CBC to cut 650 jobs, introduce radio advertising in wake of ‘punishing’ federal budget

CBC will cut 650 jobs over the next three years and has applied to include advertising in some radio services in order to cope with the $115-million funding reduction it was handed in last week’s federal budget.

CBC will cut 650 jobs over the next three years and has applied to include advertising in some radio services in order to cope with the $115-million funding reduction it was handed in last week’s federal budget.

President and CEO Hubert T. Lacroix addressed CBC employees over an “internal” conference call (which wasn’t internal by any stretch of the definition, as it was liveblogged by Friends of Canadian Broadcasters and tweeted by many) Wednesday afternoon along with executive vice presidents Kirstine Stewart and Louis Lalond. Lacroix described impending cuts while Stewart and Lalond addressed programming changes to CBC’s English and French services, respectively.

When appropriation reductions, cost increases and necessary investments are taken into account, the public broadcaster will face a shortfall closer to $200-million. It will also be on the hook for $25-million in one-time payments related to the job cuts. 473 of the 650 jobs will be cut in 2012, with the remainder to come over the following two years.

“It’s not a fun day,” Lacroix said during a conference call with media later Wednesday afternoon. “But we can’t get lost in this bad news.” He noted that prior to the budget announcement, CBC was measuring up well across all platforms. “That’s why it was even more disappointing to have to slow down,” he said.

CBC has published a document that outlines their plan moving forward. Of the 650 jobs cut, 256 will come from the English side, 243 from the French side, and 151 from management. According to the dialogue from the conference call posted by Friends of Canadian Broadcasters, some felt that French service employees were bearing the brunt of the cuts, but Lacroix said the cuts were proportionate.

It was also announced that CBC had submitted an application to the CRTC to place advertisements on Radio 2 and Espace Musique in an attempt to generate revenue. It is a move that was speculated last week over on ProjetJ (and later, on J-Source) as a way to save jobs, though Lacroix said there were no estimates of how much revenue the radio advertisements would bring. He did say, however, that “the decision to add advertising and sponsorship won’t change the programming mandate of CBC Radio 2 and Espace musique.”

CBC Radio One—which Stewart acknowledged was CBC Radio’s crown jewel during the media call—will remain ad-free.

During the media call, Lacroix regretted the addition of advertisements on the stations, but indicated it was unavoidable with the reality of the budget. The addition of ads on Radio 2 or Espace musique are not choices they would make “in a normal environment,” he said.

CBC also plans on reducing its real-estate holdings in order to generate revenue. “We would prefer to invest our dollars in content, programs and services [rather] than tying it up in bricks and mortar,” Lacroix said. The broadcaster is looking at renting out more of the Broadcasting Centre in Toronto, and plans for a new building in Halifax have been scrapped. The move makes Montreal the eastern-most CBC television production studio in Canada. Buildings in Calgary will also be sold, though Lacroix said the broadcaster could save money by simply renting the space from a new owner.

Plans for an online-only service in Hamilton, ON remain unchanged, and CBC says that becoming more regional and more digital is still on its agenda, as laid out in the original 2015 plan.

In terms of news programming, Stewart said that CBC is not only maintaining, but placing a high priority on producing high-quality journalism. That said, during the employee town hall, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting reported that news gathering, in-house doc production and radio would be impacted by these cuts. Stewart did say that for those who see a reduction in these services that “we commiserate that we will not be able to deliver as much as we have in the past.”

The Canadian Media Guild, which represents CBC employees, sent a memo to employees Wednesday afternoon to address the cuts that were made in light of the “punishing” federal budget.

“No part of the organization is spared from the effects of the cuts and we fear CBC will be less responsive and innovative in meeting the needs of Canadians,” said Marc-Philippe Laurin, president of the CBC branch of the CMG. “This budget cut, following years of cuts and underfunding, is clearly pushing the CBC further toward a commercial model.”

Movement in the direction of a commercial model has been criticized and theorized as merely giving ammo to those who wish to dismantle the CBC, as it is known, entirely. The argument being that, one day, a government could say that a public broadcaster that fails to differentiate from private broadcasters is not one worth funding.

The CMG memo states that the staffing cuts will be completed by the end of July. That presumably only applies to the 2012 round of cuts, in which 473 of the 650 jobs will be eliminated. 

Cutting CBC funding is not exclusive to this government, with the most recent blow to the broadcaster coming in 2009, which saw 800 jobs cut. The chart below, courtesy of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, illustrates federal funding for CBC over the last dozen years, through three Prime Ministers.