'Canada Now' to be axed, local news expanded

The CBC has blinked. In a significant strategic about-face, Canada’s pubcaster is renewing its emphasis on local and regional news coverage and slashing its national news.

In what brass at CBC Television is calling a “soft launch of several different elements,” the half-hour national supper-hour news program “Canada Now” is being axed in February and local news shows will be expanded to a full hour.

The move is a 180-degree turn from a strategic redesign unveiled in 2000 by Robert Rabinovitch, then new in his post as prexy and CEO, in which local news coverage were slashed and “Canada Now” was created. Widely condemned at the time, the shift was ostensibly introduced to save money.

“It’s pretty ironic that six years later it’s back to the future,” said Lise Lareau, prexy of the Canadian Media Guild, the union that covers most CBC employees. “I’m thrilled that CBC has acknowledged that local news is important; it’s how you build a network.”

Lareau noted that some private broadcasters are moving in the opposite direction, including Chum Television and Global TV, CanWest. “So it’s even more important that our public broadcaster be able to deliver quality local news,” she said.

The current move is not a mea culpa, CBC TV spokesman Jeff Keay said. “We would argue that while it certainly is a re-emphasis on the local programming that we’d gotten away from, it’s not simply that,” he said. “It’s very much an integration exercise as well. It’s about reconfiguring the news offering over the three platforms; TV, radio and online.”

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