Updated: CBC will cut 8 per cent of staff in two years; “abandons sport coverage”

By Tamara Baluja, Associate Editor

By Tamara Baluja, Associate Editor

CBC announced it will cut eight per cent of its staff over the next two years as it grapples with a budget shortfall of $130 million. It also said it will reduce its sport coverage, saying it can no longer compete against private broadcasters with specialty sports channels and multiple media platforms for professional sporting rights.

At an employee town hall on Thursday, CBC president Hubert Lacroix said the public broadcaster will cut 657 jobs, of which approximately 312 will be in French Services.

In English Services, 334 jobs will be cut—234 at the network level and another 100 regionally. News operations will account for 115 of the cuts in English Services and another 38 in sports. 

Currently, CBC has 6,994 permanent employees, 859 contract employees and 329 temporary employees, so these cuts represent nearly eight per cent of all its staff. Of those 657 job cuts announced Thursday, 573 will be let go in 2014.

“This is a sad day for the CBC,” Marc-Philippe Laurin, president of the Canadian Media Guild branch at CBC, told J-Source. “It’s suffering a slow dismantling and just cutting and bleeding.”

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This is the third time in the past five years that CBC has undergone a major restructuring and resulted in roughly 2,100 job losses. In 2009, the public broadcaster eliminated 800 jobs in an effort to save $171 million and chopped off another 650 positions in 2012.

Lacroix said it would be “too easy” to blame these financial difficulties on the loss of Hockey Night in Canada to Rogers Communications.

CBC was already struggling to cope with the federal government slashing its funding in 2012 by $115 million over three years when Rogers inked a $5.2-billion 12-year exclusive deal with the National Hockey League. The deal means that while CBC will not pay for the rights to air hockey on its main network, it will foot some of the production and staffing costs while Rogers keeps all the advertising revenue.

The public broadcaster said a “disappointing schedule performance in key demographics on CBC Television, much lower-than-expected ad revenues from Espace musique and CBC Radio 2 … and the elimination of the Local Programming Improvement Fund” meant it has to claw back its services. 

That means the CBC will cover fewer events and fewer sports.

Laurin said CBC has effectively decided to “abandon sports coverage” with nearly half of the sports team laid off as a result of these cuts.

Heather Conway, executive vice-president of English Services, said it’s too early to tell what impact the cuts will have on sports personalities and that many of those decisions will be made in conjunction with Rogers. “The future of sports is a slimmed down version of what it was,” she said in a conference call with media. 

“We remain committed to signature events of national importance such as the Olympics; but, as with Sochi, we’ll approach these events in new ways—new ways of producing, new technologies and new partnership arrangements,” the public broadcaster said.

It also means the CBC will stop all expansion plans, which includes cancelling plans for a station in London, Ont.

“It’s clear we can’t be resizing the public broadcaster every two years,” Lacroix said in a press release. “It is equally clear that the media landscape is transforming at an astounding speed. To meet this challenge, we have accelerated a strategic planning exercise that was already underway. This new strategic framework, which we will announce in the coming months, will guide the Corporation’s evolution towards a smaller, more nimble and more open public broadcaster. Today’s announcement is not an end point, but a pivot point into a period of accelerated change.”

CBC will pay a one-time severance fee of $33.5 million for laid off employees. Late Night News in the North has been cancelled, and some regional shows in Alberta have been consolidated, as have shows in Sudbury and Thunder Bay in Ontario. A full list of affected programs has not yet been made available. 

“There is a great deal of pressure on everyone at CBC,” said Marc-Philippe Laurin, president of the Canadian Media Guild branch at CBC, in a statement. “These are talented people, who are dedicated to telling our stories and keeping us informed from one end of the country to the other. We’ve been through years—decades of cuts. The situation we’re in is untenable.” 

Journalists and audiences across the country responded to the cuts with disappointment and concern. The Canadian Association of Journalists issued a statement saying Canada ranks third from the bottom in a 2011 Deloitte audit on per-capita funding for public broadcasters, spending $34 per person. “When jobs are cut within a media company, Canadians often lose,” CAJ vice-president Nick Taylor-Vaisey said. “These positions help inform and educate Canadians about the news and information we need to have for a healthy, functioning democratic society.”

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