The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will face a series of cuts to its annual budget that will reach 10 per cent by 2014, but the axe is falling as soon as the coming fiscal year.
As anticipated, spending cuts targeted the CBC on Thursday, with the federal budget outlining steadily increasing cuts to the network's operating budget over the next three years, topping out at $115 million by 2014-15.
That amounts to about 10 per cent of the $1.1 billion in dedicated federal funding the CBC receives annually.
The cuts will be rolled out gradually, beginning with a $27.8 million trim in 2012-13 and increasing to $69.6 million the following year. The $115-million reduction in funding, planned for 2014-15, will be "ongoing."
A $60 million programming top-up the network has received annually for the past decade will be folded into the broadcaster's overall budget and is part of the cuts, CBC reports.
First reported by The Huffington Post in September, the possibility of a 10 per cent funding cut has recently stoked fear and unrest at the CBC, where insiders and observers predict that the ensuing belt-tightening will result in reduction in popular programs and foreign bureaus and prompt hundreds of layoffs.
The budget announcement did not sit well with Ian Morrison, spokesman for the non-profit group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, who called the cuts to the CBC "vindictive."
According to Morrison, the implications will lead to the death of CBC Radio 2, make CBC Radio "less relevant to Canadians," and reduce the "depth, quality, diversity and distinctiveness of CBC News."
"We are not going to take this lying down," he told HuffPost on Thursday. "Now we have to mobilize CBC's supporters [...] to hold Stephen Harper's government to account in the years leading to the next election, when the impact of what Harper has done today will be fully felt."
The CBC, which declined to comment on cuts in advance of the budget, said on Thursday that the network "will review its approach for dealing with this reduction in a way that doesn’t overly compromise its strategy for the future."
"The measures that CBC/Radio-Canada intends to take over the next three years will be set out in greater detail for our employees and the Canadians we serve as soon as possible," the CBC said in a press release.
The possibility of deep cuts has in recent weeks prompted uncertainty among the legions of independent producers who create the network's English language content.
Mary Darling, executive producer of the network's hit sitcom, Little Mosque on the Prairie, told HuffPost earlier this week, that producers such as herself were "beyond tense."
“This is our livelihood. This is how we make our living and send our kids to school,” said Darling, who alongside husband Clark Donnelly runs Toronto-based Westwind Pictures, the company behind Little Mosque.
Currently in its final season, the sitcom won’t be affected by cuts. But Donnelly predicted that a 10 per cent federal funding cut would prevent the network from picking up similar programs in the future, putting several shows Westwind is currently developing in peril.
“Ten per cent is enormous,” he said, adding that if he had to pitch the show under those circumstances, “I don’t think Little Mosque would have been made.”
Former CBC president Robert Rabinovitch, who was at the helm when the network took on what he calls “a soap opera with a message,” concurs.
“That’s exactly the type of show that a public broadcaster should be doing, but it’s risky, and they won’t be able to take that risk if the money’s taken out of their system,” he said.
In advance of the budget announcement, Barry Kiefl, head of the independent Ottawa-based firm Canadian Media Research Inc. (CMRI), maintained a trim of 10 per cent magnitude could result in the elimination of 1,000 jobs.
According to Kiefl, who was the CBC’s research director throughout the ’80s and ’90s, about $1 billion of the CBC’s estimated $1.7 billion operating budget is tied up in salaries.
“You can’t cut things like the payment to the NHL for Hockey Night In Canada, and you can’t cut payments to some of the long-term programming contracts that they’ve got, so you’re going to have to cut staff,” he said.
And because of hefty severance obligations to senior managers within the organization, those reductions would be felt most acutely among more junior employees, says Ian Morrison, spokesman for the non-profit group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.
“Ninety per cent of the cuts are going to come out of people [...] who are actually making programs that Canadians love,” Morrison said. “It will be very visible and audible.”
As management grapples with where to find cost-savings, former CBC executive Jeffrey Dvorkin urges the network to move away from its tendency to spread cuts across the entire organization in the face of belt-tightening.
“In order for any media organization to go through this procedure, you have to figure out what’s important to you and to your audience,” he said. “That causes management to be really focused on the priorities of the organization.”
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