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The Globe and Mail: With Astral on the ropes, Bell takes on Canadians

After speaking out against Bell's $3.4-billion takeover of Astral Media, the CRTC made a decision to listen to Canadians and block the Big Telecom expansion of power. Naturally, Bell hasn't been so easy to give up on its power-grab – instead now taking on Canadians and the CRTC. We need to stand by the CRTC decision that was made in our favour, telling our MPs to do the same. Sign and share our campaign to help stop Bell's takeover for good. Article by Simon Houpt for The Globe & Mail It sounded at once alluring and kind of unseemly. At a roundtable chat here on Tuesday afternoon hosted by Larry King, Kevin Crull, the president of Bell Media, listened in admiration as his fellow panelists sketched out their utopian visions for how technology is making the world an infinitely better place. One Kenyan entrepreneur talked about a game he had developed, in which players protect trees from illegal loggers, that helped change people’s views of the practice in the real world. Brian David Johnson, a futurist at Intel, marvelled: “The idea that people just carry the Internet in their pocket – they carry a gateway to global business, to global politics in their pocket – I think has just had a massive, massive effect on our society.”

To which Mr. Crull replied: “Me, I want to put the Kardashians in your pocket.”

He was joking, mostly. But that attitude might be part of what spurred the CRTC’s smack-down of Bell Media last week, when it summarily rejected the company’s request for regulatory permission to take over Astral Media. The commission seemed to be suggesting that Mr. Crull and his colleagues – and, by implication, most of their colleagues at Canada’s large media companies – have forgotten there’s a responsibility that comes with the privilege of holding broadcast licences. Bell executives are having none of that.

They believe they met all of their takeover obligations, and that if the CRTC felt they fell short, then it had a responsibility to tell them so rather than rejecting the deal. Having experienced perhaps the worst defeat in their careers, they seem to be suffering a collective case of PTSD, rendering them wholly uninterested in entertaining the possibility that they are even partly responsible for their own troubles. (On Thursday, BCE extended the deadline on the deal to December 16, with a possible further extension to next Jan. 15.) Less than 24 hours after the rejection, George Cope, the chief executive officer of Bell Media’s parent BCE Inc., conducted a scrappy press tour, ravaging the CRTC.

And so, after the panel, Mr. Crull pulled me aside to double down on Bell’s attacks, laying out five principles he alleged the CRTC failed to uphold. (I should note that BCE holds a 15-per-cent interest in The Globe, and Mr. Crull sits on the company’s board.) His decision to do so suggests an unusual strategy of trying to throw the regulator back on its heels.

The CRTC, argued Mr. Crull, is failing to be sufficiently transparent and predictable, noting that in 2008, after it deregulated mainstream sports and news content, Bell bought CTV and other assets in part because it saw a financial opportunity; after the purchase, the commission re-regulated that content. He argued companies are not being treated equally, citing the fact that Cogeco is permitted to own five radio stations in Montreal while CRTC policies usually set a limit of four stations. And he said the commission is failing to be sufficiently forward-looking, not taking into account the projected growth of so-called over-the-top services such as Netflix.

And then he said this: “I expect the people who regulate our industry to understand our industry. I expect them to be students of the industry. I expect them to be intellectually open, honest, and curious.” During the hearing, said Mr. Crull, “one of the panelists spent the entire time chiding us for not having a woman sitting at the main table, or not having a woman on the leadership team. It may be a worthy discussion for another time. But I don’t know what that has to do with a multibillion-dollar acquisition of a media company. Read more »


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