As CBC plans to restore some local TV news starting Wednesday, FRIENDS’ of Canadian Broadcasting executive director Daniel Bernhard is increasingly worried about the effect the COVID-19 pandemic will have on Canada’s journalism landscape as a whole.
Last week, the network made the move to temporarily scale back local supper hour and late night newscasts, citing stressed resources and the need to now broadcast 35 live events a day compared to the usual eight.
The move drew the ire of many CBC employees and the union that represents them, the Canadian Media Guild (CMG), in addition to Premier Denny King from Prince Edward Island, the country’s smallest province where CBC is the primary provider of local television news.
CBC announced Tuesday it would restore local TV news offerings with an expanded 30-minute local news segment on CBC News Network, saying “over the course of this week and next, we will make every effort to have all of the dedicated local shows back up on the main network.”
FRIENDS, an independent CBC watchdog, started a petition last week calling for Canadian Heritage Min. Steven Guilbeault to step in with emergency funding to keep the public broadcaster running at full capacity.
Daniel Bernhard, the organization’s executive director, says the importance of local news has never been greater. He’s particularly concerned about what he sees as a lack of acknowledgement of the gravity of the public broadcaster’s centralization woes that led to last week’s pause on local newscasts. Especially as outlets like Quebec’s CN2i, formerly Groupe Capitales Médias, lay off 143 staff at six regional newspapers until the COVID-19 crisis passes. Atlantic Canada’s Saltwire Network and Halifax independent alt weekly The Coast have also announced temporary staff reductions over the last week.
“I’m not in the control room. I can’t say whether this official explanation of overload at each queue stands up to scrutiny, but what I will say is that the centralized structure that has supposedly failed is a result of cost-saving measures taken over many, many years,” Bernhard told Broadcast Dialogue.
“This problem wasn’t created in a day and it won’t be solved in a day. What concerns me is that [CBC president & CEO] Catherine Tait isn’t willing to admit there’s a problem here or aggressively pursuing a solution. That worries me and I hope they will come around on this.”
Bernhard says with a lot of news organizations already on life support, the current crisis makes CBC’s ability to deliver local news to audiences across the country that much more vital.
“If you think CBC News being reduced is bad, wait until Torstar shuts down or Postmedia. If CBC can’t maintain local presence, we have a really big problem, so it’s incumbent on government to come to grips with this and for the opposition parties to step up and say if the health situation is changing day-by-day and we don’t have public media on the ground telling people what to do, people are going to die,” said Bernhard. “They need to get serious about this journalism situation and really fast.”
Bernard said he’s heard from Members of Parliament who are equally concerned about the public broadcaster’s ability to deliver local news.
“They would like for their constituents to have accurate, local information on how they can stay safe…the situation is really different across the country at a time when information is a matter of life and death. We’re not the only ones complaining about this.”
Subscribe Now – Free!
Broadcast Dialogue has been required reading in the Canadian broadcast media for 25 years. When you subscribe, you join a community of connected professionals from media and broadcast related sectors from across the country.
The Weekly Briefing from Broadcast Dialogue is delivered exclusively to subscribers by email every Thursday. It’s your link to critical industry news, timely people moves, and excellent career advancement opportunities.
Let’s get started right now.