* Several Canwest units to file for creditor protection
* Global TV network, National Post seek protection
* Other newspapers, specialty-TV ops don’t seek protection
* Operations to continue through recapitalization process
* Current shareholders to get 2.3 pct of restructured firm (Adds details, CEO comments)
By Wojtek Dabrowski
TORONTO, Oct 6 (Reuters) - Canwest Global Communications Corp CGS.TO, Canada’s biggest media company, announced a long awaited recapitalization plan on Tuesday that will see parts of the company file for bankruptcy protection.
The plan is the result of months of negotiations with debtholders and is supported by a majority of its senior subordinated noteholders. It will allow Canwest’s operations to emerge as a stronger entity, the company said.
Canwest, which is controlled by the Asper family of Winnipeg, Manitoba, owns Canada’s Global television network and a chain of daily newspapers anchored by the National Post.
The Post and the Global TV network are among the Canwest properties that are filing for creditor protection, the company said.
The shoring up of Canwest’s finances comes amid speculation that the company could sell its entire stable of newspapers, either to competitors or to private-equity investors. The plan announced on Tuesday may push the company to sell off such core assets.
Canwest, which has about 7,400 employees, has been creaking under a debtload of about C$4 billion ($3.77 billion).
And like media companies elsewhere, Canwest has been hard hit as the recession choked off advertising revenues. It has also prompted the company to slash costs, with 560 layoffs announced in November 2008.
“The abrupt and unprecedented decline in advertising revenues reduced operating profits by levels no one could’ve predicted,” Canwest Chief Executive Leonard Asper said in a video message posted on the company’s website on Tuesday. “In this environment, Canwest simply had too much debt.”
Asper and members of his family have reached a deal with creditors to invest up to C$15 million in connection with the recapitalization, the company said.
Existing shareholders of the company will receive just 2.3 percent of the shares of a restructured Canwest. The financial overhaul could see the Aspers lose control of the company, though no details on new ownership were immediately available.
The restructuring plan is expected to take four to six months to implement.
“It’s not unexpected,” said Arnold Amber, the director of the Communications Workers of America union in Canada, which represents employees at Canwest newspapers in Montreal, Ottawa and Victoria, British Columbia. “The company has basically been in trouble this entire year.”
Analysts had speculated as far back as February that Canwest could file for creditor protection. The company opted not to involve the courts until now as it negotiated a resolution with lenders and noteholders.
Amber said rumors have been swirling that Canwest’s newspapers will be auctioned off. Late last week, a report in the Globe and Mail newspaper said that Paul Godfrey, the chief executive of the National Post, had lined up private-equity support to buy out Canwest’s daily newspapers.
Some of Canwest’s debt dates back to its 2000 acquisition of newspapers from former press baron Conrad Black’s Hollinger International in a deal worth C$3.2 billion.
The acquisition made Canwest the country’s biggest publisher of daily newspapers. It included 13 big-city dailies as well as 126 community newspapers, Internet assets and a 50 percent stake in the National Post. The company later bought full control of the Post.
In 2007, Canwest expanded its television holdings by partnering with an affiliate of U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs (GS.N) to buy specialty-TV group Alliance Atlantis Communications for C$2.3 billion.
Canwest said the specialty-TV operations were not part of the creditor protection filing. The company’s newspaper operations -- except for the Post -- are also excluded, it said.
Last month, Canwest said it was selling its stake in Australia’s Network Ten television network for more than C$630 million. Proceeds from the sale will go to paying down debt.
Canwest said it has secured debtor-in-possession financing of up to C$100 million that will allow its units to continue uninterrupted operations during the recapitalization process.
$1=$1.06 Canadian Additional reporting by Euan Rocha; editing by Peter Galloway