TORONTO - Veteran CBC television host Linden MacIntyre says he will retire at the end of the summer, in part to save the jobs of young journalists at the struggling public broadcaster.
MacIntyre, who has co-hosted CBC-TV's "The Fifth Estate" for 24 years, said recent budget cuts are hitting young reporters and producers the hardest and the future of the broadcaster depends on them.
"It's pretty obvious that the energies and the imagination and the future of an institution depends on the intake of young people. They don't have what I have because I've been around a long time, but they will if they're allowed to be around. They will acquire everything I have acquired and more," said MacIntyre, 70. "Without that potential, the place is doomed."
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In April, CBC announced it would cut $130 million from its annual budget and slash 657 full-time jobs amid federal budget cuts and poor television ratings. The network is also reeling from losing the rights to marquee program "Hockey Night in Canada" in November to Rogers Media, which paid $5.2 billion for a 12-year broadcast deal.
MacIntyre, an investigative journalist who has won nine Gemini awards, is the first high-profile staff member to depart due to the recent budget squeeze. He said he is taking a stand against the cuts and hopes his departure brings public attention to the turmoil at the CBC.
"Even if you've never heard of most of the 657 jobs and people that are being cut, they're all essential to this organization. Just because people know who I am doesn't make me any more important than the other 656. People should be aware that there's a lot being lost," he said.
MacIntyre said the public broadcaster can still deliver high-quality journalism but it has slowly been forced out of the entertainment sector, most recently by the loss of the hockey rights. The CBC must figure out what Canadians want, he said.
But he also warned that the public must participate in that conversation or risk losing the public broadcaster.
"I don't know if people are really geared up to think about it or to talk about it, but they should be, rather than waking up one morning and getting sentimental about the fact that this huge and embedded part of our national identity has disappeared," he said.
"It'll be too late to moan and groan and whine about it then, because once it's gone it's really gone."
CBC president and CEO Hubert Lacroix said Monday that it was time for a "national conversation" about the broadcaster's role. The CBC launched an online consultation process to allow Canadians to offer their feedback.
MacIntyre said his decision to leave was difficult but the hopes to return to writing fiction when he retires at the end of August. He won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2009 for his novel "The Bishop's Man."
"It feels rotten emotionally. Rationally, I hate leaving for the reason I'm leaving. I hate leaving because the place is falling down around me. You get a really bad feeling walking out of an institution when it's in trouble," he said.
"Twenty-four years at 'The Fifth Estate,' that's been my life. I have to re-define myself. It's more than a job. When you walk out of it and you leave the identity behind you, you suddenly have to sit and say: 'Who am I? What am I? If I'm not a journalist, what am I?"
"I hate the word retirement because it implies leaving work, and this has never been work. I'll be self-employed."