Canada's Canwest enters bankruptcy protection

Canadas Canwest enters

By
October 9, 2009 14:11
3 minute read.

Canwest Global Communications Corp., Canada's biggest media company which sought and failed to purchase The Jerusalem Post five years ago, entered bankruptcy protection this week after reaching a deal to restructure its debt with lenders. The bankruptcy filing is a blow to Canwest's founding Asper family that dreamed of making Canwest a major media conglomerate in the world with holdings in TV, print and the internet. Now its TV and newspaper assets are expected to be sold separately. Canwest had been unable to make interest payments for months on debts of $3.8 billion and negotiated several extensions with creditors. The media giant had reached an agreement with a key group of lenders to give them a stake in the restructured company, leaving current shareholders with just 2.3 percent, and Ontario's Superior Court of Justice on Tuesday approved the request to enter protection. Canwest has been selling pieces of its business to show lenders it's making progress on reworking its operations. It recently sold its majority stake in Australian broadcaster Ten Network Holdings after earlier selling its E!-branded TV stations and the US political magazine The New Republic. Canwest CEO Leonard Asper and other members of Canwest's founding family have also agreed to invest up to $14.2 million in the restructured company. Canwest didn't say how much voting control or operational involvement the Aspers would have afterward, but their equity stake will be significantly diminished. Canwest had worked with Israeli media group Mirkaei Tikshoret in seeking to purchase The Jerusalem Post Group - which includes The Jerusalem Post daily, The Jerusalem Post's website at www.jpost.com, The Jerusalem Report and other titles - from previous owners Hollinger five years ago. However, after an arbitration ruling, Mirkaei Tikshoret was awarded sole ownership of The Jerusalem Post Group. Asper said Canwest believes the restructuring can be implemented in four to six months and, in a memo to employees, that the process is not going to lead to significant job losses. Business units of the media company that will be filing for creditor protection include the Canwest Television Limited Partnership, which holds Canada's Global Television, as well as MovieTime, DejaView and Fox Sports World, and The National Post Co. "By working with our major debt holders, we have developed a prepackaged financial restructuring plan that is intended to minimize business disruption and preserve the value of our operations," Asper said. Asper acknowledged the company took on too much debt. Canwest accumulated more than $2.8 billion in debt when it bought the former Southam newspapers and Canada's National Post newspaper earlier this decade, becoming the country's biggest publisher of daily newspapers. "Like all media companies, Canwest's financial performance has been adversely affected by current economic and financial market conditions, including a precipitous and unprecedented decline in advertising revenues. There is no doubt that in this environment, Canwest had too much debt," Asper said in the memo. The filing does not include specialty channels that Canwest and Goldman Sachs bought from Alliance Atlantis in 2007, nor does it include the subsidiary that owns other newspapers, among which are the Montreal Gazette, the Calgary Herald, the Edmonton Journal and the Vancouver Sun and Province, or the company's online operations including the Canada.com Web portal. The newspaper part of the company is restructuring debt with a different group of bondholders and could also still seek protection. Last week, a published report said Paul Godfrey, CEO of Canwest's National Post in Toronto, has been approached by private equity funds that want to buy some or all of the Winnipeg media company's papers. Canwest asserted last week that its newspaper assets aren't officially up for sale at this point, but the report said they're expected to hit the auction block within two months. Canwest said Tuesday's filing only applies to entities whose businesses account for about 30 percent of the company's revenue. Shares of the company, which trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange, were halted Tuesday and are expected to be delisted.


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