The CRTC has brought in new regulations to restrict cross-media ownership as a way of ensuring a diversity of editorial voices in the same market.
The broadcast regulator said on Tuesday that, in future, a person or entity will be permitted to control only two of the three types of media outlets — radio, TV, or newspapers — in a single market.
In other words, a media group that already owned a local radio station and a local television station would likely have to sell one of those broadcast outlets if it wanted to buy a local newspaper in the same market.
The CRTC also said it would impose limits on the ownership of broadcasting licences so that one party would not control more than 45 per cent of the total television audience share as a result of a merger or acquisition.
It also said it would not approve transactions between cable or satellite delivery providers that would allow one entity to effectively control the delivery of programming in a market.
That would prevent the country's two main satellite TV distributors — Bell ExpressVu and Star Choice — from merging.
"It is an approach that will preserve the plurality of editorial voices and the diversity of programming available to Canadians, both locally and nationally, while allowing for a strong and competitive industry," said CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein.
The ownership restrictions followed hearings last year into the issue of media concentration and the diversity of voices following two high-profile media deals — CanWest Global's purchase of Alliance Atlantis Communications, and CTV's acquisition of CHUM Ltd.
The new rules are not retroactive and will not require any change to the current media ownership picture in Canada.
"The commission recognizes that, at the present time, it does not appear that any one person controls all three local media in any Canadian market," it said in its ruling.
The policy change would, for instance, effectively prevent CTV and CanWest Global — owners of TV and radio stations in many markets — from buying more local newspapers in the same markets unless they sold off a broadcasting outlet.
CTV already owns the Globe and Mail and CanWest Global owns the National Post. But the CRTC said it considers the Toronto-based newspapers to be national rather than local.
Media unions critical
The new policy fell far short of what media unions had hoped for.
The CRTC ruling "allows the big players to become bigger, and does very little if anything to limit media concentration in Canada," said Peter Murdoch, vice-president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union.
"The new policy does nothing about media empires that currently have a stranglehold on some large markets, such as Vancouver, or about what happens on a national level," he said.
The Canadian Media Guild agreed.
"The CRTC is preserving the current unacceptable levels of concentration and is not even adopting meaningful measures to stop it from getting worse," said Guild president Lise Lareau.
"By their own admission, they are legalizing the status quo since they admit that their new rules are not being contravened anywhere in Canada."
But the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting liked the CRTC's policy changes.
"The CRTC is recognizing that as a result of media concentration, there are levels of concentration that could well pose a threat to diversity and, therefore, democracy," said the group's spokesman, Ian Morrison.
"Although I would quibble on some of the details, I think this an example of the CRTC doing its job," he said.
New policies affect private broadcasters only
The new policies apply only to private broadcasters.
The CRTC said it will address the situation of the CBC and other public broadcasters' contributions to diversity of voices during upcoming hearings that focus on the CBC and provincial educational broadcasters.
The CRTC already has restrictions that generally prohibit the ownership of multiple same-language TV stations in the same market.