For the last two years as we have struggled to make sense of CBC President Hubert Lacroix’s 2020 plan and his focus on exclusively promoting CBC’s digital presence while gutting television news and programming, and sidelining radio, many of you have urged us to be more outspoken about this sudden and largely unexplained shift in priority that has resulted in an unprecedented number of layoffs, (one in four CMG members have been affected).
Within our own ranks, initially some of my colleagues were reluctant to criticize Lacroix’s vision for various reasons, including a lack of real information. In the intervening months, we have seen an increasing number of media analysts take aim at Lacroix’s 2020 plan, wondering as we have, whether it is an excuse to downsize and cut staff masquerading as an enlightened plan to support digital technology or as a considered attempt at moving the public broadcaster forward.
This issue continues to be crucial as Lacroix is promoting his plan to the new Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly – who worked for him in Montreal in his private practice (mergers & acquisitions specialist), at Stikeman Elliott pre-CBC. Madame Joly seems to be supportive of Lacroix’s mobile-first approach for the national public broadcaster, without questioning the deep cuts to production capacity and CBC’s traditional role as a creator of content vs distributing outsourced programming, and the lack of real financial or other support for local and regional news and programming. However, the Minister’s review of the country’s media and cultural policies – including the Broadcasting Act is ongoing, and we will have opportunities to share our concerns this year.
For those reasons, I encourage you to read this thoughtful examination of the 2020 plan: Dismantling the public airwaves: Shifting Canadian public broadcasting to an online service, by Gregory Taylor, Professor at the University of Calgary, Communications, Media and Film.
Taylor questions whether this “radical overhaul” and heavy push for newer platforms allow the CBC to meet its public service media mandate, and whether the rush to “mobile first” is appropriate at this time, when there is clear and persistent evidence that the great majority of Canadians continue to rely on television for programming, including news and information.
He cites British data showing that in that country, 85% of audio-visual viewing was television, and no “switch-off ” -if any- of traditional broadcasting is expected until after 2030.
He writes that “The national public broadcaster is enthusiastically embracing a post-broadcasting era when there is ample evidence that broadcasting is alive and well,” and adds that “In many ways [the 2020 plan] accommodates government cutbacks and limits the outreach of the national public broadcaster, all under the guise of digital progress” .
The article warns that this attitude “ will, at least for the foreseeable future, damage [CBC]’s ability to offer universal service to Canadians and to fulfil its obligations,” pointing out that “There is already demonstrable evidence that [CBC]’s jump to the online world is premature.”
Taylor also notes the dismal fact – which CMG continues working to ensure it is addressed politically – that CBC is the third lowest funded public broadcaster among major Western countries.
That said, CMG clearly shares Taylors’ skepticism about Lacroix’s vision. Our ongoing disappointment with his leadership led to our call to re-examine the 2020 plan (May 2015), and our joint call (with our Radio-Canada colleagues in Québec/Moncton), for his resignation.
I urge everyone to read Taylor’s analysis as we prepare for another year of significant discussions about the future of CBC/Radio-Canada and of media in Canada.