Hefty layoffs continue at Canada pubcaster

TORONTO – Nearly 1,000 employees of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. were handed pinkslips Wednesday as part of the pubcaster’s continuing downsizing in the face of federal government budget cuts.

The CBC has abolished a total of 2,409 positions in the current fiscal year ending March 31, 1997, including 1,699 in this latest round of cuts, and will eliminate another 800 by the end of March 1998.

Besides the 996 laid off Wednesday, 615 staffers have left voluntarily and 88 vacancies will not be filled. As of last summer, the CBC employed about 7,700 people. Network toppers figured 3,200 jobs would have to go to cope with budget cuts amounting to C$414 million ($304 million U.S.) over three years.

Most of the job losses this time are in programming areas. Head office support positions were axed earlier, and Radio Canada Intl., the shortwave service, has been shut down.

For the time being, only two network programs are going off the air: “Undercurrents,” a current affairs show, and “Meeting Place,” a religious program.

“There are bound to be other announcements about program impacts as we move through this thing,” Jim Byrd, vice president of CBC English Television Networks, told Daily Variety. “There’s still some other program fallout that has to occur. We’ll be watching the ratings and reaction of viewers before we make that call.”

He said every network program is being hurt by the cuts, as resources dwindle and the number of producers and researchers declines. Hundreds of hours of regional programming, not broadcast nationally, will be lost as local stations are confined to producing supper-hour and latenight newscasts. Network production is being consolidated in Halifax, Toronto and Vancouver.

Over the last two years, the CBC has Canadianized its schedule so that primetime consists solely of Canadian-made shows. It will eliminate from the daytime schedule its remaining foreign programming – two American soaps and three half-hour stripped series – by the fall of 1998, repatriating several million dollars, Byrd said.

“We’re going to be meaner and leaner and at maximum efficiency,” Byrd said.

At the English Television Network, a total of 642 staff positions are being eliminated – 290 layoffs, 178 voluntary separations or vacancies unfilled, and 174 jobs previously cut. The English Radio Network will lose 250 jobs this year and 150 next year, on top of 125 eliminated last year.

The CBC French Network, Societe Radio Canada, has also been hit hard. TV will lose 378 jobs, most of them voluntary separations, and radio 216 jobs. By the time the final cuts are finished, the French network will have lost 35% of its personnel.

“The rhythm is different in French,” said Michele Fortin, vice president of Radio Canada. “We’re going quicker, so that next year there will be fewer cuts on the French side compared to the English side.”

Byrd said the CBC will have to grab its share of production funding provided by a new fund, which pools the resources of Telefilm Canada with the Cable Production Fund. Roughly a third of the fund, or $55 million, has been allocated to the CBC, provided the money is spent on productions made by independent producers.

(Brendan Kelly in Montreal contributed to this report.)

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