CBC to cut newscasts, more jobs

The Canadian Press
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The CBC is slashing some 20 per cent of its workforce over the next five years, while cutting back evening newscasts and in-house production and raising the possibility of selling its flagship headquarters in Toronto.

During a heated town hall with employees Thursday, the broadcaster announced its five-year strategic plan. President Hubert Lacroix unveiled sweeping changes designed to shift the CBC’s priorities from radio and television to digital and mobile services.

By 2020, CBC plans to cut 1,000 to 1,500 positions (the broadcaster says it currently has 7,500 employees). It says that goal will in part be fulfilled by retirements and attrition and that roughly 500 of these jobs will be eliminated over the next 12 to 15 months.

“Over five years, you are going to get a smaller broadcaster,” said CBC president Hubert Lacroix in a conference call with reporters. “It’s not about job cuts. It’s about a vision. It’s about a financial model that is sustainable.”

The new job losses are in addition to the 657 the broadcaster announced in April. The CBC is grappling with a $130-million budget shortfall due to federal cuts, declining advertising revenues and the loss of hockey rights to Rogers Media.

The broadcaster will also cut its real estate presence in half by approximately two million square feet. In Montreal, there will be a reduction in square feet, while the Toronto studio will acquire new tenants, Lacroix said.

But he also suggested to reporters that the CBC was open to selling or leasing the flagship 1.4-million-square-foot studio on Front and John streets.

“Should an offer for the CBC (headquarters) come, we would entertain it. But the idea is, we are not in the real estate business,” he said. “We want to transfer the risks of being an owner to the advantages of being more scalable when you’re a tenant.”

Lacroix faced calls to resign during the raucous town hall. He told staff that the broadcaster must transform itself from a “producer to a multi-platform broadcaster” in order to stay afloat.

The CBC is aiming to double its digital audience so that 18 million Canadians — or roughly half of the country — use its online or mobile services each month by 2020.

“As the media universe becomes more crowded, Canadians need a space they can call their own. We will be at the heart of that space,” Lacroix said.

He said the broadcaster will not close any stations across the country, but 90-minute evening television newscasts will be cut to 30 or 60 minutes.

The move to “significantly” reduce in-house production will not include news, current affairs or radio. Executives said each existing in-house production — such as afternoon talk show “Steven & Chris” — would be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

Heather Conway, executive vice-president of English Services, said fewer documentaries are going to be directly produced by the CBC. She would not say whether in-house documentary production would be eliminated entirely.

“Mark (Starowicz) is the head of docs, and how that unit is going to be shaped going forward is going to be a matter of conversation between he and Sally Catto, the head of programming to whom he reports,” she told reporters.

“It’s not about job cuts. It’s about a vision. It’s about a financial model that is sustainable,” CBC president Hubert Lacroix

CBC personalities including Peter Mansbridge, David Suzuki and Linden MacIntyre have signed a petition to executives opposing the cuts to documentaries.

Lacroix said the challenges the CBC faces are not unique as private broadcasters are also struggling with falling television advertising revenues. At the same time, Canadians are watching more television, from 22 hours per week in 2000 to 27 in 2013, he said.

The broadcaster has given itself a mandate to produce at least three dramas meeting the standards of cable television and more “cutting edge” comedies over the next five years. It will partner more with other Canadian broadcasters and Netflix to deliver programming.

Meanwhile, the shift toward mobile and digital will begin in the next year and will include fresh content designed specifically for laptops, smartphones and tablets, said Lacroix.

Lacroix faced accusations from critics Thursday that he is a puppet of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who appointed the CBC president. In 2012, the federal government cut $115-million from the CBC’s budget over a three-year period.

Pressed about how he has challenged the government’s cuts, Lacroix said he asked the Ministry of Canadian Heritage for a line of credit and one-time funding to deal with severance costs, but the government declined.

When union president Carmel Smyth suggested at the town hall that Lacroix “resign in protest” of the Conservative cuts, several cheers could be heard.

“Resign in protest,” he repeated incredulously. “Let’s put things in perspective. The last time CBC/Radio-Canada had an increase in budget was 1973. All the public broadcasters in the world have the same kinds of issues we have.”

In an interview, Smyth said that Thursday’s town hall was the most heated she had ever seen.

“Normally we’re very polite and diplomatic. But at this stage, people are so disappointed,” said Smyth, national president of the Canadian Media Guild, which represents most CBC workers.

“We’re looking at a dramatically different CBC. I hope the board is comfortable dismantling a national institution. At the same time they’re selling it as good news, a great plan for 2020.”

Both the federal Liberal and NDP heritage critics released statements Thursday blaming the CBC’s challenges on the Conservative budget cuts.

“These cuts are ideologically driven, pure and simple, and underscore Mr. Harper’s lack of interest as to the need and value of this crucial Canadian institution,” said Liberal heritage critic Stephane Dion.

"Young Canadians will pay the biggest price for these massive job cuts,“ added NDP heritage critic Pierre Nantel. ”The NDP regrets that as the CBC tries to keep pace with technological change, it no longer has the means to retain young talent at this key moment in its history.“




Organizations: CBC, Rogers Media

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Recent comments

  • mad as hell
    June 27, 2014 - 04:56

    Now to cut the rest of the 1.1 BILLION they receive from taxpayers. The Government should not be in the business of funding broadcasting. The war on American content is lost.

  • Justine Thyme
    June 27, 2014 - 01:23

    Great, another website I will soon have to pay for, just to read local news. Might be time to start stalking the gossipers on facebook for the real local news and sit around the coffee shops.

  • Nobody under 55 cares
    June 27, 2014 - 00:19

    OH NOES. CORONATION STREET!!! Hey old people, it's called Netflix. Ask your Encyclopedia Brittanica about it.

  • Mary
    June 26, 2014 - 21:30

    Yes, it certainly can be shortened; no need to see the same news items twice or three times in an hour and a half, then hear them again on Island Morning Radio and Main Street. Also agree we don't need to hear the weather five times or more in an hour and a half. Seems like filler to me. We can read the weather in a second on-line or on mobile; can get news this way too.

  • rick
    June 26, 2014 - 20:28

    There should be housecleaning at the upper level of CBC. They need new thinking. They should do documentaries and news, and never mind all the sports crap and strained humor offered by Rick Mercer. They should do major series based on good writing and interesting things like history and classic literature. I mean, who can stomach such things as Republic of Doyle. Lots of material, but no talents, --- cut back on the salaries and wages to technicians and actors, and give the more work to make up for it..

  • It's A Shame
    June 26, 2014 - 16:24

    CBC is the fibrous thread that binds us together in this country and it's a dam shame that people don't see that.

  • wayne
    June 26, 2014 - 15:06

    I do think it can be shortened , as the last half hour is a repeat of the first. Hopefully no one will lose thier job, as they do a great job. I like watching the weather and local stories, not everyone has the computerized gadgets for finding the weather.

  • Other cuts can be made...poor priorities
    June 26, 2014 - 14:51

    Also why waste money on Wimbeton Tennis matches?? Spruce Meadow Horse shows? Broadcasting all CFL games??Foolish shows like NHL players and figure skaters.Who ever has been doing this has been out of touch and caused thousands to flicked the remote...and not come back.Compass can be done in an ..Islanders like their local news.....It is to bad local shows like Land and Sea and local music shows are not being promoted ....they were unique and well watched and promoted our regional characteristic 's and culture.

  • Compromise
    June 26, 2014 - 14:11

    I think Compass can be a half hour and get everything fit in that time and more. One person can read news and do weather. On HNIC there is no need for a panel or 4 or 5 to sit with Ron Mac Lean, that is ridiculous., and wasteful.

  • reality
    June 26, 2014 - 13:45

    start with the weather forecast - it is not necessary -most have hand held devices with up to the minute information available