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Pierre-Karl Peladeau, CEO of Quebecor, takes part in a press conference with Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume, not shown, at city hall in Quebec City, Tuesday March 1, 2011. (FRANCIS VACHON/FRANCIS VACHON/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Pierre-Karl Peladeau, CEO of Quebecor, takes part in a press conference with Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume, not shown, at city hall in Quebec City, Tuesday March 1, 2011. (FRANCIS VACHON/FRANCIS VACHON/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Opposition to Bell-Astral deal rife with fear-mongering Add to ...

The trio of media executives who oppose BCE Inc.’s proposed acquisition of Astral Media Inc. are channelling the bogeyman.

Rather than rationally ask regulators to look into the takeover, execs from Quebecor Inc., Cogeco Cable and Eastlink Communications are lambasting the BCE deal, calling for it to be blocked outright. And to win over the public, they’re using all the scare tactics they can think of.

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At a press conference Tuesday morning, Louis Audet, chief executive officer of Cogeco, went so far as to say that if the deal goes through, Canada’s media landscape would look like Italy’s, adding that former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi used his country’s media concentration to catapult himself to victory.

Then consider the trio’s main argument: that a 38 per cent market share would be ruinous for Canada, ensuring that no competitors would stand a chance.

Yet while that number is surely something for the Competition Bureau to analyze, keep in mind that Quebecor’s television market share in Quebec hovers around 35 per cent. Pierre Karl Peladeau tried to divert reporters’ attention away from such facts, arguing that there is competition in Quebec from rivals like the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation – even though this same competition exists nationally.

Another of their dire warnings: in order to watch popular programs, BCE could force you to buy other Bell phone, wireless internet or TV services, even though there’s no precedent for this.

Of course, the trio has some legitimate concerns. Lee Bragg, chief executive officer of Eastlink, raised a particularly good point. As a smaller cable provider, Bell historically forced him to buy a bundle of stations when he wants to offer his clients just one of Bell’s, which makes him impose this bundle on his customers. (Mr. Bragg was also the most calm and clear-headed exec at the press conference.)

But many of the potential issues – such as forcing customers to buy Bell phone and cable products – are things that do not currently exist and can easily be stopped by regulators. In other words, the deal could still could go through, Bell could expand its presence in Quebec (something Mr. Peladeau is surely worried about) and the anti-competitive practices could simply be banned.

The problem is that there isn’t much confidence in the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission because many media execs – and the general public – believe they’ve been slow to act on too many issues. However, BCE shouldn’t be cast as the bad guy for buying Astral, as it was already revealed that other media companies were interested in the company when chief executive officer Ian Greenberg shopped it around.

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