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CBC Regional Cuts: Open Letter to Members of Parliament

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

Dear Members of Parliament,

Your help is urgently needed to defend our region from devastating cuts to CBC English-language programming. As you know, CBC is planning to eliminate at least 31 full-time positions in the Maritime provinces. These cuts would reduce original reporting on CBC morning radio programs in Cape Breton and southern New Brunswick. They would wipe out the stories, interviews and documentaries from all three Maritime provinces that we hear daily on CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon. Moreover, further cuts are pending which could weaken CBC Television’s already-understaffed, regional supper-hour programs.

These cuts are especially serious at a time when privately owned media outlets in our region are being forced to slash costs and lay off staff because of dwindling advertising revenues associated with the current economic recession. The most dramatic example is in Nova Scotia where one of two Halifax papers has been shut down, while the other, a provincial daily, has laid off about a quarter of its journalists. Journalistic staff has also been cut to the bone in the regional newsrooms of Canwest Global Television. CTV Atlantic news and information programming too is under severe budget restraints because of financial problems facing its parent company, CTVglobemedia.

As Members of Parliament, there may not be much you can do in the immediate future to prevent layoffs and cutbacks at private media outlets, but you do have the power to oppose regional cuts at CBC, a federal Crown Corporation. As you know, the federal government is spending billions on a stimulus plan to offset the worst effects of the current recession. A small portion of that money could be allocated to support CBC operations, especially in regions like ours that need a strong CBC presence most.

That need is recognized in federal law. Under Section 3 of the Broadcasting Act of 1991, the CBC is required to “reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions.” CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon is a textbook example of a program that serves our special, regional needs. Yet, it may be eviscerated within a few weeks.

In 1996, the federally appointed Mandate Review Committee summarized the thinking behind the Broadcasting Act when it concluded: “The CBC cannot be truly national if it is not strongly rooted in the regions. By that we mean not only that the regional radio and television stations of the CBC should be able to contribute to network programming, but also that they should program for the particular needs of their regions.”

The framers of the Broadcasting Act clearly intended that CBC would use its financial resources to serve regional needs. But severe budget reductions during the 1990s, constrained the CBC’s ability to fulfill those obligations. As Members of Parliament, you are probably aware that the House of Commons Heritage Committee has twice called for increases in CBC funding partly to restore the Corporation’s capacity to serve Canada’s regions. Most recently in 2008, the Committee pointed out that the average subsidy for public broadcasting in 18 western countries averaged $80 per capita, while the CBC received only $33. The Committee recommended an increase to $40 per capita over seven years.

In 2006, the Senate Committee on Transport and Communications made an observation in its Final Report on the Canadian News Media that is especially pertinent to these times when advertising revenues are shrinking: “The fall in value of the CBC’s parliamentary appropriation (approximately 20 per cent in real dollars) has forced the Corporation to increase its reliance on earned revenue, largely television advertising dollars. This in turn has forced CBC television to focus on ratings rather than on its core mandate, public broadcasting. It has also forced the CBC to make unpopular decisions, such as the decision (now partially reversed) to reduce the quantity of local news and public affairs programming in certain regions.”

Everyone agrees that the CBC’s decision in 2000 to cut regional TV supper-hour programs in half was a disaster that reduced the quality of CBC news coverage while driving audiences away from CBC Television. Now, thanks to the recently announced CBC cuts, a new disaster is unfolding in our region.

As Members of Parliament, you can raise your voices and exert your considerable collective influence to defend our region against these devastating cuts. Your help is urgently needed.

Bruce Wark
Inglis Professor of Journalism (retired)
University of King’s College

Sent to: Bill Casey, CaseyB@parl.gc.ca; Brian Murphy, MurphB@parl.gc.ca; Dominic LeBlanc, LeblaD@parl.gc.ca; Gail Shea, Shea.G@parl.gc.ca; Geoff Regan, Shea.G@parl.gc.ca; Gerald Keddy, KeddyG@parl.gc.ca; Greg Kerr, Kerr.G@parl.gc.ca; Greg Thompson, ThompG@parl.gc.ca; Jean-Claude D'Amours, DamouJ@parl.gc.ca; Keith Ashfield, Ashfield.K@parl.gc.ca; Lawrence MacAulay, MacAuL@parl.gc.ca; Mark Eyking, EykinM@parl.gc.ca; Megan Leslie, Leslie.M@parl.gc.ca; Michael Savage, SavagM@parl.gc.ca; Mike Allen, AllenM@parl.gc.ca; Peter MacKay, MackaP@parl.gc.ca; Peter Stoffer, StoffP@parl.gc.ca; Rob Moore, MooreR@parl.gc.ca; Rodger Cuzner, CuzneR@parl.gc.ca; Rodney Weston, Weston.R@parl.gc.ca; Scott Brison, BrisoS@parl.gc.ca; Shawn Murphy, MurphS@parl.gc.ca; Tilly O'Neil-Gordon, ONeill-Gordon.T@parl.gc.ca; Wayne Easter, EasteW@parl.gc.ca; Yvon Godin, GodinY@parl.gc.ca.

c.c. Stephen Harper, HarpeS@parl.gc.ca; Michael Ignatieff, IgnatM@parl.gc.ca; Jack Layton, LaytoJ@parl.gc.ca; Gilles Duceppe, DucepG@parl.gc.ca.

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