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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

cbc to cut 800 gigs

From National

The CBC told employees this morning it will cut 800 jobs in an effort to save $171-million amid a flagging economy that has seen advertising revenues plummet.

CBC President Hubert Lacroix gave staff a broad strokes picture of sweeping cutbacks the broadcaster has planned at a town hall meeting in Montreal this morning, which was broadcast internally to employees across the country.

“This is bad news. We cannot sugarcoat it any way. But we cannot afford to get lost in it,” Mr. Lacroix told staff.

The plan to balance the budget includes 393 layoffs in English services, 336 in French services, and 70 corporate service positions. Mr. Lacroix stressed that “people are the foundation of our success,” but at a corporation where 60 per cent of the budget goes to salaries, substantial job cuts were inevitable.

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Alex Levasseur, president of the Radio-Canada communications union for Quebec and New Brunswick, gathers his thoughts before a news conference in Montreal on Wednesday. The cash-strapped CBC will cut 800 full-time jobs across the country, it was announced Wednesday.

“I can honestly say that coming up with a plan to get us through this mess has been as tough a task as most of us have ever faced,” Mr. Lacroix told his staff. “I know that some of you might be more anxious than others, that some of you might be angry about our situation, puzzled by it, actually upset. That's understandable, and it's ok.”

The public broadcaster has also earmarked $125-million in assets to sell, but those sales depend on government approval and market interest.

“If we don't get [to the $125-million figure] ... we have to go back to the drawing board,” Mr. Lacroix said.

In a bid to mitigate the hardship of the layoffs, the broadcaster will also offer a voluntary retirement incentive package for four weeks beginning April 4. Layoffs will not begin before the middle of May, after the window for voluntary departures has ended, and will likely be completed by the end of September.

Mr. Lacroix had previously announced a salary freeze for top executives over the next year and a 50 per cent reduction in performance-based bonuses available to 553 top managers and executives. Mr. Lacroix defended the decision to maintain the other half the bonuses, saying they are only paid to those who meet their objectives and that the executives and managers will collectively be forfeiting roughly $4-million – and up to 20 per cent of net pay for the most senior executives.

“I think that's significant,” Mr. Lacroix said.

The cuts will loom largest at the television arm, which makes up 83 per cent of the English services budget, compared to just 17 per cent consumed by radio. The new system will see decreases in news as well as programming of current affairs, drama, music and special event programming, and increases in repeat presentations to fill the void.

Twenty per cent of the cuts will affect CBC's regional services, including a reduction in regional television and radio programming, though no stations will close.

“It was really important to us to maintain our geographic presence, our footprint across Canada,” Mr. Lacroix said.

Richard Stursberg, executive vice-president of English services, pointed out to staff that regional services make up 38 per cent of English services costs, meaning they are bearing less than their proportional share of the burden.

Sylvain Lafrance, executive vice-president of French services, said that though the financial shortfall in his branch is much less than that of its English counterpart, the layoff numbers are similar because French services does considerably more labour-intensive work such as in-house production. As such, the two arms have roughly the same number of employees and need to share the salary reductions.

In that same spirit, Mr. Lacroix repeatedly stressed that “we are more and more one company” and that the reported $60-million to $65-million drop in ad revenues affecting the television branch is but one of the broadcaster's financial woes. In a statement released after his address, the CBC said other sources for the funding shortfall include increasing programming costs, aging infrastructure and a base salary funding shortfall.

A select few areas of the broadcaster will emerge unscathed, however. The CBC has pledged not to introduce advertising on radio, not to increase the volume of American programming it offers, and will not cut its cross-cultural funding or training budgets. All major morning and drive-home radio shows will stay on air, and new media and online content will be prioritized.