Canuck pubcaster shrinks

CBC announces cutbacks

TORONTO — Is the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. a pubcaster or a realtor? The latest round of belt-tightening has critics wondering about its primary function.

CBC announced April 20 that it’s pink-slipping 79 staffers and shutting most of its inhouse design department in Toronto. Outsourcing will save an estimated C$1 million ($891,000) a year.

Last year, the CBC outsourced its publicity department, and has recently upped the amount of office space it rents to outsiders at its Toronto Broadcast Center.

“I believe that real estate concerns outweighed those of the design department,” says Lise Lareau, prexy of the Canadian Media Guild, which represents a majority of CBC employees.

She believes management is eying the two-plus floors of space in its Broadcast Center for rental income. “I think they can lease it out for more money. The irony is that they’re killing their core business to do it.”

The CMG calls the design department closure “a big mistake” and notes that French-language pubcaster Radio-Canada in Montreal still has a design department of at least 133.

Despite an annual budget of roughly $1.3 billion, two-thirds of which comes from the government, “CBC Television continues to face significant financial pressures,” says a staff memo from CBC execs Fred Mattocks and Doug Broadfoot. Mattocks says the closure has nothing to do with real estate.

That the CBC is short on dough is nothing new. Mattocks, executive director of regional programming and TV production and resources, points out the CBC has not had a raise in real dollar terms for three decades.

But a shortage of government funding is not the only culprit.

The pubcaster took an undisclosed hit last year when management locked out 5,500 union employees for six weeks and ad revenue fell; the year before, the hockey strike cut deeply into ad revenue.

Hockey, Canada’s national sport, is one of the pubcaster’s biggest moneymakers. Some have speculated that if the Maple Leafs had reached the NHL playoffs this year, the additional “Hockey Night in Canada” ad revenue would have saved Toronto’s design department.

Critics hold TV VP Richard Stursberg and prexy and CEO Robert Rabinovitch responsible for the lockout. Ian Morrisson of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting points to their lack of TV production experience, and argues the CBC board, prexy and CEO should not be political appointments; a recommendation also made in a Heritage Committee report to government two years ago.

“Can you think of any other corporation that takes in and spends more than a billion dollars a year that doesn’t have a board of directors that can hire and fire senior management?” he asks.

The lobby group Our Public Airwaves sent a letter of complaint to Heritage Minister Bev Oda demanding the government step in and “stop CBC from cannibalizing itself.”