Funding cuts and management decisions accelerate the dismantling of CBC/Radio-Canada

Recent media reports about plans to sell CBC/Radio-Canada’s offices and studios across the country are disturbing as they come on the heels of a series of other crippling decisions by management.

In just a few years, CBC management has cut thousands of staff positions, eliminated entire lines of original programming and program production, and shrunk local newscasts in communities across Canada.

Talk of selling work space and production studios in Montreal, Toronto, and other centres, has been equal parts trial balloon and spin about doing the “best” for programming. But there has been no serious charting of a productive way forward.

In the many Canadian communities and cities where CBC/Radio-Canada’s assets including equipment have already been sold off, the outcomes have included loss of service instead of the stated improvements.

The decisions seem rushed, non-transparent and add up to an accelerated dismantling of CBC/Radio-Canada. Why the rush?

Generations of investment undermined

The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) recently pointed out that the CBC is having to offset its public funding cuts in several ways including divesting itself of its real estate and other assets. The PBO’s analysis finds that “the total historical value of assets held by the CBC has been falling since 2008-09, in tandem with decreases in the level of operating support provided by the federal Government.”

PBO - on CBC assets

Despite CBC management’s determined talk of doing the “best” for CBC/Radio-Canada, these asset sales are being contemplated against the backdrop of ongoing government cuts.

The trouble is, at this point, even if public funding is frozen for CBC / Radio-Canada, the public broadcaster is effectively put on ice. A freeze would mean, funding would, over time, continue to decline and/or erode due to inflation. Strong public funding needs to be restored.

Temporary fix

As the Parliamentary Budget Officer also points out, these sorts of measures are a temporary fix: “Proceeds from one-time asset sales give the CBC a temporary cash infusion, which allows it to defer part of the Government’s operating subsidy until later in the fiscal year.”

Basically, you can sell an asset only once, and once the proceeds from that sale are spent, you’re back where you started.

So there is no clear evidence that these moves will save money in the long run, or make any kind of positive difference for CBC. Unless of course, the real plan is to wind down the CBC gradually and entirely by selling off assets to match ever shrinking ambition and a shrinking footprint for the public broadcaster.

It took vision and generations to build CBC into one of the greatest public broadcasters in the world and all that is now being undone through years of neglect.

When the CBC building in Toronto was opened in the early 1990s, it was with the specific goal of anchoring a vibrant cultural hub in the centre of the city. How is that consideration being addressed now by current management at CBC? There is no mention of it.

The changes underway are extremely dangerous, and, if fully implemented, will make rebuilding CBC/Radio-Canada even more difficult.

Vision

If the federal government and CBC management want to guarantee that CBC/Radio-Canada thrives and builds for another 75 years and beyond, is this the course they would take?

The bottom line is that this is about much more than money. It is about vision.

Dedicated CBC/Radio-Canada employees have continued to provide the best programming possible under incredible strain and against serious obstacles, but Canadians need to know that our national public broadcaster is being deliberately taken apart – They must demand that this dismantling be stopped.