The CBC lockout that left close to 5,500 CMG employees unable to work was a turning point in my career as an RJ. Before that, I had believed that state operated establishments were synonymous with job security – but the lockout provided hard proof that politics and ulterior motives can easily damage the credibility of even those institutes which have a history of prestige and reliability. It made me seek other shores and redefined job security for me.
Before I give an account of those eventful days that happened nearly a decade ago, let me provide you with some insight about the CBC:
The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), officially stylized as CBC/Radio-Canada, is a Canadian crown corporation (i.e. it is run by the state) that serves as the nation’s television and radio broadcaster. It is divided into two units: CBC which serves the English speaking populace and Ici Radio-Canada which serves the French speaking public, moreover, these names also represent the whole corporation in their respective language.
The CBC is the original broadcast network of Canada (established on 2nd November of 1936), it was there before all the other corporate networks entered the scene. The CBC’s television broadcasts are funded through state money as well as commercials whereas its radio aspect has been ad free since 1974, much like BBC Radio – it only recently added 4 minutes of commercials per hour in a couple of its radio channels to make up for the budget cuts that it has suffered in the recent years.
Now that there has been a mention of budget cuts, and you have some understanding of how the CBC works, I’ll discuss the factors which led to the historic lockout of 2005:
Back in 2005, the CBC, a state run, non-profit organization, like many other services in the public sector, suffered from huge cuts in its budgets under the Liberal government’s policy of financial restraint and privatization. The corporation had already been suffering from similar policies which the previous Conservative government had adopted. In short, the past two decades had not been kind for the CBC as it had to cut the large part of its local as well as regional TV news programs, close down stations and reduce the number of dramas it produced. Its budget, which had been $1.3 billion before 1990, was cut down to $919 million by 2005 – in constant dollars.
There hadn’t been a financial injection to the corporation by the government since the start of the millennium. The Liberals had provided the corporation with annual supplementary allocations that were only sufficient for countering the effects of inflation on the CBC’s budget. These sharp cuts in its funding left the CBC’s management with only one option – to transfer public jobs to contract based jobs, along with which went the employees’ job security. This was reflective of the then Liberal government’s own policies of organizational restructuring – they, too, were transferring state operations to contract based jobs as well as private-public partnerships.
Long story short, the CBC management sought to impose a new business plan in which a large portion of its employees became contract based workers without any job security. Their efforts culminated in a lockout on August 5th which left technicians as well as journalists who worked at the CBC unable to work in their professional capacity. With the exception of the Quebec and New Brunswick, every English language TV, internet and radio broadcast was affected by the lockout. I found myself unable to carry out my daily radio broadcast from CBC Radio 3 and I won’t lie – it was one of the most shocking twists in my career which made me rethink my path.
Not only did the lockout have a direct socioeconomic effect, it also reflected the fact that the institute no longer had the government support it used to have a couple of decades ago. The government was continuously being pressurized by corporate media giants as well as other neo-conservatives to cut the funding of CBC and it seemed that it had started to cave in. Their problem with the corporation was that it did not conform to their media models where the focus was on advertisements and audience shares. The CBC was the lone voice of liberalism and criticism which simply wasn’t tolerable for these conservative media groups. Furthermore, they were also resentful that CBC produced the majority of top rated dramas. The pressure from these sources was such that even the Liberals had to give in and bring down funding for the corporation. They had started to favour the conservative lobby’s viewpoint rather than the standards of aestheticism and intellectualism which were hallmarks of the CBC.
What did we do about it?
We, the members of the Canadian Media Guild (CMG), weren’t going to take it lying down that the only public broadcasting corporation of Canada had been hijacked by the conservative mentality and that our careers were suddenly mere ‘contracts’. We separated ourselves from the CBC’s management and started our own programming that comprised of local radio broadcasts and internet blogs. Dozens upon dozens of TV and radio personalities began to join our ranks and we took the fight to the CBC’s management.
Interestingly, this effort was what sparked my interest in internet blogging as a form of communication with the public. I realized that the corporate machine couldn’t be challenged on conventional platforms – they were just too strong and well-funded, for instance, the CBC carried out broadcasts throughout the lockout by using material from BBC! The internet would allow me to be free and vocal about my views on anything I wanted and no corporate bigwig would be able to stop my message from reaching to the masses just because it offended them.
I will still say this about the CBC: the corporations will always attempt to take over that which continues to defy them, it is the duty of each and every Canadian citizen to support the CBC and make sure that the government continues to fund it adequately so that incidents such as the lockout can be avoided in the future.