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Petty media games in the hallways of power

There’s a lot going on in the broadcast industry these days: a crisis in local news, fights between broadcasters and cable and satellite providers about who’s going to pay to make sure local programming survives, the 800 job losses at the CBC and hundreds of other job losses at other media organizations.

So you have to wonder why the Quebecor-owned SunMedia chain ran a piece yesterday rehashing a month-old story. On March 25, CBC president Hubert Lacroix said Corporation managers are going to get their performance bonuses slashed by 20% to 50%, for a saving of $4 million, as part of his speech to staff about the 800 layoffs. All the information in the top three paragraphs of the SunMedia article was in Lacroix’s speech to staff that day; a speech that was heavily covered in the media.

The only new element is that two Conservative MPs, (Shelley Glover and Rod Bruinooge) used their time in a parliamentary committee meeting on the crisis in local television on Monday to grill Lacroix about the bonuses. And though nothing new was revealed by Lacroix that wasn’t known a month ago, the story ran today with a prominent headline (“CBC to give perks and pink slips” ) in the Edmonton Sun and under a variety of other headlines throughout the chain.

It goes without saying that I’m not a fan of every executive decision made at the CBC in the past few years. And I know that reading about money spent on hotels and dinners has a deflating effect on Guild members. But it’s no coincidence the story about expenses just happened to be filed days before Lacroix’s scheduled appearance before the committee and just as the government is weighing whether any program to help the broadcasters cope with the crisis in the industry will include the public broadcaster.

One thing is for sure: rehashing old bonus news, and celebrating expenses filed three years ago just doesn’t seem too relevant when people are talking about the very survival of the news business and the future of conventional television.

You’d think Glover and Bruinooge would be concerned about the bigger-picture stuff. Both happen to come from the Winnipeg area, home of Canwest, which is spending these days teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and in desperate need of government help.

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