Faced with shrinking advertising revenues and federal financing, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Wednesday announced the biggest cutbacks in its history, eliminating 1,100 jobs and closing or reducing service at 10 of its 17 regional television stations.
The cutbacks will save the organization $108 million (Canadian) this year, almost 10 percent of its $1.15 billion budget. Last year, when the CBC reported a $23 million deficit, 500 jobs were cut from its staff of more than 10,700.
The CBC operates local, regional and national television and AM/FM radio services in English and French across Canada; television broadcasts of Parliament; Newsworld, a 24-hour television news station; Radio-Canada International, the multilingual short-wave radio service, and locally produced programs in several languages for native peoples in the North.
"These decisions have given me many sleepless nights," Gerard Veilleux, CBC president, told employees via closed-circuit television.
The cuts -- some effective immediately, others by April 1 -- mean most provinces will lose their local news coverage in favor of one regional broadcast. In Toronto, for example, CBLT-TV (Channel 5) will lose its local programming capabilities in English and French (CBLFT), but will carry the national and Ontario provincial news and other programs as part of its continuing television operation.
Citing fiscal restraint, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's government has ordered the CBC to cut $140 million over three years.
But the Conservative Party has been accused of targeting CBC because of what is considered an anti-government stance in its public affairs programs.
University of Toronto media history professor Paul Rutherford argued that "this may end up as short-term pain for long-term gain" by returning the CBC to its "original mandate of serving the country in two official languages."
Local and regional TV programming, Rutherford said, only began in the late 1950s in response to the challenge of private TV broadcasters. Despite the "enormous human tragedy," he suggested it should have been done a long time ago.