Under pressure from federal budget cuts and in the name of a “digital first” strategy, the CBC is planning another round of cuts in local news coverage across Canada next fall. This continues a process by the Harper government of breaking faith with Canadians who have clearly said they support a stronger public broadcaster and more local and regional news coverage. These constant changes to news delivery models, broadcasts, the time they are offered and their length, push viewers to pull away from CBC. The new plan also marks a departure from efforts over the last decades to rebuild CBC’s local presence on television. These changes continue the erosion of our public broadcaster as this government just stands by and watches.
In addition, now that CBC newsrooms are integrated, cuts to local TV programs will inevitably lead to cuts in news coverage overall, locally and nationally. Smaller cities will be the hardest hit in the CBC plan.
“Everyone knows that local newsgathering is an essential foundation of a relevant national news organization,” says Carmel Smyth, national president of the Canadian Media Guild. “This plan will hack at the roots, especially in the North, the Prairies, Windsor and New Brunswick. And the uneven approach to the cuts seems unfair and unbecoming of public broadcasting. These are the same places that are often least well served by private media.”
As CBC’s focus emphasizes more online programming and less TV and radio, there is also a concern that news will be less accessible to Canadians, especially those who don’t have access to robust data streaming plans.
The Canadian Media Guild has called for a reversal of the federal budget cuts that have taken $115 million out of CBC’s budget over the last three years, and for a moratorium on the cuts until the next federal election.
“Of course we need a plan to boost digital and mobile content but not at the expense of local newsgathering,” says Marc-Philippe Laurin, CBC Branch President. “The CBC needs an influx of funds to allow for a transition to the digital world without destroying the work that has been done so far. Today’s announcement shows the absurdity of trying to plan for 2020 in the context of harsh and continuing budget cuts. The bleeding of our public broadcaster needs to end before it is too late.”