Poll shows wide opposition to foreign ownership of Canadian media

OTTAWA, April 19 /CNW Telbec/ - Most Canadians (68%) believe broadcasting and communications are too important to our national security and cultural sovereignty to allow foreign control of Canadian companies in these sectors, according to a new Harris/Decima survey conducted by telephone from March 31st to April 12th, 2010.

This result emerges as the issue of foreign ownership heats up amid Parliamentary hearings which follow a controversial decision by the Harper government to license a foreign-controlled cell phone provider, overturning a decision of the independent regulator, the CRTC, in the process.

The research was commissioned by ACTRA, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, and Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, three of Canada's leading voices in culture and communications.

"Canadians are sending a clear message to government - keep these key industries under our control. Canada is not for sale," said Peter Murdoch, Vice-President Canada's largest media union, the CEP.

Harris/Decima found that 64% of Canadians are more likely to vote for candidates who oppose giving control of Canadian media to foreign interests, up slightly from November 2007 when this question was last posed. Only 21% are more likely to vote for a candidate who is in favour of allowing foreign companies to own more of Canada's broadcasting and telephone companies.

Women are somewhat much more likely than men (69% vs. 58%) to support a candidate who is opposed to allowing foreign interests to own and control Canadian media and communications companies, a gap that is evident throughout the survey results.

"At a time when the country could be thrown into an election at any moment, the poll contains a strong message to politicians who may favour opening Canada's media to foreign ownership. There is no political upside for any party to support the sell-off of our media," said Ian Morrison of the watchdog group friends of Canadian Broadcasting.

A clear majority of Canadians are against allowing foreign ownership in the telephone industry (55%), cable (54%) and broadcasting (57%), according to the survey.

The Harper government has indicated it will allow foreign companies to own and control Canadian telecommunications providers, arguing it is possible to permit foreign ownership in this sector without affecting the broadcasting sector.

However, given the converged nature of the telecommunications and broadcasting industries, with telephone companies owning broadcasters and cable companies offering phone service, many informed observers believe it is impossible to open one sector to foreign ownership and not the other because they are direct competitors.

"The Harper government cannot gut foreign ownership laws for telecom companies without their direct competitors in the cable industry demanding equal treatment. Like cascading dominos, the broadcasters will follow suit and soon, several generations of hard work to maintain our cultural sovereignty through Canadian ownership and control of broadcasting will go down the drain," said Ian Morrison, spokesperson for the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.

The survey shows that Canadians believe the outcome of foreign control of Canadian media and communications companies will be less Canadian content. Half (48%) of respondents believe Cancon would decrease under foreign owners, while only 13% believe Canadian programs would increase and 36% believe Cancon levels would remain the same.

Harris/Decima also found 81% of Canadians (50% strongly) agree that it is important that the Canadian government work to maintain and build a culture and identity distinct from the United States.

"Voters told us they want action from Ottawa to build a culture and identity distinct from the U.S. Politicians of all stripes need to take note; it would be wise to listen to Canadians before they agree to relax foreign ownership or face the music in the next election," said Stephen Waddell, National Executive Director of ACTRA.

The data was gathered between March 31 and April 12, 2010 through Harris/Decima's weekly teleVox, the company's national omnibus survey. Results are based on a sample of 2,019 Canadians, and the corresponding margin of error is +/-2.2%, 19 times out of 20.

Q1. Please tell me if you agree or disagree with the following statement.

It is important that the Canadian government work to maintain and build a culture and identity distinct from the United States.

Q2. As you may know, there has been some discussion about foreign ownership in the communications and broadcasting systems in Canada. Generally speaking, what is your reaction to foreign ownership in:

    a) Telephone companies
    b) Cable companies
    c) Media companies

Q3. Currently, the federal government does not allow foreign companies to control Canadian telephone, cable and media companies. If foreign companies gained permission and acquired control of Canadian broadcasting and cable companies, would you expect Canadian content on radio and TV to increase, decrease or stay the same?

Q4. As you may know, there may be a federal election sometime in the next 12 months. In the upcoming federal election, are you more likely to vote for a candidate who supports or opposes allowing foreign corporations to own more of Canada's broadcasting and telephone companies?

Q5. Some people say Canada's broadcasting and communications companies should be able to sell a majority interest to foreign companies in order to be globally competitive.

Others say that Canadian broadcasting and communications are too important for cultural and national security reasons to allow ownership and control by foreign companies.

Which of these two views most closely reflects your own opinion?

SOURCE Friends of Canadian Broadcasting

For further information: For further information: Carol Taverner, ACTRA Public Relations Officer, (416) 644-1519, ctaverner@actra.ca, cell: (416) 768-3336; Peter Murdoch, Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, (905) 516-5720; Jim Thompson, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, (613) 447-9592, jim@friends.ca

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