40 journalists protest plans to nuke CBC documentary team

by: Obert Madondo  | Published Thur. Jul 10, 2014

CBC Radio Canada building in Ottawa. (OBERT MADONDO/The Canadian Progressive)

CBC Radio Canada building in Ottawa. (OBERT MADONDO/The Canadian Progressive)

“The future of the CBC as our national public broadcaster is at stake!” writes Ian Morrison, spokesperson for the FRIENDS of Canadian Broadcasting, in a letter mailed to supporters earlier this week. “Two things are clear: Harper must be held accountable for the damage he has done.”

Indeed!

Last week, CBC President and CEO Hubert Lacroix revealed part of the damage Stephen Harper has done to the crown corporation. Lacroix, who was appointed by Harper and earns between $358K and $421K a year, announced another round of deep cuts to the public broadcaster. The CBC would let go between 1,000 and 1,500 employees by 2020.

These crippling cuts are a direct result of Harper’s drastic slashing of CBC funding.

Below is a letter signed by 40 journalists protesting plans to nuke the documentary team at the public broadcaster. The letter is addressed to CBC President and CEO, Hubert Lacroix and Heather Conway, Executive Vice-President, English Services.

Hubert Lacroix (President and CEO)
Heather Conway (Executive Vice-President, English Services)

Dear Hubert and Heather,

The undersigned journalists have become alarmed at the precipitous decline of documentaries in the CBC-TV schedule, which has occurred not just for financial reasons, but because of programming priorities over many years.

Now there are plans to shut down in-house production of feature documentaries, including the Unit which has produced “The People’s History of Canada”, “The Canadian Experience”, “Eighth Fire” as well as topical quick-response documentaries such as the award-winning “Syria: Behind Rebel Lines”.

CBC Television, to be true to its core mandate, needs more long-form journalism and legacy programming –not less.

We have observed the steady erosion of long-form documentary production within the CBC in the past few years. Strands like Nature of Things and Doc Zone and fifth estate have continued, but any documentary mini-series or Sunday night specials outside those strands have virtually disappeared from the CBC TV Network. In fact, the overall production of documentaries –independent or in-house– has fallen dramatically over recent years.

We stress that we continue to believe it is important to support and nurture and expand independent documentary production, which has always been an important component of series such “Life and Times”, “Witness” and “Doc Zone”. But some productions, such as Eighth Fire, which combined efforts of TV, radio, French and English and aboriginal CBC staff, can only be done internally. On the immediate news fronts, it often takes CBC News and documentary teams to produce quick-turnaround long-form documentaries to provide context and depth to immediate events.

The remedy, we suggest, is not to compound the documentary deficiency of the CBC by eliminating the in-house unit, but strengthen our commitment by embedding that unit as part of the CBC News and Current Affairs department. There is already a considerable sharing of staff and resources between them, on which we can build; the documentary unit would use existing News infrastructure and facilities. This would preserve our legacy production, and give wider opportunities to our journalists, as well as develop our younger staff. Harmonizing our structure with SRC, where documentaries come under the news umbrella, would increase our ability to co-ordinate major bi-cultural projects.

Shutting down the in-house documentary unit would be a negative message to send to core supporters of the CBC, as well as a dispiriting message to our journalists that the management does not value their long-form journalism, and there will be no room for it in the future.

Aligning the strengths of in-house documentaries and CBC News, on the other hand, achieves efficiencies and strengthens the brand of CBC journalism, of which we’re all proud.

Nahlah Ayed (Foreign Correspondent: London)
Lynn Burgess (Producer: “Marketplace”)
Tony Burman (Former Editor-in-Chief: CBC News and Current Affairs)
Patrick Brown (Former Correspondent: China)
Harvey Cashore (Senior Producer: CBC News)
David Common (Host: “World Report”)
Michael Claydon (Executive Producer: “DocZone”)
Sue Dando (Executive Producer: “The Nature of Things”)
Neil Docherty (Senior Producer: “the fifth estate”)
Margaret Evans (European Correspondent: London)
Gillian Findlay (Host: “the fifth estate”)
Matt Galloway (Host: “Metro Morning”)
Erica Johnson (Host: “Marketplace”)
Michelle Gagnon (Producer: “The National”)
Sylvene Gilchrist (Producer: “The National”)
Chris Hall (National Affairs Editor: Ottawa)
David Halton (Former Senior National Affairs Correspondent: Ottawa)
Tom Harrington (Host: “Marketplace”)
Mark Kelley (Host: ‘the fifth estate”)
Neil Macdonald (Senior Correspondent: Washington)
Linden MacIntyre (Host: “the fifth estate”)
Peter Mansbridge (Chief Correspondent/Anchor “The National”)
Duncan McCue (Correspondent: “The National”)
Terence McKenna (Correspondent: “The National”)
Bob Mckeown (Host: “the fifth estate)
Carmen Merrifield (Producer: “The National”)
Wendy Mesley (Host: “The National”)
Terry Milewski (Senior Correspondent: Ottawa)
Don Murray (Former Correspondent: London)
Carol Off (Host: “As It Happens”)
Catherine Olsen (Executive Producer/Documentaries: CBC News Network)
Sasa Petricic (Middle East Correspondent: Jerusalem)
Julian Sher (Senior Producer: “the fifth estate”)
Alex Shprintsen (Producer: “The National”)
Don Spandier (Senior Producer: “The World at Six”)
David Suzuki (Host: “The Nature of Things”)
Anna Maria Tremonti (Host: “The Current”)
Connie Walker (Lead Reporter: CBC Aboriginal)
Tamar Weinstein (Producer: “the fifth estate”)

Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow him on Twitter.com/Obiemad

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Obert Madondo

Publisher and editor
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based independent journalist and progressive political blogger. He's the publisher and editor of The Canadian Progressive.