I’m going to hope that this was honest to god unavoidable, because what a terrible move otherwise.
At times like these we need more local news, not less. There are people relying on their local news for up to date information about what’s happening around them, especially the older ones or the ones that live in areas without reliable internet access. The ones who aren’t exactly flocking to digital platforms to fill the gap, in other words. And let’s not forget the ones who happen to live in places where the CBC is basically the only option that even approaches being local TV. What are they supposed to do now? CBC temporarily replaces local evening TV news amid coronavirus pandemic
‘We are temporarily pooling our resources into one core news offering,’ says CBC’s Susan Marjetti
CBC is temporarily changing its news service in light of the coronavirus pandemic, including replacing local supper-hour and late-night newscasts across Canada with CBC News Network.
Effective on Wednesday, CBC News Network will shift into “a core, live, breaking news service” that will feature content from local and national journalists from across the country, the public broadcaster said in a statement.
The modified News Network service will replace local evening and late-night newscasts across Canada, with the exception of CBC North programs Northbeat and Igalaaq, produced in Inuktitut. Local radio, digital and social news programming will continue.
According to this post on Fagstein, this new experiment didn’t start off so hot, with places like Montreal getting a grand total of 90 seconds of local news and the whole of Ontario getting around 2 and a half minutes largely focused on Toronto mashed in with clips from press conferences from British Columbia and a couple of interviews, one of which was joined in progress. And that was just 6 o’clock. The 11 o’clock news was a replay of the episode of the National that had just finished airing, but this time with a headline crawl running alongside it.
Granted this is only day one of a fairly out of the blue new system and we’re living in some crazy, uncertain times right now, but yeesh. Hard to imagine anyone feeling better served by this.
The article also brings up a couple of other things I wondered about upon hearing the news.
For starters, is this even legal?
The conditions of CBC’s licence, last renewed in 2013, require it to produce 7 or 14 hours a week of local programming, depending on market size, and “each station shall broadcast local news seven days a week each week, except holidays.”
The CRTC has not made an exception to those conditions (which is possible — a similar exception was granted just this week for the Olympics later this year). Asked to comment, the commission says it’s “monitoring the situation” and urges Canadians to follow local news through radio and digital means.
CBC’s head of public affairs Chuck Thompson says the CBC has “been in touch with the CRTC” about the change.
I have a hard time imagining the CRTC coming down too hard on this assuming they do at all, but it’s something that’s at least worth a mention. Are the private broadcasters also going to be able to ignore licence terms at will if they decide they “need to”?
Also, and this has been a pet peeve of mine for years, we’re learning now about what happens when you cheap out and try to base way too much of your gigantic operation out of a single location instead of letting the locals handle it.
Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, there has been a surge of live events. Press conferences from premiers, the prime minister, public health departments, businesses and others. Multiplied by 10 provinces each doing their own thing, plus the federal government.
On the other side you have the Toronto Broadcasting Centre, which routes traffic for CBC’s English TV stations. At the same time as it’s overloaded by video traffic, it is facing constraints because of absences due to quarantines. At some point it reached a breaking point, prompting this decision.
This wouldn’t be an issue if CBC hadn’t centralized so much of its technical operations. If local stations truly controlled their own broadcasts, they wouldn’t need Toronto. Under normal circumstances, centralization saves money and staff and works well enough. But when a crisis happens, this system has a huge vulnerability.
Like I said, the whole damn world is a mess at this point and it looks to be continuing in that state for the foreseeable future. To that extent, maybe we should give CBC a little benefit of the doubt. They’ve clearly got some bugs to work out, but maybe they’ll fine tune this thing and we’ll all get over it. But what if they don’t? What does it say about the state of our public broadcaster that when the public needed it perhaps more than ever before, its only choice was to under-serve us thanks to a mess that is, in no small part, one of its own making?
I don’t hold governments (both current and former) blameless here. All have used the CBC as a political issue, cutting and restoring funding left and right at various points. Working under such uncertain conditions can’t be easy, and that’s most definitely another factor in why we are where we are. If we want to have a strong, healthy, useful public broadcaster, we need our elected officials to get serious and pass measures to ensure that the damn thing is funded securely. I don’t feel like that should be too much to ask, especially not after this.