By Frank Moher
Let’s play CanWest Idol! — in which we decide who should get to buy the bankrupt media company’s assets.
The finalists for the TV operation appear to be just two: Shaw Communications and Catalyst Capital. The former is the Alberta-based cable company; the latter is the front-organization for Leonard Asper and New York investment firm Goldman Sachs.
Simon Cowell says: Really? These are the choices? A hardware company run by a cowboy and the same people who drove CanWest into the ground in the first place? No wonder I’m quitting this show.
We say: That’s a little harsh, Simon. Besides, we know cowboys, and Jim Shaw is no cowboy. As for the Aspers, it’s true that letting them reassume control would be like putting Joseph Hazelwood back at the helm of the Exxon Valdez, but, y’know, their convergence strategy showed foresight and may just work yet, once the economy is out of the pooper.
On the other hand, they’re in large measure responsible for the pathetic state of Canadian specialty channels, so we say stick with the decision to give it to Shaw. Given all his mouthing off about the horribleness of Canadian programming, we’d like to see Jimbo try to do better. And who knows? Maybe he will.
In the print category, the known finalists are BC newspaper publisher David “No Relation to Conrad” Black, Vancouver-based Glacier Media, Inc., a consortium led by current National Post executive Paul Godfrey, and — guess who? — the Aspers.
Simon says: The Aspers again? Let me see: if the bank foreclosed on my home and put it on the market, and I tried to buy it back, promising that this time I’d really, really pay the mortgage, what do you think the bank might say to me? As for the rest: Who are these nobodies?
We say: Well, actually Simon, one of them has been running CanWest’s flagship newspaper for awhile now. But there’s the problem. The CanWest newspapers need a total reboot, and, plainly, neither Godfrey nor the Aspers are the people to do it. After Conrad Black sold the Post to Izzy Asper and Asper (eventually) fired Ken Whyte, the Post became a shadow of its former, robust self and remains so today. It needs reinventing. As for the others in the chain, particularly the big city papers like The Calgary Herald and The Ottawa Citizen, they are still beset by the poisonous atmosphere created by Black’s union-busting and the Aspers’ predilection for censorship — most famously reflected in their firing of Russell Mills, publisher of the Citizen, after the paper called for the resignation of Jean Chretien, and continuing today with their suppression of news and commentary contrary to Israel’s interests. Again, a housecleaning is in order.
That leaves the other Black (David) and Glacier Media. We confess to having known nothing of the latter until we visited their website, but we can confidently say that any company that can’t produce a better website has no business running a national news organization. David Black, on the other hand, has quietly built up a very solid chain of newspapers, some big, mostly small, in both western Canada and the States, most of which also have sophisticated online editions. Black Press has run into its own charges of meddling, but Black himself is known as a hands-off publisher with no particular political agenda. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?
Not that the Bank of Nova Scotia and other creditors are going to spend a lot of time considering who’ll create the best product, and help renew Canadian media. They just wantz their money. If they did, though, Shaw and Black would walk away the winners. Cue the balloons.