Public broadcasting put to the test

110 locked-out CBC employees visit campus and rally

Event organizer Dave Seglins hosted an on-air debate about the relevance of public broadcasting at CFRC on Friday afternoon.
Event organizer Dave Seglins hosted an on-air debate about the relevance of public broadcasting at CFRC on Friday afternoon.
Photo by Lauren Denhartog

Ron Charles hasn’t been to work in five weeks, but he’s not worried about his loss of income.

“It’s not about the paycheque—we’re journalists when we’re working and when we’re off,” said the Toronto-based reporter for The National. “There are all kinds of big news stories we’re missing.
“It’s painful for us to have no outlet for our journalistic desires.”

Charles joined more than 100 other CBC employees from Toronto and Ottawa in Kingston on Friday to raise awareness about their situation. All are are locked out of work by CBC management.

For the past 36 days, 5,500 CBC staff—ranging from hosts and reporters to technicians, makeup artists and set designers—have been in a labour dispute with management.

Staff at Friday’s demonstration wore nametags and T-shirts depicting a gagged and chained cartoon character, framed by the slogan “Bring back the CBC—Call your MP.” Many also carried picket signs, bullhorns and union banners.

“One of the big issues that management seems determined to push through is the ability to have more contract employees,” Alison Masemann, a Toronto-based radio producer, told the Journal during a morning meet-and-greet event in the JDUC. “You basically can’t start at the CBC as a staff person.

“It’s an important issue to fight against because it basically means there are people who work there who have less stake in where they work.”

Later in the day, the group broadcast a round table discussion from CFRC and then held a rally at Confederation Basin.

CBC personalities including Keith Boag, Raj Ahluwalia, Tom Harrington, Julie Van Dusen, JC Kenny, Jacquie Perrin and Mary Lou Finlay attended the afternoon rally, which concluded with a two-song performance by Kingston native Sarah Harmer.

Julie Delaney, an Ottawa-based radio producer, wore a white wedding dress that she said was symbolic.

“I’m looking for a permanent commitment from the CBC,” she told the Journal.

Andrew Kinsella, a Toronto-based set designer, said he believes hiring contract workers contradicts the purpose of public broadcasting.

“To have a revolving-door workforce doesn’t promote a dedicated staff and the ideals of public broadcasting,” he said.

Margo Kelly, a Toronto-based radio reporter, said she sees a danger in having too many contract employees.

“We want to protect the future of public broadcasting from being turned into a contract, Wal-Mart type of business environment,” she said.

The dispute, however, has evolved beyond contract issues, said Ottawa-based radio reporter Dave Stephens.

“We’d like people to come around to our point of view, but really we want the importance of public broadcasting to be pushed to the centre,” he said. “We hope that people will decide that it is worth having a CBC.”

Walking through the demonstration on his way to class, Antony Ramsden, Comm ’08, said the CBC is an essential Canadian institution.

“You need a national radio and TV station,” he said. “In my mind it’s one of the things that brings the nation together—and I like the hockey.”

Kingston resident Kathryn Sheridan attended the rally sporting red CBC logos painted on her cheeks.

“I feel strongly about the CBC. It’s a national institution, it’s a unifying force in our country,” she said. “It provides programming the private broadcasters can’t provide, and doesn’t run merely by ratings.”

Ottawa-based radio host Rob Clipperton said the CBC staff need Canadians to push negotiations forward.

“We need people to write, call or e-mail their MP, the PM, the president of CBC, and say that CBC Radio and TV is important to this country,” he said. “[The CBC] links this country together.”

Andria Sherstone, MES ’07, said she misses listening to CBC Radio.

“I’m one of the few who listens to it every morning, so I’m really looking forward to having it back, if it ever comes back.” Standing under a green tarp at Confederation Basin during an afternoon rainstorm, city councillor Beth Pater told the crowd the CBC differentiates Canada from the U.S.

“I value the CBC for keeping Canada a sovereign nation,” she said.

Before the rally, the CBC staff congregated around a car airing the live CFRC broadcast outside the JDUC.

“It was interesting and challenging to listen to critics ... [it was] a chance to confront them head-on,” said Dave Seglins, a Toronto-based radio reporter and the event’s organizer.

Seglins said he is worried the longer the labour disruption continues, the more critics will challenge the necessity of the CBC.

Charles said he’s worried about losing the regular audience.

“There’s one station when you wake up, and if it’s no longer the CBC, [you’re] not going to go back,” he said. “[Management is] basically gambling with public broadcasting.”

Stephens said some members of the public have mistaken the lockout for a strike.

“It’s not our choice,” he said. “We didn’t start it.”

Dan LeDuc, an Ottawa-based TV technician, agreed.

“Most people, once they realize that we are locked out, they have a different perspective,” he said. “They realize the CBC mandate isn’t being carried out for Canadians.”

Andy Clarke, an Ottawa-based senior coordinating producer for regional TV and radio news, said the lockout prevents staff from fulfilling their responsibilities.

“In our communities, there are big stories at the minute that we are not telling,” he said.

CBC spokesperson Jason MacDonald told the Journal that CBC management recognizes events such as the demonstration in Kingston. He said approximately 90 per cent of the CBC workforce is unionized.

“These [types of] events occur during a labour dispute ... [Our] energy and attention is focused on bargaining,” he said.

MacDonald said the lockout does not benefit anyone, especially CBC listeners.

“We recognize there is an impact on our audience, and that’s why it’s important to get the deal done as quickly as possible,” he said.

Mike Segal, ArtSci ’07, said he felt the meet-and-greet was disruptive.

“Why did they come here of all places? It doesn’t really concern the students,” he said.

Thea Whitman, ArtSci ’08, disagreed.

“I think that it’s awesome they’re here,” she said. “I’ve been devastated these past weeks [because] I haven’t heard my news.

“[This lockout] concerns students because the CBC affects all Canadians.”

Kim Hutchinson, ConEd ’09, said she only learned about the lockout after seeing CBC staff picketing outside the JDUC.

“I think with every job, people want security,” she said. “I support what they’re doing, and I’d support it with any career.”

Joey Fearon, ArtSci ’06, said he hopes the conflict is resolved soon.

“The University is a hotspot for political action, it’s very smart they came here,” he said.

Andrea Morales, a Toronto-based associate radio producer and technician, said she attended the event because it was close to home.

“I went to Queen’s and I was at CFRC, and I think it’s important if anyone is thinking of looking for work in broadcasting or coming to work for the CBC to know that these are the kinds of issues you have to face,” she said.

“It makes me realize how undervalued young people are coming in [to the workforce].”

At Confederation Basin, Harmer sang “Uniform Grey” and “The Ring,” which she said were appropriate for the event.

“This is a song about helping others, sharing stories and being creative,” she said.

Harmer had a further message for the crowd.

“I will write my MP,” she said.

—With files from Tamsyn Burgmann

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