‘Disappointment’ follows CBC decision to cut local newscasts

The pubcaster's Chuck Thompson told Playback Daily that Radio-Canada, which works on a different size and scale, will maintain its regional newscasts.

The CBC is facing criticism on its decision to drop local supper-hour and late-night newscasts in light of the COVID-19 crisis in favour of a “core live breaking news service” which the pubcaster announced on Wednesday (March 18).

Effective immediately, this change means that CBC News Network now replaces most 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. local news broadcasts on CBC and CBC Gem. With this move, local news teams will feed into CBC News Network’s national programming, with Power & Politics also temporarily put on hiatus so its Ottawa team can be redeployed.

The only exception to the change is CBC North, which will continue to produce and broadcast Yellowknife’s Northbeat and Iqaluit’s Igalaaq in Inuktitut.

Instead, the organization said in a statement its local stations will serve their respective communities through “robust local radio, digital and social news programming.”

In response to the decision, both P.E.I. Premier Dennis King and the Canadian Media Guild (CMG), which represents employees at various media companies like the CBC, expressed their surprise and disappointment.

“As Premier of Prince Edward Island, I am formally requesting the Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, as minister of the crown responsible for the CBC, exercise his authority and reverse the decision to suspend local news broadcasts,” King said in a statement emphasizing the importance of the province’s local daily TV CBC News: Compass program, which he says provides a vital public service to keep locals and those most vulnerable informed. “We will be contacting the minister to discuss our concerns and ask him to intervene.”

The premier also added that he would discuss this decision with the Deputy Prime Minister Christa Freeland as well as reach out to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Meanwhile, CMG noted that it was as surprised as others that the broadcaster would “decrease news and information services during an unprecedented public health crisis,” with Kim Trynacity, president, CBC branch for the CMG, urging the CBC to reconsider its move as well as seek the resources needed to provide local TV news in both official languages across the country, “as it is mandated to do.”

The union also added in its press release issued yesterday that the pubcaster’s “decision to cancel local news has caused outrage among CBC workers, who are ready to use technology and the tools recommended by public health officials to do their work remotely and continue serving the public interest.”

CBC’s chief of staff to the EVP and head of public affairs Chuck Thompson told Playback Daily that the company’s colleagues at Radio-Canada, who work on a different size and scale, are not facing the same overload of staffing or resources. “Thus far, they are still able to maintain service with their regional newscasts,” he said.

The executive also highlighted that this change is a temporary measure and that it was a difficult decision in response to an extraordinary situation. “We trust Canadians will understand the complexity of the situation as we try to maintain essential news and information services to all communities while managing our workforce, many of whom are increasingly working remotely. Their health and safety are a priority,” Thompson said. He also added that there have been no job cuts as a result of this shift.

A Bell Media spokesperson, meanwhile, noted that both local and national news are critical during times of crisis and that “CTV News is continuing to deliver.”

In response to COVID-19, the spokesperson said that the network has enacted various protocols to protect the health of its journalists and crew members, citing measures like social distancing, enhanced technology and working from home, where possible. “Contingency plans responding to many different scenarios are in place that will allow us to continue providing news and information to Canadians without compromising the health of our employees,” they added.

Additionally, Global News spokesperson Rishma Govani also emphasized that the organization is committed to local news as well as all Canadians who rely on credible, fact-based information during these difficult times.

“More so than ever, local news continues to be relevant for Canadians looking to navigate new challenges in their communities throughout this crisis,” Govani added. “Utilizing the best of remote and centralized production processes and our award-winning technology, Global News is able to maintain our local programming from various parts of the network while still ensuring the health and safety of our team. This is our top priority.”

Charmaine Khan, senior manager of communications, radio, news and local for Rogers Sports & Media also told Playback Daily in a statement that the company’s primary focus remains on its health and well-being of its employees, while serving audiences during this unprecedented time.

CityNews, Breakfast Television, and all of our OMNI current affairs and news programs continue to deliver the latest headlines and fact-based information to local audiences on television and digital platforms,” she said. “We are closely monitoring the day’s activities and breaking into programming as needed to provide real-time updates. In addition, our six news radio stations across the country are continuing to deliver 24-hour updates and breaking news.”