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CTV Vancouver Island hit as Bell cuts 1,300 positions, radio stations and foreign bureaus

“I always thought it would be A.I. that phased me out of this job. Nope, just economics.”
The Bell Media building on Pandora Avenue in Victoria on June 14, 2023. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

CTV Vancouver Island is among the Canadian newsrooms affected as BCE Inc. announced it is cutting 1,300 positions, shutting or selling nine radio stations and ­closing two foreign bureaus as the company moves to “significantly adapt” how it delivers news in the face of rising financial ­pressure.

The plan entails “moving to a single newsroom approach across brands, allowing for greater collaboration and efficiency,” said Richard Gray, vice-president of news at Bell Media, in an internal memo distributed to staff Wednesday morning and provided to the Canadian Press.

The company’s media branch “can’t afford” to continue operating with its various brands — such as CTV National News, BNN, CP24, its local TV news stations and radio channels — independently of one another, said Bell chief legal and regulatory officer Robert Malcolmson in an interview.

“It’s a consolidation of news gathering, news delivery,” he said.

The layoffs include a six per cent cut at Bell Media, but ­Malcolmson said cuts, ­amounting to around three per cent of its total workforce, are happening across the ­organization.

“This thing affects all ­layers of the company and isn’t ­targeted at any one band of employees.”

Calls to CTV Vancouver Island managing editor Scott Cunningham were not returned Wednesday, but only he, Amber Schinkel, Adam Sawatsky, Todd Coyne, Yvonne Raymond, ­Robert Buffam, and Brendan Strain were listed on the ­station’s ­website. In March, the page included 13 people.

Weatherman Warren Dean, 5 p.m. news anchor Jordan Cunningham, and north Island videographer Gord Kurbis all acknowledged on Twitter that they were no longer employed by CTV.

“I always thought it would be A.I. that phased me out of this job,” Jordan Cunningham wrote. “Nope, just economics.”

Management positions at BCE are also being slashed by six per cent, while there will be 20 per cent fewer executive roles in the company compared with 2020.

About 30 per cent of positions being eliminated are vacancies that won’t be filled.

CTV’s foreign bureaus in ­London, England and Los ­Angeles will close while its Washington, D.C. presence will be scaled back.

Bell Media said it would shut Edmonton’s TSN 1260 Radio, Vancouver’s BNN Bloomberg Radio 1410 and Funny 1040, Winnipeg’s Funny 1290, Calgary’s Funny 1060, along with London’s NewsTalk 1290. It is selling Hamilton’s AM Radio 1150 and AM 820, as well as Windsor’s AM 580, to an undisclosed third party, subject to CRTC approval.

In a separate internal memo sent on Wednesday, Bell Media president Wade Oosterman said the company is coping with “the ongoing migration of advertising revenue to foreign digital platforms” such as Facebook and Google, and a shift from cable, satellite and Fibre TV subscribers to digital streaming platforms.

“We are also faced with strong economic and inflationary pressures, a pullback in advertisers’ budgets, and a challenging regulatory environment that has been too slow to adjust,” Oosterman said in the memo.

In an open letter published online Wednesday, Bell Canada president and CEO Mirko Bibic said Bell Canada expects to lose more than $250 million in legacy phone revenues per year, while its news operations incur $40 million in annual operating losses. He said Bell radio stations have seen profit cut in half since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The job reductions are consistent with, but smaller than, similar reductions announced by other leading technology and media companies across North America in recent months,” said Bibic.

Dwayne Winseck, a professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication, said the move to a more centralized newsroom would hurt local journalism, particularly on radio airwaves.

“One of the key things that I think has helped radio is its claim to local representativeness and so this really takes a knife to that,” he said.

Gregory Taylor, an associate professor with University of Calgary’s communications, media and film department, said Bell’s announcement is the culmination of “the last 10 years really coming home to roost.”

“We’ve been told now for more than a decade that Canadian companies have to get larger to compete on a global scale. This was always questionable,” he said.

“And now we’re seeing the danger element of it is that when there are problems with some of these companies, at various levels, it has impacts across the country.”

Malcolmson said regulatory challenges affecting both the telecommunications side and media arm left the company in an “unenviable place,” with no choice but to make widespread cuts. “We’re obviously trying to do this in the most humane, least impactful way possible,” he said.

Malcolmson did not rule out further layoffs, saying the company will take a wait-and-see approach to the regulatory ­environment.

He took aim at “relentless regulatory intervention” by the CRTC, under Ottawa’s direction, that has prioritized measures to bring down the cost of telecommunication services.

Noting that the cost of wireless service has declined around 25 per cent and the cost of broadband high-speed internet has gone up by less than one per cent over the last three years, despite Canada’s ­overall high inflation, Malcolmson said “maybe it’s time to declare ­victory” for Ottawa.

“I think the government’s sort of populist focus on pricing isn’t necessarily in line with current reality and the government has created an intensely competitive industry structure that they should allow to play out,” he said.

— With a file from the Times Colonist

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