A move by the CBC to cancel local suppertime newscasts at the start of the COVID-19 crisis was ridiculed by MPs, according to access to information documents obtained by Blacklock’s Reporter.
The network temporarily suspended TV newscasts in thirteen local markets for the first time since 1952.
“I cannot stress how shortsighted this would be in our province given our reliance on local news,” then-Liberal MP Scott Simms (Coast of Bays, Nfld. and Labrador), chair of the Commons heritage committee, wrote in a letter to management.
The unilateral program cuts breached CBC’s terms of license, though the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission imposed no sanctions.
“This lack of understanding and focus as to the proper role of a public broadcaster is deeply concerning and it brings into serious question the judgment of executives in times of crisis,” wrote Wayne Easter, then-Liberal MP (Malpeque, P.E.I.) and chair of the Commons finance committee.
Easter said the cuts left Prince Edward Island without a local telecast.
“Local reporting should be utilized as a vital method to communicate with the public, not shut down entirely as is currently being done,” wrote Easter.
“In Prince Edward Island CBC is the only TV network that provides important coverage of the premier and cabinet ministers.”
CBC executives also received formal protests from Leader of the Opposition in Newfoundland and Labrador, the leader of the Newfoundland NDP, the Qualipu First Nation and Federation of P.E.I. Municipalities.
Network managers on March 18, 2020, one week into the pandemic, blacked out 6 p.m. newscasts in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg, Windsor, Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal, Fredericton, Halifax, Charlottetown and St. John’s.
All regular programming was restored by June 15.
The CBC at the time called it a COVID-19 precaution but did not explain why cutbacks did not affect French language services.
“The CBC as a condition of their licence promised at least seven hours of local programming per week,” Sen. Percy Downe (PEI) earlier told the Chamber.
“Another condition was they could not change that without approval from the CRTC following a public process of consultation. None of that was done.
“The CRTC failed in their responsibility,” said Downe, who called the news blackout “idiotic.”
From “the beginning of the pandemic, when we need it the most for information, they abandoned the field,” he said.
Downe last June 28 said the Broadcasting Act should be amended to levy $2 million-a day fines on the CBC for any breach of its terms of license.
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