Black out: CanWest to buy 100% of National Post

Conrad Black has stunned the Canadian media and business worlds by agreeing to sell his remaining 50 per cent stake in the National Post a paper he founded three years ago to CanWest Global Communications Corp., which owns the other half of the paper.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

Black will step down as the Post's publisher on Sept. 1. The paper's associate publisher, Gordon Fisher, will become acting publisher.

Black's decision to sell the remainder of his stake in the Post comes nine months after he sold an initial 50 per cent stake in the paper to Izzy Asper's CanWest, along with several other Canadian metropolitan dailies held by Southam, in a $3.5 billion deal.

At the time, Hollinger and CanWest agreed to a five-year deal that would conclude with one partner buying out the other's stake in the Post.

So it came as a surprise when news of Black's early departure from management of the paper emerged.

"It became clear in the nine months since the sale by Hollinger of Southam to CanWest that difficult ambiguities were created by a divided ownership," Black's holding company Hollinger said in a release issued Friday morning.

"The management and directors of Hollinger find this a painful, but a sensible decision. The National Post has been successfully launched and established, but now requires an intimate association with an indigenous Canadian media company to take it through the next competitive phase of its development to profitability," Hollinger said.

By selling out his stake in the Post, Black also avoids the possibility of continued losses at the three-year-old paper. Since it started in 1998, the Post has lost millions.

CanWest chief executive Leonard Asper said the paper's losses were not relevant at this time. "The point is we know this can be profitable...We intend to make this newspaper profitable."

CanWest said its intends to take a much more active role in the Post's management in preparation for the ownership transition.

Media market observers have said the change in ownership structure is expected to result in a shift in the National Post's editorial stance. Where Black was stridently right-of-centre and the Post tub-thumped for deep tax cuts and private medicine, Asper is well-connected to the reigning Liberal Party.

CanWest's takeover of the Post will leave the company alone to go head-to-head with Bell Globemedia, a BCE Inc. subsidiary and owner of the Globe and Mail and CTV, in the battle for readers and viewers as newspapers, television and Internet properties converge.

The sale of the remainder of the Post must still be approved by the federal Competition Bureau

Black still owns The Telegraph Group in the U.K., the Jerusalem Post and the Chicago Sun-Times.