April 4, 2012 / 7:38 PM / in 6 years

Canada's CBC cuts back to deal with funding drop

TORONTO (Reuters) - The CBC, Canada’s storied public broadcaster, cut jobs and warned of extensive damage to programming on Wednesday as it announced measures to deal with a 10 percent cut in funding announced by the federal government last week.

A sign is seen at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation building in Toronto, March 25, 2009. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp, established by the government in the Depression of the 1930s to counter American influence and protect Canadian culture, said it will cut more than 650 jobs over three years - 475 of them this year - and attempt to increase self-generated revenue by C$50 million ($50 million) over the same period to try to make ends meet.

To do this it said it will lease property and sell non-core assets as well as allow more advertising on its television networks. It will also seek regulatory permission to allow commercials on its two national music radio networks, the English-language Radio 2 and the French-language Espace musique. The CBC’s radio services have been ad-free since 1974.

The CBC is often thought of as similar to the BBC in the United Kingdom, but unlike the BBC it gets some revenues from commercial advertising.

The government provides the lion’s share of its funding and CBC executives said the cuts would lead to less original content and more prime-time repeats.

“Unfortunately programming will be affected...television is definitely taking the brunt of this cut,” the executive vice-president of English services, Kirstine Stewart, said on a conference call with journalists.

In its budget last Thursday, the Conservative government cut the CBC’s funding by C$115 million over three years as part of a push to balance the government’s books.

The roughly 10 percent cut to the CBC’s funding was higher than the 7 percent overall cut to federal program spending, suggesting to critics that the CBC was unduly targeted.

“We’ve been handed a number. It’s going to mean a very different broadcaster,” said CBC Chief Executive Hubert Lacroix, declining to comment on whether the cuts were political. “We’re going to evolve...we’re not going to get lost in the bad news.”

Lacroix said the cuts were spread proportionately across the CBC’s English- and French-language services, with English services losing C$86 million and French services losing C$64 million. Severance packages will add another C$25 million in off-off costs.

A CBC spokesman said the CBC currently employs 8,900 people, meaning the cuts over three years account for a 7 percent reduction in its workforce.

The CBC’s Radio Canada International will shutter its Russian and Brazilian sections and close shortwave and satellite transmission facilities, making the international outreach service an Internet-only broadcast. It will keep French, English, Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin overseas services. CBC will also quicken its shutdown of analogue transmitters for television.

“When faced with a 10 percent budget cut, it’s impossible for the CBC to swallow without making hard tradeoffs in terms of its news production, its Canadian content, its regional presence and making concessions on seeking more advertising revenue, which is unfortunate,” said Jamie Biggar, a spokesman for Reimagine CBC, a public campaign supporting the broadcaster.

Meanwhile, Canada’s National Film Board, renowned for its Oscar-winning documentaries, said a reduction in its government funding would force it to cut 73 jobs, shutter cinemas in Toronto and Montreal, stop contributing to film festivals and events, and limit its financial aid to independent filmmakers.

Reporting by Alastair Sharp in Toronto; Additional reporting by Randall Palmer in Ottawa; Editing by Peter Galloway

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