Hubert Lacroix, the President and CEO of CBC in Canada almost apologised when he described Hurricane Igor in 2010. It hit Newfoundland on the east coast of Canada, and was the worst hurricane the population of 500,000 had ever seen with bridges, homes and roads destroyed. Terrible for the community, but as Mr Lacroix kindly acknowledged, it was like a heavy rain shower compared with the devastation that other countries have experienced recently. Still, as we heard repeatedly during the 3 day conference, when it happened Canadians went straight to their Public Service Broadcaster for information. “Telephone lines and electrical grids were down, so people were depending on our radio and Twitter to receive and exchange information” said Mr. Lacroix, “Online we had 600,000 hits to the news landing page that day which is almost what we would get in a typical week.”
Being there for Canadians, even in the most remote and far-flung places, is at the heart of CBC according to Mr Lacroix, “The biggest promise of public broadcasters is to be there for their citizens: a promise to deliver where others cannot or will not.” But how exactly, when CBC is facing, what its leader is calling, a “financial crisis”? Working with less money (partly due to the global economic downturn which reduced the amount of advertising coming CBC’s way) it meant 800 jobs went in 2009/2010.
As for the future, it looks very tough indeed. “On March 29th our government confirmed that CBC/Radio-Canada funding would be reduced by $115 million as of the 1st of April, 2014”. Measures to work around this include cutting more jobs, hundreds of them; increasing advertising minutes; introducing ads to some radio networks that have been ad-free; shutting down 620 analogue television transmitters, and discontinuing the shortwave transmission of their international radio service. “As painful as these decisions are, they need to be made in order for us to move forward and continue to be there for Canadians.” As soon as he finished at the podium, Hubert Lacroix said his goodbyes, grabbed his wheeled suitcase and went straight to the airport to travel home to Montreal. Talks with the Unions couldn’t be delayed any longer.