Job and drama cuts at CBC

The public broadcaster is cutting roughly 10% of its workforce and eliminating current affairs programming, music and special event shows.

CBC will slash 800 jobs and sell assets worth $125 million in an effort to balance its books in 2009/10 as it faces a $171-million shortfall.

The cuts — which also include an unspecified decrease in drama programming — were revealed by the public broadcaster’s top execs on Wednesday.

The 800 jobs represent roughly 10% of the Ceeb’s workforce and break down to some 393 positions on the English side, 336 at Radio-Canada and 70 corporate positions. The layoffs will begin promptly and wrap up by the end of September.

‘In a company where 60% of the overall budget goes to salaries, it’s simply impossible to bridge a gap of this magnitude without having a major impact on people,’ said president and CEO Hubert Lacroix, addressing the troops along with English services EVP Richard Stursberg and his French counterpart Sylvain Lafrance.

It remains unclear whose jobs will be cut, however, because of a previously announced early retirement program, which the network bosses hope will bring down the number of formal layoffs. The program is subject to government approval.

Reductions to CBC’s drama programming are expected to come into focus on Thursday during a second mass meeting, which will concentrate on the English side. CBC also said it will cut back on news and current affairs programming, music and special event shows in order to make ends meet. Regional radio and TV programming will also be reduced.

English television will be hit a bit harder than the radio, said Stursberg, though no stations are expected to close. However, during a Q&A session after the address, the network bosses reportedly indicated that a sale and lease-back of CBC-owned real estate is among the options being considered to raise capital.

The changes come after weeks of speculation that CBC/SRC would be forced to cut jobs and perhaps sell or close stations because of its money woes, which the network blamed on declining ad revenues, increasing costs and aging infrastructure. The network was also rebuffed by the federal government earlier this month when Heritage Minister James Moore turned down a request for extra funding.

CBC said that its primetime schedule will continue to consist of at least 80% Canadian programming during primetime — an apparent answer to criticism over its airing of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! — and that its radio outlets will remain non-commercial.

The job cuts dwarf those at CBC’s commercial rivals CTVglobemedia and Canwest, which have laid off roughly 230 and 560 employees, respectively, since November.

Labor groups were quick to pin the blame on Ottawa.

Lise Lareau, national president of the Canadian Media Guild — which represents some 4,500 CBC employees – condemned the federal government for not giving the pubcaster a loan.

‘The government forced the CBC to make this move, at a time when the economy is faltering,’ she told Playback Daily, adding that the number of jobs lost is ‘tremendously devastating.’

Lareau says there’s some indication of which areas will be impacted on the French side — mainly local programming and francophone services outside Quebec, such as a Windsor morning show in French, which will now be cancelled. Details about the impacts of cuts on services and programming on the English side will be revealed Thursday by EVP of English services Richard Stursberg.

Writers Guild of Canada exec director Maureen Parker also blamed the feds and Heritage for not doing enough to support the pubcaster during a ‘tenuous financial situation.’

‘If the CBC needed an advance on their next budgetary allocation, why was this dismissed outright? There has certainly been sympathy expressed for the financial position of the private broadcasters, whose main business is the simulcast of U.S. shows,’ said Parker in a release.

From Playback Daily, with files from Sean Davidson.