Faced with pan-northern backlash, CBC drops pan-northern newscasts

Outraged CBC North staff bombarded their bosses with complaints

Here’s CBC North’s current facility in Iqaluit, located in space leased from Nunastar Properties across the road from Arctic Ventures Marketplace. Like their colleagues across the northern territories, CBC Nunavut staff are mostly opposed to the elimination of Nunavut-specific newscasts, according to several employees. (Photo by Dustin Patar)

By Jim Bell

CBC North has reversed its plans to cut Iqaluit-based English-language morning newscasts in January and replace them with pan-northern newscasts assembled in Yellowknife.

Instead, Nunavut radio listeners will still be able to hear Nunavut-specific English newscasts assembled by Nunavut-based news readers.

CBC North reported the reversal of policy this morning, following an uproar among CBC staff, CBC listeners and some northern politicians.

The turmoil began when the managing director of CBC North, Janice Stein, described the new plan in an email to CBC workers on the morning of Monday, Nov. 18, provoking an immediate backlash.

In response, CBC North staff across the three northern territories launched an open rebellion against their employer and leaked Stein’s internal email to other news organizations.

“It feels like a bomb dropped in our newsroom this morning,” one employee said in part of an internal email thread that Nunatsiaq News was permitted to see.

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To protect them from workplace repercussions, Nunatsiaq News is not publishing the identities of the CBC workers who communicated with us for this story.

CBC North also planned to eliminate similar English-language morning newscasts from Whitehorse, Stein said in her email.

Yukon premier pitches letter of complaint

That prompted Yukon Premier Sandy Silver to fire off a letter to Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq and Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane, urging them to join with him in sending a letter of protest to CBC’s national president, Catherine Tait.

In his suggested draft letter, Silver said CBC’s proposed pan-northern newscast system ignores the distinct cultural and regional differences that exist across the three territories and that the move would have breached CBC’s legislated mandate, which is set out in the 1991 Broadcast Act.

At the same time, in Iqaluit, Coun. Kyle Sheppard said that on Tuesday that he planned to ask city council to write a similar letter.

CBC North already does a single pan-northern English newscast every afternoon from Whitehorse, broadcast every weekday at 5:30 p.m. eastern time.

But CBC North still runs three separate sets of newscasts each morning from Iqaluit, Yellowknife and Whitehorse

In her email to staff, Stein said that, starting this January, CBC North would replace them with a single set of English-language pan-northern newscasts broadcast from Yellowknife.

They would be called “blended” newscasts, which means they would have used material from reporters based in all three territories, delivered simultaneously.

This would have eliminated Nunavut-specific English newscasts that until now have run every morning at 6:30 a.m., 7:30 a.m., 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. eastern time.

Inuktitut not directly affected

The reorganization would not directly affect Nunavut- or Nunavik-based Inuktitut newscasts or programming in any other Indigenous languages, Stein said in an interview with Yellowknife online news service Cabin Radio.

Right now, CBC North’s Inuktitut newscasts are translations of newscasts that are first prepared in English.

In her email, and in in subsequent interviews with Yellowknife media, Stein said the move had been intended to free up staff so they had time to work on other tasks related to four priorities contained in a new strategy ordered by CBC President Catherine Tait.

“It will add resource to program teams in Yukon and Nunavut as they develop new digital services, initiatives to deepen community connection and engage with young audiences,” Stein said in the leaked email.

She also said CBC radio reporters would have been asked to change the way they package and report news.

Under those changes, staff would have been asked to do fewer “voicers.” Those are packaged stories in which journalists report or explain news stories using a recording of their own voices.

Instead, they would be asked to emphasize sound clips and scripted material.

“We will also change the thrust of the English radio newscasts to focus on clips. Voice reports will be the exception,” Stein said in her Monday email.

Stein has not immediately responded to an email and a telephone message from Nunatsiaq News seeking comment.

But an overwhelming majority of CBC staff were opposed to the new newscast system, according to several CBC employees.

And many complained that managers did not consult them before making the decision, which arose out of a pan-northern CBC managers’ meeting held last week.

“This decision is a bad decision that will have negative outcomes if they go through with it and uniformly, the CBC employees recognize that this decision should not be made,” a CBC North staff member from one of the three territories told Nunatsiaq News after a guarantee of anonymity.

Multiple CBC staff say the move would damage CBC North’s relationship with its northern listeners.

“Our audience will absolutely hate this decision, no matter how you try to spin it. People want more local coverage and this achieves the opposite of that,” one employee said in an email.

Others feared that Inuktitut programming, which right now is broadcast from Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Kuujjuaq, could eventually suffer.

Although CBC management has said the new newscast system was for English newscasts only, some fear the implied reduction of English service will create a “ripple effect” that will lead to a reduction of Inuktitut services.

Last year, shortly after Tait’s appointment as the CBC’s president, she pledged that “local and regional CBC content, across the board, is the heart of the organization.”

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(8) Comments:

  1. Posted by Rick Grant on

    I was stunned, surprised, and deeply disappointed when I heard that for some unfathomable reason the morning english language newscasts across the Arctic would be eliminated in favour of a stripped down, meaningless, and uninformative “blended newscast” out of Yellowknife.

    I established the first CBC Radio Newscasts out of Iqaluit, then Frobisher Bay, in 1976. Those newscasts were to replace, (guess what?) blended english newscasts out of Yellowknife which were not liked one bit by the listeners in the east. Subsequently I worked with CBC Northern Service News in several locations and in various capacities, including being the Ottawa news correspondent out of Ottawa for all things northern and native originating from the federal government or the national native organizations.

    So, it can be fairly said that I have an inbuilt bias and resistance to what a lame minded CBC management wanted to do to the long tradition of regional newscasts in English in all parts of the territories.

    This kind of stupidity could be extended without too much intellectual rigour to Southern Canada. Why not blended newscasts out of Toronto to supplant the morning local newscasts in Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax, and all the others, including of course Toronto itself?

    Thank you to the news staffs who held on to their pride and self esteem and spoke truth to a very stupidly applied bit of bureaucratic power.

    It is beyond me how the CBC continues to grow such weed ridden crops of managers.

    • Posted by Steve L on

      Flashback to 1970’s at CFFB and an attempt to do something similar crashed and burned. Dialect differences and staff that couldn’t come up with enough program ideas to fill the times allocated. Ottawa kept parachuting staff with no northern knowledge. And we had no Inuk stringers that I remember. Quiche recipes on the 5 O’clock slot just wasn’t popular. Didn’t help we had the Firefighter alert that went to all linked community. Only happened once.
      Other than Jonah Kelly I really can’t remember other Inuk at the station. Leah Idlout was tri-lingual but she left.
      So I’m guessing Same-ol, same ol?

  2. Posted by CBC english on

    Now that english cbc is staying plz spend a few minutes each morning to pronounce names correctly. It is very frustrating to hear cbc in your own territory mispronouncing names every single morning. We expect that from outsiders but not from our own radio.

    • Posted by Raven on

      I have stopped listening to this broadcast because one news reader ruins too many names of people and places.

    • Posted by Sound for sore ears on

      I totally agree. There is one news reader in particular who is notorious for totally mispronouncing names of people and places and other words, not just many Inuktitut words, but simple English and French words.
      It’s an embarrassment and extremely cringeworthy to listen to. Please train your staff CBC, you have the resources to do that, courtesy of the taxpayer..
      Also, I notice CBC posted all kinds of articles about this centralized newscast thing, up to date with all the details.
      Fine. You put a lot of hard work into serving your selves and you got your way.
      Now, lets see you put the same hard work into serving us the public. You think you can do that too?

      • Posted by Kevin on

        bring back kevin kablutsiak !!!

  3. Posted by michael vaydik on

    CBC Radio
    Attention: Ms Janice Stein

    Your proposal to increase local news programming by compacting three regional morning newscasts into one program “serving” all three northern territories is, in a word, NUTS.
    Your recorded comments that were aired on Loren’s show this morning, indicate that you had no consultation with anyone outside you own circle prior to initiating this unilateral announcement. Nor were you open to further discussion. That’s not how we do business in the north.
    Your precipitous action is even more striking when we consider that the citizens of Canada own this network. WE OWN IT! That feeling of ownership is more strongly felt north of 60 than anywhere in Canada because CBC North reflects our regional realities back to us. To leave your listeners, who are your only customers, out of the decision-making process shows a total lack of regard for the people you are meant to serve.
    As one who has listened to CBC radio in the north since CBC North began broadcasting, and to CBC shortwave before that, I have watched the network ebb and flow as budgets and priorities shifted. It is always a challenge but your unilateral announcement tends to undermine over 50 years of growth and adaptation of a unique part of our northern heritage in three unique northern territories.
    I wish you well in your future career in CBC headquarters in Toronto. We don’t need you here.

    Mike Vaydik

  4. Posted by Kanuwhipit on

    Correction for the 9:30 news, it is at 9:25am and then it goes to Inuktitut and weather and it goes to The Current at 9:37am.

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