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Union opposing Quebecor bid for radio stations

Montreal, - A communications union is contesting a radio acquisition it says would give Quebecor Media a stranglehold on the French-language media in Montreal and much of the rest of Quebec.

If federal regulators allow Quebecor Media to buy the seven radio outlets, it would own the province's dominant television broadcaster, biggest cable-TV distributor, largest daily newspaper and leading AM radio station.

``The radio will become in fact one more tentacle of the octopus that Quebecor Media has become,'' Gilles Mathieu, a spokesman for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said Thursday.

The union has tabled a brief with the CRTC, which next month will review the purchase of six AM stations and one FM outlet by Quebecor Media, a unit of Quebecor Inc.

The stations were among 19 French-language stations in Quebec and New Brunswick that Astral Media Inc. bought from Telemedia Communications Inc. for $225 million in 2001.

The CRTC approved that deal, but the Competition Bureau contested it on the grounds it would give Astral too much dominance in several regions.

Astral agreed to sell seven of the stations to Quebecor Media subsidiary TVA, the leading private-sector television broadcaster in Quebec, for $12.75 million. TVA (TSX:TVA.B) has a minority partner in the takeover, regional broadcaster Radio Nord Communications.

The seven stations include CKAC, Montreal's leading AM station, which provides programming to the other six stations scattered across the province.

Mathieu said the union is concerned about media concentration in Montreal, and about the fate of CKAC's newsroom and its relation to TVA and its all-news LCN network.

``To allow this acquisition will bring about the death of radio as a distinct source of general information and transform it into a branch of television,'' Mathieu said.

Besides TVA, Quebecor Media owns Videotron, Quebec's leading cable TV provider, and the Sun Media national newspaper chain which includes Le Journal de Montreal, the largest-circulation daily in the province.

Quebecor spokesman Luc Lavoie called the union's position ``absolutely not a surprise and totally irrelevant.''

He said there is no intention to merge the radio and television newsrooms, and he noted that Le Journal de Montreal and the TV channels operate independently.

``We operated (TV station) TQS and the Journal de Montreal from 1997 to September 2001 and there was not one instance where there was a non-respect of the watertightness of the two newsrooms.''

The provincial Caisse de depot pension fund manager assumed 45 per cent ownership of Quebecor Media after helping Quebecor buy Videotron for $5.4 billion two years ago.

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