For some time now, talks of the Bell-Astral merge have been looming. Many feared that the passing of such a deal would make Bell the superpower of media, the hegemon of communications, and the leader in broadcasting. This would ultimately mean a lot of concentrated power vested into the hands of one company responsible for appealing to the needs of 33 million citizens.
Bell wished to buy Astral Media for a grand total of $3.48 billion.
On October 18th, this deal failed. The Bell-Astral merged was shot down by the CRTC.
Bell is clearly unhappy with what would appear to be, this final decision. But, Bell still has faith in the small possibility of overturning the situation. It will direct the issue to the federal government, with high hopes that it will enact its guiding supervisory mandate. Bell claims that by failing to pass the deal, many Canadians are deprived of state-of-the-art broadcasting, and superior quality of options.
The CRTC, known as the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, has the role of regulating broadcasting and telecommunications throughout the Canadian nation. One of their main obligations is to ensure that mediated content reflects Canada as a multi-faceted entity. This essentially refers to diversity, and the multiplicity of interests, classes, and ethnicities. Most importantly, it is a public service, designed to keep the interests of the Canadian people in mind and in check, guaranteeing they are respected. It has an inherently supervisory and regulatory mission, aimed at overlooking daily operations in media and related institutions.
The CRTC is worried this will levy too much power in the hands of Bell, threatening an environment of healthy competition. Bell already owns 1/3 of English broadcasting coverage. While the Bell-Astral merge did have significant benefits, it could not outweigh the negative repercussions that such a deal would produce.
The goals of the CRTC are also rooted in, and based on, the notion of accessibility. Public participation and engagement in politics has been on the decline over the course of the last century, while the public sphere is sadly on its way to extinction. Hopefully it can be revived with the rise of digitalized media, which seems to be capturing the attention of many. Public interest and citizen engagement in media is at stake. Measures need to be implemented in order to ensure that important elements of a democratic nation are kept intact.
There are two acts that limit the behaviour and conduct of media conglomerates. The first is the Broadcasting Act, which defines the means and regulations of broadcasting, listing such roles and implications. The other, the Telecommunications Act, controls television and related communications, allowing for the guarantee of dependable services. It also defends and emboldens Canadian media. This act itself is under regulation of the CRTC.
Bell Canada Enterprise (BCE), common referred to as Bell, is the biggest communications corporation in the country. It provides the means of communication to both residents and companies across the nation. But they are power hungry and desperately want to extend such a reign. Bell Media, the most recent branch of the enterprise, is also Canada’s leading multimedia corporation. Such high rankings are owed to its television, radio, and digitalized media resources.
As for Astral, it is one of the top media businesses, providing for effective services in television, radio, advertisement, and web media. Owning 25 television stations, Astral Media is the nation’s leading broadcaster for both English and French specialty programming. In terms of separate entities, on the basis of radio alone, Astral surpasses the success of any other media company, possessing over 80 recognized stations. As for online mediums, it manages well above 100 websites, which are popularly consulted, offering for a multitude of options. Astral’s specific mandate is that of communal accountability. It is devoted to fostering Canadian identity, being directly related to the country’s capacity for growth, through advocating inherently Canadian values that need to be upheld. Retention of culture is a major concern for citizens, and such values are to be reflected in mediated institutions.
There are several repercussion’s that would have manifested if a potential merge occurred. Due to the failure of the merge, independent media companies like CTV and CJAD will not be owned by the same media conglomerate. If the merge had occurred, we would be facing a much more homogenized type of programming. Now, the centralization and concentration of ownership are prevented, enabling more competition and opportunity to flourish in such an industry. Moreover, such a merge would drastically result in job losses, due to the evident future cuts in available positions.
Media and government relationship are important ones; they are accountable to one another. Bell, unsatisfied with the outcome of the CRTC’s decisions, is demanding that the government intervenes. But is this hampering with democratic norms and trumping over the CRTC’s decisions? The CRTC claims that such a merge would not fit within the public interest, as the public would not significantly benefit from it.
This is bad news for other Canadian media companies who are overshadowed by the success of Bell. They were temporarily relieved when the CRTC declined the possibility of such a merge. But now, Bell is restless in its quest, and refuses to take no for an answer.
– Chloe Giampaolo