Quebecor tells CRTC Bell-Astral deal can't be allowed

MONTREAL – Canada will have one of the highest levels of media concentration if Bell’s $3.4-billion acquisition of Astral Media goes ahead, Quebecor’s chief executive said Tuesday.

CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau is telling a CRTC hearing in Montreal that Bell’s pan-Canadian media ownership would be well above the accepted 35 per cent level.

“This proposed transaction has an alarming number of precedents that no other western country, concerned with diversity, competition and democracy will have ever have faced,” Peladeau, speaking in French, told the hearing.

“The impacts of such a domination would be multiple and would allow the suppression of all competition. It would be felt notably on the ability to acquire programming because no other Canadian enterprise would be able to compete against the power of Bell.”

Even if the CRTC were to impose conditions, Bell (TSX:BCE) would try to find ways to get around them, Peladeau charged.

Quebecor — one of Bell’s chief rivals — owns 8.4 per cent of the Canadian market, he said.

Quebecor has joined Cogeco Cable Inc. (TSX:CCA) and Eastlink to launch a campaign to oppose the deal, which they say would give Bell too much control over the country’s broadcasting landscape.

Bell has told the hearing that with the acquisition of Astral (TSX:ACM.A), it will own 33.5 per cent of the English language market and 24.4 per cent of the French-language market.

That’s under the 35 per cent threshold set by the CRTC for approval, but BCE’s competitors dispute that figure and say it is higher.

The deal would bolster Bell’s French language content in Quebec — Quebecor’s core market— and will see an all new French language news service launched in Montreal.

Bell has said the acquisition of the Astral media assets will provide more competition in Quebec’s French-language market, which is dominated by Quebecor.

Earlier Tuesday, Bell Media said it will look at selling TSN radio in Montreal if the CRTC shoots down changes the telecom giant wants to make at some of its radio stations in the city.

Bell is asking the CRTC to convert its English language TSN sports radio to French language RDS all sports radio. The company says the move would better appeal to English and French listeners.

Bell says it will add more sports content to its all-talk station CJAD in Montreal to serve the English market.

It has already told the hearing that it will divest 10 radio stations in five markets as part of the deal to buy Astral.