CBC commits suicide with lockout
By Harry Bruce, The Record, Kitchener-Waterloo
As CBC management’s phenomenally stupid failure to prepare for its own lockout of 5,500 members of the Canadian Media Guild becomes more apparent each time it feeds us BBC news instead of The National, one begins to suspect that somebody up there in Paul Martin’s government, perhaps Mr. Dithers himself, wants to see the Corporation curl up and die.
The government, in many respects, is a highly conservative gang of Grits and seems to think the CBC has lost its stature as one of the great public institutions of Canada’s 20th century, and degenerated into a nuisance, a left-leaning, artsy-fartsy embarrassment, a mewling nag that endlessly begs for hundreds of millions of dollars.
If the CBC’s offering of a whole bunch of reruns, old interviews, outdated comedy shows, unfamiliar faces, stumblebum voices, stale music and news from Blighty happens to drive away so many listeners and viewers that it might as well vanish from Canada forever, would this government really give a pinch of beaver dung?
The lockout is in its third week and some guild members have gloomily predicted it will continue for months.
However, both sides finally agreed to sit down at the bargaining table yesterday.
But until this point, Heritage Minister Liz Frulla has behaved as though she’s never heard of the CBC; Martin has refused to offer publicly so much as a word of advice to either side; and the man he appointed president of the CBC, Robert Rabinovitch, might as well be in Tonga.
Oh, he’s been approving the spending of taxpayers’ money on full-page ads that deliver management’s case in the dispute but, as one locked-out journalist says on the Internet, Rabinovitch’s “leadership” during this mess has been characterized by “stunning silence.”
Speaking of those ads, I can’t improve on Toronto columnist Heather Mallick’s description of An Open Letter to Canadians by CBC vice-presidents Richard Stursberg and Jane Chalmers.
Mallick called it “a giant splat of euphemisms, jargon, pointless repetition, self-contradiction and cliche but, perhaps most important, incomprehensibility, as if someone had thrown a cream pie at the newspaper page and just let it drip.”
But CBC executives seem to be no better at management than they are at writing English. They negotiated with the guild for 15 months. You’d think that was enough time to train some of their own to produce a passable version of The National, but it did not.
When the CBC locked out the professionals, some nobody who looked like he’d be more comfortable in an accountant’s office than before a camera gave us a few Canadian headlines and then turned everything over to the BBC.
I used to watch The National every night but ever since I found myself at 10:30 p.m. watching what the New York Times would later call “an unusually large number of dolphins frolicking off the coast of Wales,” I’ve been tuning into the CTV news with Lloyd Robertson.
That’s what tens of thousands of other former viewers of The National are doing, and the number may soon rise into the hundreds of thousands. Moreover, Lloyd and the rest of CTV’s news team are pretty good. We may just choose to never go back to The National with Peter Mansbridge.
“The implications are very dangerous for the whole future of public broadcasting, and particularly for CBC television,” says Knowlton Nash, a former anchor for the CBC’s national news. “Once you lose an audience, it’s very difficult to get them back.”
Not surprisingly, CTV has been spending money to hire more news staff and to advertise the wonders of its nightly news.
The Global network has also launched a campaign to convert CBC viewers to its newscasts. Just during the first week of the lockout, Global’s average daily audience of people 18 and older, for its supper-hour news show, jumped from a seasonal average of 641,000 to 788,000.
The dispute that led to the lockout spins around the CBC’s determination to hire more short-term, contract workers, rather than permanent employees.
I’m not taking either side on this issue, but both the guild and CBC should understand that the lockout amounts to the corporation’s having handed knives to the private networks, stretched out on its back, and said, “Now, I’m going to undo my shirt to make it really easy for you to slit my throat.”
Harry Bruce of the Maritimes writes for the Issues Network, a small group of established writers from across Canada