OTTAWA: Canada's broadcasting watchdog has unveiled its much-anticipated cross-media ownership reforms and new limits on mergers to ensure diversity in programming.

However, the changes introduced by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission have earned a hostile reception in some quarters, along with criticism that they simply "legalize the status quo".

Calls for media reforms became louder last year after several major acquisition deals including conglomerate CanWest Global's takeover of television group Alliance Atlantis Communications.

The CRTC has now ruled that private companies will in future be allowed to control only two of the three media types serving a single local market: radio, TV and newspapers.

In addition, when the regulator reviews mergers and acquisitions, it will ensure that no single entity controls more than 45% of the total TV audience and that no owner effectively controls delivery of programming in any market.

Declares CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein: "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."

The rules apply only to private companies and future deals, thereby leaving previous agreements unchallenged.

A dismayed Lise Lareau, president of the Canadian Media Guild complains: "The CRTC is preserving the current unacceptable levels of concentration and is not even adopting meaningful measures to stop it from getting worse."

But lobbyists, the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, have welcomed the new regulations, saying: "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."

Its spokesman Ian Morrison adds: "Although I would quibble on some of the details, I think this an example of the CRTC doing its job."

The watchdog will turn its attention to public service broadcasters during upcoming hearings.

Data sourced from Financial Times online; additional content by WARC staff