CBC exec defends lack of TV election coverage in Ontario

Marissa Nelson, CBC's senior managing director for Ontario, is defending a decision not to air election coverage on Monday night.

CBC’s senior managing director for Ontario is defending a decision not to air live, municipal election coverage on the public broadcaster’s television stations on Monday night.

Marissa Nelson has responded after a group of more than three dozen staff from the Ottawa bureau wrote a letter to upper management last week appealing for the decision to be reconsidered, saying the move would “inevitably erode our standing with our audience and Canadians at large.”

Instead of airing municipal election coverage on CBC television stations in Ontario, the network aired an episode of Murdoch Mysteries at 8 p.m. ET when the polls closed. While CBC did provide coverage on radio and its internet platforms, it didn’t air results on television until its late night local news shows at 11 p.m.

Written last week, the letter from staff states “many of our viewers in the Ottawa region, who either cannot afford internet access, don’t have ready access to it, or who are not inclined to watch election newscasts online, will not be able to watch live coverage of the local election results provided by their public broadcaster.”

In her response to employees, Nelson reiterated the CBC’s commitment to its “digital-first” strategy, writing “As the public broadcaster, we have to continue to evolve how we serve Canadians. I understand change is difficult — but we will lose relevance if we don’t change to meet our audience’s needs and we know digital is where we can reach the most Canadians. Local Services, across the country, has had to weigh how to serve audiences the best way we can, with the resources we have. We have been working under a digital-first strategy for nearly five years and that’s the lens we use when we’re making difficult decisions.”

“For Oct. 22 specifically, TV is still an integral part of our offer —  as you know, we have the 6 p.m. show to set up the election and an ad-free 11 p.m. show that will give depth and analysis. I believe CBC Ottawa will deliver the information our local audience wants and needs through the combination of the local TV shows, a 90-second TV update, TV crawls and live coverage on News Network throughout the night. All of this will be driven by our continuous and strong digital coverage, including the online special, as well as the live radio special,” wrote Nelson in a copy of the letter provided to Broadcast Dialogue.

CBC had initially cited “commitments to advertisers” as the reasoning behind the move not to air live election coverage. In its 12th season, Murdoch Mysteries is one of the broadcaster’s highest ratings draws.

CTV Toronto was the only television broadcaster in the city to deliver a live, primetime municipal election special featuring up-to-the-minute results Monday night.


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