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Cdn. news lacking during CBC lockout
TORONTO (CP) – Two days into its controversial lockout of 5,500 unionized employees, the CBC has been operating on autopilot with plenty of reruns and pared-down programs.
But the most noticeable change has been the absence of any apparent effort to mount a management-produced television newscast, relying in prime time and over the supper hour on imported feeds of the BBC World News service. Newsworld has been limited to one-minute roundups of Canadian news read by managers before handing things off to the BBC.
“That’s certainly the plan right now,” Jason MacDonald, the CBC’s official spokesman, said Tuesday of the news programming from the public broadcaster, although another publicist suggested it wasn’t the network’s original plan.
“The BBC as lockout-breaker. It’s a very interesting model,” said Ian Morrison, spokesman for the independent media watchdog group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.
Bob Hurst, president of CTV News, declined to speculate on the chances of the private network incurring a ratings windfall from the lack of domestic news by its public rival. But he was willing to deliver a plug for CTV’s 11 p.m. news with Lloyd Robertson, noting that the live Atlantic version is available at 10 p.m. in Ontario and Quebec on CTV Newsnet.
“So there is an option for Canadians who don’t want to stay up till 11,” Hurst said. “Perhaps this is an opportunity for Canadians who have long been CBC traditionalists to find out that there is another very credible newscast, which is Canada’s most-watched newscast.”
Media observers said Tuesday they’re stunned the CBC hasn’t tried to provide any kind of news package from non-union staff or from all the incoming feeds that are available in any broadcast newsroom.
Patricia Bell, head of the school of journalism at the University of Regina, said the situation is even worse for radio, especially in places like Saskatchewan, where there are few alternatives to CBC Radio. She adds that managers have been shipped to Toronto to keep the central operation going.
“Who are they going to send (to cover news)?” Bell asks. “I just don’t think they planned.”
Bell noted that David Kyle, one of her school’s graduates and a Regina-based CBC manager, was reading national radio news from Toronto on Monday night.
And because the current lockout, unlike labour disruptions in the past, involves one union that now comprises both journalists and technicians, Bell said the situation confirms who really brings programming to air.
“We have graduates from here who have been working, especially in radio, for four, five years, doing very solid work and they’re still not even on contract. They’re casual. And you don’t build a strong ongoing presence if you don’t nurture people and let them grow.”
Normally a strong booster of the CBC, Morrison said he finds fault with both sides. He said both union and management went to the industrial relations board a couple of years ago and supported amalgamation of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (technicians) and Canadian Media Guild (journalists) into a single bargaining unit, a move that has resulted in the significant impact the current lockout has generated.
After 15 months of negotiations, the CBC locked out the bulk of its unionized employees at 12:01 a.m. Monday. At issue is the broadcaster’s wish for more flexibility to hire contract and part-time employees, something the CMG says is a danger to job security for full-time staff.
In other lockout developments Tuesday:
-Security officials at the Ontario legislature have changed the locks on the doors of the CBC media offices there at the request of CBC management. Reporters have not been in their Queen’s Park offices all week anyway but are now officially locked out.
-NDP leader Jack Layton is urging Heritage Minister Liza Frulla to protect Canadian programming by ending years of neglect of the public broadcaster. The New Democrats say the current lockout is the direct result of a lack of commitment from the Liberal government to protect and promote public broadcasting.
-In an open letter to the CBC president, Ontario NDP Leader Howard Hampton expressed his disappointment with what he says was a short-sighted decision to go the lockout route. And he said that for the duration of the dispute, Ontario New Democrats would boycott all CBC requests for interviews or information.
-In the Far North, in Iqaluit, programming in Inuktitut went off the air, leaving listeners needing vital weather information in a vacuum. But a CBC spokesperson says as of Tuesday afternoon, an Inuktitut announcer was back on the air.
-CBC management paid for a second full-page newspaper ad outling their position. It again expresses regret that the lockout became a necessity to break the deadlock with the union. It says only five per cent of CBC employees are on contract, including some of its most respected on-air personalities, and that they are represented by the CMG and are well compensated.
-A prolonged dispute could be particularly damaging to CBC Radio. In recent years, the radio networks have enjoyed a new ratings high, according to recent results compiled by the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement. In the Toronto market, Metro Morning, for example, has sustained a two point jump in market share to 12.6 per cent with an audience increase of 22 per cent.