TORONTO - Big budget cuts at the CBC are putting "everything" on the chopping block — including hit shows "Republic of Doyle" and "Heartland," programming boss Kirstine Stewart said Tuesday as the public broadcaster axed CBC News Network's "Connect with Mark Kelley" and CBC Radio's "Dispatches."
Tough decisions about how to manage a $225-million shortfall will include shaving six existing or planned shows from the public broadcaster's TV lineup, said Stewart, executive vice-president of CBC's English Services.
"We are making those decisions next week and we've got some pretty strong criteria to make those decisions," Stewart said after CBC staff were briefed on job and program cuts in an internal meeting.
"But in the end what we're trying to do is protect the programming that Canadians seem to be most interested in and it will really narrow down the variety of programming that we've been able to give Canadians over the last few years."
Staff learned Tuesday that CBC-TV's programming and news departments will bear the brunt of punishing cuts planned over the next three years.
They include shuttered news bureaus in Africa and South America as well the elimination of 88 news jobs.
CBC says $10 million will be cut from news on all platforms while $21.3 million in cuts will come from non-news TV including 18 positions in the documentary unit.
"It's not a good day for CBC," said Marc-Philippe Laurin, president of the Canadian Media Guild's CBC branch.
"Canadians are really going to see a difference on the TV screen and hear a difference on CBC Radio."
In all, English services will eliminate 215 positions this year and a total of 256 positions by 2015.
The belt-tightening follows last week's federal budget, which cut $115 million — or about 10 per cent of the CBC's overall government subsidy — over the next three years.
CBC president Hubert Lacroix has said additional financial pressures actually push the CBC's shortfall to $200 million, plus there's another $25 million in severance costs for expected layoffs.
Last week, the broadcaster said it expected to lay off more than 650 people over three years, with the majority to be let go this year.
It said CBC fans could expect fewer TV shows, more ads on radio and the delay of regional initiatives that were meant to boost local programming.
Government funding makes up about 64 per cent of CBC's budget and the corporation receives about $1.15 billion a year from taxpayers.
The media guild says the news cuts include 34 jobs at local stations, 44 at the network level and another 10 will come from news administration.
Stewart said the news department would minimize the impact of the cuts as much as possible, noting that funds previously directed toward maintaining bureaus in Africa and South America could be used to support roving reporters.
"You can't have a cut this sizable without it affecting all areas and the news is going to be affected," she said.
"But we're living in a world where some technologies and other opportunities are making us be able to produce things, particularly in a live kind of way, more inexpensively. So we're going to push that integration into news gathering and try to make most efficiencies out of that."
CBC Kids will also reduce programming by four hours a week, while the "Sports Weekend" program will narrow its focus to "snow and ice sports" in the winter and signature programs in the summer. Laurin said that means sports fans can expect less coverage of amateur events.
Meanwhile, the guild said Radio 2 is cutting live concert recordings and scrapping regional recording facilities in St. John's, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary and Edmonton.
Laurin says he has "some empathy" for the hard decisions facing managers.
"They're in a tough position, they're trying to save as much programming as possible, they're trying to save jobs, they're trying to save people that create the content that create the programs that CBC airs," he said.
"They're trying to avoid as much as possible starting to run repeat after repeat after repeat. It's not what the CBC wants to be, it's not what the CBC wants to put on the air, it's not what our members want to see but at the same time we all knew that some hard decisions were going to have to be made because this is a devastating cut to the CBC allocation."
Stewart said decisions to cut programs and staff were made all the harder because of recent ratings successes such as rookie breakout "Arctic Air."
"It's not easy to be told with all this enthusiasm and all this talent that now we're going to be working with less," she said.
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