Thursday, March 26, 2009

Conservative cuts to CBC go right to the core

Details of cuts to CBC English services were announced this afternoon. It appears that the cuts will have a significant impact on all aspects of the CBC's offerings, including to CBC News and many regional bureaus. Perhaps those Conservative MPs growling about cuts to local media during the hearings at the Heritage Committee might have spoken to the boss man a little more forcefully. Or are they only concerned about the cuts to private broadcasters? Hopefully the ballot box will speak loudly to them in the near future. Here's the news release on the cuts:
- Planned reductions in prime time entertainment, variety and factual
entertainment programming, including the number of episodes of
programs such as The Border, Being Erica, Little Mosque on the
Prairie and others;
- Discontinuation of the daytime Living programs;
- Reduction of spending on children's television programs;
- Reduction or elimination of some sports programming, including
international figure skating, skiing, world aquatics, world athletics
and some soccer programs;
- Reduction of staff at current affairs and consumer affairs programs
the Fifth Estate and Marketplace;
- CBC News overall will see a reduction of approximately $7 million and
80 positions;
- (Recently announced) cancellation of daytime program Fashion File and
hiatus of Steven and Chris);
- On CBC Radio, discontinuation of network programs The Point, Out
Front, The Inside Track, In the Key of Charles and the weekend
edition of The Signal;
- Reduction to one-hour of regional radio noontime programs;
- Reduction of live music recordings and radio drama;
- Closure of one-person bureaus in La Ronge, SK, and Thompson, MB;
- Reduced staffing in: Windsor, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Quebec City,
Moncton, Saint John, Sydney, Corner Brook, Labrador, Gander and
Grand Falls, NL;
- Reductions in staffing at both the network and regional levels for
all platforms. (emphasis added)
And about the panacea of "carriage fees" that are being trotted out by both the private broadcasters and CBC now and suddenly supported by Conservative MPs, it's not an ideal solution. As noted today, it won't produce enough revenue to solve all of the shortfalls. Further, the cable subscribing public will be the ones to foot the bill, estimated to add between $2-$10 per month to our bills, perhaps more. How interesting it is to see these Conservatives so enthusiastic about taxing the public.

The regional fallout is trickling in now, in Quebec the news is not being received well. More evidence that the Conservatives must be viewing the province as secondary to their future political strategy. Although with reaction like this, it's not clear to me how it helps them across Canada either:

A representative from the Syndicat des Communications, which represents 1,500 Radio-Canada and CBC staffers in Quebec, said the union plans to turn this into a political battle.

"It's an attack on CBC and Radio-Canada," union spokesman Ubald Bernard said. "It's not surprising, but it's disappointing. What the union can do is protest, and we can also remind all the federal political parties that (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper is strangling Radio-Canada."

In Quebec City, provincial Communications Minister Christine St-Pierre, who is a former Radio-Canada television reporter, said she was surprised by the size of the cuts.

"I would like to know how are they going to protect the service in French for francophones in Quebec and outside Quebec, especially in the regions," she said, adding that she wants to talk with Moore.

"I need more information," St-Pierre said.

This is a huge risk for the Harper government, going right after the public broadcaster despite the hit they took in the last election on the arts issue. Pretty remarkable in its scale and daring.

(h/t Andrew McIntyre)

Update (5:55 p.m.): Email reaction: "It isn’t that surprising at this time…’s 3rd down and long for these jokers (CFL rules ;), it’s hail mary time."

Update II (6:05 p.m.): Meanwhile: "Harper, Charest announce $2.3B infrastructure spending in Quebec." Quote from Harper in the report:
"We are taking short-term action on our economy all across this country in a way that will serve our long-term needs."
But clearly, not all of our long-term needs. (h/t penlan)