertainment, a Shaw Cable spinoff, can acquire WIC's radio stations, video-on-demand and pay-per-view, but has ruled Corus must sell its shares in The Family Channel over the next six months.

© Canadian Press