rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Is Bell taking over Astral to get millions in public subsidies?

Last year telecom giant Bell unleashed a new $3.4B plan to take control of Astral Media, one of Canada’s largest media companies. Canada has one of the most highly concentrated media systems in the industrialized world, and this deal would only make this situation worse by giving Bell a monopolistic share of the media market. Now, it seems that the takeover would also give Bell millions in public funding from the Canada Media Fund (CMF), making the deal bad for Canadians on all possible fronts.

The CMF provides broadcasters with government funding to promote new and innovative Canadian content in a way that levels the playing field and reflects the rapidly changing media landscape. In order to support production in television and digital media, broadcasters are allocated specific amounts based on past performance.

For the 2013-2014 period, Bell has been allocated the second highest share of all the broadcasters, at almost $32.6 million. Now it looks like if the Bell-Astral deal goes ahead, the $5.6 million in CMF subsidies currently set aside for Astral Media will be added to Bell’s already full pockets. This means that rather than being used to encourage media innovation, a large chunk of CMF funding is going to help Bell further cement its power over Canada’s media system.

The proposed takeover brought a lot of attention to the problems of ‘vertical integration’ in the run-up to the CRTC hearing last year. Owning more of our media system gives Bell a stranglehold over the content we consume and the delivery of our daily communications. When one company owns the medium and the message, there is a strong profit incentive to push content that it owns, or restrict access to other content it doesn’t control.

Canadians have, en masse, voiced their opposition through the StopTheTakeover.ca petition and the CRTC has denied the deal once already, sending a clear message that Bell had not shown the takeover to be in the public interest or of benefit to the Canadian broadcasting system. Undeterred, Bell is now trying again—even trying to unilaterally change Canada’s broadcasting rules—and, after making some tweaks to their original takeover deal, is re-applying to the CRTC.

The hearings for this second attempt started yesterday, and the new ‘watered down’ version of deal doesn’t look any better.

Canadians have spoken out against the deal, calling for Big Telecom/Media giants to be split up, to create a level playing field with affordable choices and room for innovation. But if Bell gets control of Astral the opposite will happen, with the media giant obtaining an even larger share of the broadcasting market and creating excessive concentration of Canadian media and communications assets.

Bell is pursuing an outdated business model that reduces customer choice, forces subscribers to pay for content they don’t want, and banks millions in taxpayer-funded subsidies. It seems that Bell’s priority is getting as much money out of Canadians as possible, without any consideration of what citizens actually want.

On the issue of Bell’s takeover so far, the CRTC has been on Canadians’ side and has emphasized that its top priority is to "put Canadians at the centre of their communications system." But we need to ensure that they know we’re still paying attention, and that we won’t put up with even more of Canada’s key media assets going to Bell.

Let the CRTC know that we won’t stand for Bell’s shameless cash-grab. We won't let Big Media restrict Canadians’ telecom, news, and media choices.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.