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CBC: The Cuts Expected by All

If the federal budget contained some surprises, the cuts to the CBC weren’t one of them. It has been a number of months that we have been expecting these cuts to the crown corporation. Minister James Moore has continued to reaffirm that the CBC needs to make cuts between 5-10% like all the other agencies. You didn’t need to be psychic to predict the cuts of approximately $115 million. You also have to add to this the obligation to absorb the increased costs of doing business, just like at the Department and its agencies and societies.

The Cuts

Here’s where the major cuts will happen:

  • Loss of 650 jobs;
  • The end of RCI on satellite and shortwave;
  • And the end of production of news bulletins at RCI;

Effectively RCI’s budget is cut by 80% and 40 employees, 65% of the employees have received their notice of termination.

  • Introduction of ads on Radio 2 and Espace Musique. A request for this has already been submitted by the CBC management;
  • Renting a large portion of the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in Toronto and sale of some of their real estate;
  • And acceleration of the shut down of analog television transmitters. “Continuing to operate 620 transmitters to reach 1.7% of the population would not be an efficient use of our resources at the best of times; it is certainly not viable given the current circumstances.” [1]

Like the cuts at Telefilm and the NFB, some of the cuts will have repercussions for artists and independent producers.

  • Increased reruns – six fewer original Canadian series in prime time, 175 hours less original programming;
  • Reduction of the number of live musical productions on the radio (new objective: 100-150 recordings per year)
  • Eliminate dramas on Radio One;
  • And cost cutting in informational programming: cancel CBC News Network’s Connect and CBC Radio’s Dispatches.

CBC Radio

  • Cancellation of evening programming on Radio One and reduced production budget for Espace Musique;
  • Optimization of rights management;
  • Fewer numbers of episodes produced and a revision of internal and external production costs for some television programs;
  • Cost cutting at RDI in Montreal and in regional centres;
  • Cutting the regional broadcasting time on Espace Musique in half;
  • And temporary reductions in the funding of digital and online services.

The Reactions

The reactions came from the usual suspects. Friends of Canadian Broadcasting published a press release on March 29th saying, ”Today’s budget singles out the CBC for vindictive cuts that break the Conservative’s election promise to maintain or increase funding to the national public broadcaster…”

The Writers Guild of Canada affirms, “…federal budget cuts are severely compromising CBC’s ability to deliver on its mandate under the Broadcasting Act to reflect Canada to Canadians.”

In Quebec, Raymond Bachand, the Minister of Finances has said that he was concerned about the significant cuts to the CBC and Telefilm. Québec Solidaire and the unions have also expressed outrage at the scale of the cuts. A sit-in took place on the 10th of April in Montreal in front of the NFB cinérobothèque to protest the cuts to the three audiovisual agencies.

We are already seeing the collateral damage. The unions like the Guilde des Musiciens and l’Union des Artistes are already experiencing difficulty in negotiating with the public broadcaster, which seems to have lowered expectations. The president of L’Union des Artistes, Raymond Legault, said to the Devoir on April 20th, “I understand the situation well, but I don’t think the salaries of the employees or management will decrease at the CBC. It will happen more through attrition. So is it more acceptable to diminish the fees of the artists? The cuts will already affect producers who then pass off to us. If dramas go from 13 to 10 episodes, that’s already less work for our members, self-employed workers in precarious situations.”

In a survey from Léger Marketing published in the Devoir on April 7th, confirmed that 70% of Canadians are satisfied with the $5.2 million cuts announced in the budget (20% are dissatisfied).

If Canadians seemed apprehensive about the cuts to public services, the 10% reductions to CBC and CBC radio has split the population in two equal groups to a lesser extent than public service jobs. In CBC’s case, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta are the most enthusiastic about the cuts to the CBC. That’s the blow that hurts most for the CBC. Everyday Canadians didn’t react to the cuts because they didn’t see them as that significant.

Professor Pierre Bélanger from the Communications Department of the University of Ottawa commented, “We have a government that has a good dialogue: the bridges are falling into the water, the debt is growing, we must establish our priorities and make choices. The objective is to reduce the debt for the future and protect future generations. The government opts for cuts where it does the least harm. Where it does the least harm politically.” We must admit that this dialogue works here.

Some stakeholders also noted that the bosses at CBC announced cutbacks without criticizing the cuts. They seemed to accept their fate. According to Nietzsche, the only way to free ourselves is to love what happens to us. Perhaps this is the philosophy of the senior management of CBC. Why climb the barricades?

About layoffs at the CBC, the Minister of Canadian Heritage told CBC’s George Stroumboulopolos that several positions were already scheduled to be eliminated by management with or without the federal budget. “More than half the jobs that are going to be lost at the CBC in the coming few years, more than half of them were going to be cut even if we didn’t touch the budget of the CBC. These plans were being made internally in the CBC regardless of the federal budget.”

Pierre Bélanger says again: “We can’t rejoice cuts to Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. But I would say that, unlike in previous years, there are chances to reinvent itself. In the last cuts, digital media was in its infancy. It has now taken off and CBC has a much better control. If you think of Hamilton whose coverage is now done via the Web, or Tout.TV which is very popular, there are already significant advances.”