Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Impropriety alleged on Bell-Astral issue

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MONTREAL -- The CEOs of three major Canadian multimedia companies have written to the minister of Canadian Heritage, complaining two federally funded agencies have gotten involved in the $3.4-billion Bell-Astral deal.

They say it's inappropriate for a local RCMP detachment in Terrace, B.C., and for Telefilm Canada to have made submissions to the CRTC in favour of a deal they oppose.

The heads of Cogeco Cable Inc., Eastlink, and Quebecor Inc. say they're concerned about the independence of other federal agencies reviewing the transaction -- the CRTC and Competition Bureau.

The CEOs say the RCMP and Telefilm Canada are funded by tax dollars and the CEOs have asked Heritage Minister James Moore to have their letters withdrawn.

Cogeco, Eastlink and Quebecor, which compete against BCE Inc.'s Bell and Astral Media, launched a high-profile campaign last week against the transaction. Telus Corp. voiced similar concerns Monday.

Telus said Bell could have a 49.5 per cent share of the English-language television audience with its purchase of Montreal-based Astral, along with its ownership in the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment TV assets and its stake in joint-venture assets such as Teletoon. The consortium pegs the figure at 37.6 per cent.

However, Bell said they have both over-estimated the potential English-language audience with the inclusion of the MLSE TV assets -- including Leafs TV, NBA and soccer channels -- and put it at 33.5 per cent instead of almost half.

The CRTC approved the sale of the sports television channels Thursday, saying it has been convinced that the deal will benefit Canadians and lead to the creation of new homegrown sports programming.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 17, 2012 B6

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