Thursday, August 23, 2007

A response from the CBC to my letter to Ms. Jennifer McGuire, Executive Director of Programming

Readers of this blog may recall that Ms. Jennifer McGuire, Executive Director of Programming at the CBC/Radio-Canada, was kind enough to reply to the letter that I sent to her on March 24. You may see the letter that I sent in my May 3 blog entry. Ms. McGuire sent me a reply on June 4 and I subsequently sent a second letter on June 29.

I received this letter this week. Sadly, it is merely a form letter. I was hoping for a further exchange of views with Ms. McGuire, but apparently it was not meant to be. The letter reads as follows:

August 15, 2007

Mr. J. Wooten

Dear Mr. Wooten,

Thank you for your letter of June 29, 2007 to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation regarding changes to CBC Radio 2.

We appreciate the time and effort you have taken to write and share your opinion with us. CBC welcomes all feedback about our programs; without it, we cannot remain sensitive to the needs and wants of our viewers and listeners. We have included your comments in our weekly Audience Reaction report, which is circulated weekly among all senior executives, producers and programmers at (CBC, including the President and CEO, Robert Rabinovitch.


Hadley Keane
Communications Officer
CBC Audience Relations

I imagine Mr. Robert Rabinovitch is tired of hearing my opinions by now, but at least he has only a few more months to go before he is free of all this! We, on the other hand, must continue to endure the crapulent programming that now pervades CBC Radio Two.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A new President and CEO for CBC/Radio-Canada!

This article appeared in the Saturday August 11 edition of the Globe and Mail. I nearly missed it - thanks go to Ingrid and Brian for pointing it out to me.

You can read the article on the Globe and Mail web site. The article reads as follows:

'It may be the dog-day season of summer reruns, but these are very interesting times at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The CBC is trying to fill some of the biggest jobs it has - including the one that now belongs to president and CEO Robert Rabinovitch. He's due to step down later this year after eight controversial years.

The apparent front-runner to succeed him is Sylvain Lafrance, the current vice-president of French services (Radio-Canada).

Simultaneously, another search is under way for a candidate to replace Tony Burman, who left the top news job last month after 35 years with the public broadcaster.

The corporation is actually looking for two people replace Burman. The first, an executive director, would function as a publisher might at newspaper, overseeing all aspects of the operation. The second, an executive editor, would run English-language news and current-affairs programming.

The CBC's spokesman, Jeff Keay, this week had nothing to say about either appointment. The splitting of Burman's former job into two, he said, was "not a huge change." He said he expected a short list of candidates to be formulated over the next several weeks. Both positions apparently will report to Richard Stursberg, executive vice president of CBC Television.

How the two positions created to replace Burman will play out remains unclear. As posted on the CBC website, the executive director's job will embrace all news programming resources and operations. It oversees a staff of more than 1,500 people, and budgets totalling more than $200-million, delivering content to English-language TV, radio and new media.

But the executive placement firm CBC hired to find candidates - Egon Zehnder International - prepared a document for the search team that suggests CBC has put more thought into the future of news than has been revealed. It says, for example, that the new executive director - the document calls the job "publisher" - will include "refining and aggressively executing a multi-staged plan combining organizational, technological, operational and human asset components. Included in this transformation will be a significant shift in decentralizing decision rights across the new system and a reallocation of resources to support these changes."

"What is the plan, and why would someone take a job in which he/she would have to execute someone else's plan?" asks Lise Lareau, president of the Canadian Media Guild, the union that represents thousands of CBC workers.

The Zehnder document also says the publisher "and his/her team will identify opportunities for cost savings and operational efficiencies, ensure that new technology is acquired and implemented to support the efficiency drive."

In the absence of substantial information, there is, of course, speculation. Some observers think Stursberg, who often clashed with Tony Burman over budgets, has split the job in order to exert more control over news and current affairs. Indeed, some feel that Burman's exit was precipitated in part because he did not want to preside over a round of expected budget cuts.

Burman was not universally loved at the CBC by any means, notes Lareau. "But he was seen as a fierce defender of news programming. He was prepared to go to war to preserve its integrity," she said.

In the climate of fear and distrust that has characterized Stursberg's tenure at the CBC, there is also concern among staff about how the Burman search is being conducted.

Both the search for Rabinovitch's successor in Ottawa and the new executive director in Toronto have been outsourced to Egon Zehnder.

The EZ team is being led by Tom Long, a former president of the Ontario Conservative party, a former candidate for leadership of the short-lived Canadian Alliance party, and a friend of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Stursberg will ultimately make the hiring decision, but critics wonder whether a short list assembled by Tom Long might be politically tilted in favour of right-wing views. Even the hint of political interference scares many journalists.

"I think CBC management needs to treat its own news department as a public trust and say so," says Lareau. "It needs to be seen to be ensuring its complete editorial independence. And that means going the extra mile to put a process in place that is beyond reproach. That's what's wrong about Tom Long's involvement in the vetting of potential candidates. Is there a plot? Probably not ... but the CBC - and all news organizations - need to be reminded that the signals they send on these important hiring decisions are very important."

Meanwhile, a happy month out of his long tenure at the CBC, Burman declined to comment this week. Just back from a vacation in Costa Rica, he was in London on unspecified business. "I know very little about how the CBC intends to frame my former job in the future," he said. "And I know nothing about possible job cuts beyond the inevitable speculation and rumour, " he said. "However, my Spanish is coming along well."'

I find it interesting that the decision by Mr. Robert Rabinovitch to not seek another term as the CBC's President and CEO has been downplayed in this article - it barely rates a passing mention in the article. Instead, the focus is on the replacement of the CBC's head of information programming. I would have thought that Mr. Rabinovitch's resignation is a much more significant event, given the influence that I assume Mr. Rabinovitch exerts on the operations of CBC/Radio-Canada.

In my August 2 blog I speculated that Mr. Rabinovitch's re-appointment was a foregone conclusion, given the fact that there appeared to be no mention in the press of his decision not to seek another term as President and CEO. Well, apparently I was wrong! I searched again for mentions in the press or on CBC's web site for an announcement of his resignation.

I found a web site that reproduces an article from the
March 10 2006 Globe and Mail article that mentions that Mr. Rabinovitch would not seek another term - but then, nothing after that until Mr. Rabinovitch's announcement on July 25 2007, the article in the Globe and Mail and an article in the Toronto Star. If the President and CEO of any publicly traded corporation had decided to step down it would be a major news event for the nation's newspapers, and yet Mr. Rabinovitch's departure is barely noticed - what is going on here? Is there absolutely no interest in the conduct of the CBC/Radio-Canada among the nation's journalists?

In any case, you now have an opportunity to influence the selection of the next President and CEO of the CBC/Radio-Canada! Write to Egon Zehnder and let them know if you believe your interests are being met by the current management of CBC/Radio-Canada!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

A new President and CEO for CBC/Radio-Canada?

I noticed the above advertisement in the "Careers" section of the July 27th edition of the Globe and Mail. It was also in the July 28 (Saturday) edition.

CBC/Radio-Canada is recruiting a new President and Chief Executive Officer? At first I thought that the CBC Radio Two listener revolt had borne fruit and that Mr. Robert Rabinovitch, finally recognizing that CBC Radio has betrayed its listeners in revamping the Radio Two programming, had tendered his resignation. Mr. Robert Rabinovitch had, I thought, at last behaved honourably and had recognized that although he may not have been directly responsible for these programming changes, as the President and Chief Executive Officer of the corporation he was ultimately accountable for the behaviour of CBC management and had decided to resign as an act of contrition. Bravo, Mr. Rabinovitch!

But then I searched for news of Mr. Rabinovitch's resignation. I checked the National Post and the Globe and Mail. I looked on the CBC web site. I did a Google search. There was no mention of Mr. Rabinovitch's resignation. The only item I could find is the statement that "The Government of Canada is seeking to recruit a new President and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada. Please click here to view the selection criteria for the position of President and CEO." on the Board of Directors page of the CBC web site.

I quickly realized that this recruiting campaign must be a mere formality. Mr. Rabinovitch's current term as President and CEO expires in November 2007, since he was reappointed for another three year term in November 2004. I expect that Mr. Rabinovitch is the favoured candidate for another three year term, beginning in November 2007. Thus the low-key recruitment campaign.

Oh, well, I thought, back to the trenches of the CBC Radio Two listener uprising. We former CBC Radio Two listeners will just have to slog on and continue voicing our requests for CBC Radio management to return to the quality programming that CBC Radio Two featured prior to the March 19 2007 programming changes.

But then I had a further thought. If the CBC is in fact soliciting candidates for the President and CEO position, then presumably they should be willing to accept comments on the performance of the current President and CEO, assuming that he is also a candidate for the position? In that case, who is better qualified to comment on the performance of the current President and CEO than the shareholders of the corporation, i.e. the listeners and viewers of CBC Radio and TV? If Mr. Robert Rabinovitch is seeking reappointment to another term as President and CEO, then your opinon and my opinion on his performance in the job must surely carry some weight during the selection process?

So, if you believe Mr. Rabinovitch has excelled during his term of office - if you believe that the relations between management and staff of CBC are improved, if you believe CBC meets your needs as a television viewer or radio listener, if you believe that the quality of programming has improved and you believe that the CBC is responsive to your opinions as a viewer/listener, shareholder in the corporation and taxpayer of Canada, why not write to the recruiter and let them know this?

On the other hand, if you believe that the CBC is not adequately serving the needs and interests of Canadians, that CBC Radio management is not attempting to solicit the opinions of the CBC Radio listening audience in a manner which allows the listening audience to have a meaningful voice in the choice of programming, that CBC Radio management is making programming decisions which do not reflect the needs and interests of Canadians and is doing so based on information that they are unwilling to share with the CBC Radio listening audience and that CBC Radio management is unwilling to let listeners comment on the programming changes that have already been made and is operating CBC Radio in an aura of secrecy that is not acceptable for Canada's public broadcasting system, then you should also write to the recruiter and let them know your opinion. (You may view my opinions on this topic in my letter to the Minister of Heritage, Bev Oda, in my May 17 blog entry.) After all, your opinion as a CBC listner/viewer, taxpayer and shareholder in the corporation should count, shouldn't it?

As noted in the job ad, interested candidates have until August 13 2007 to forward their CV. I assume that the recruiter will also welcome comments from interested parties on potential candidates until this date. The addresses provided in the ad are as follows:

Egon Zehnder International Inc.
BCE Place
181 Bay Street, Suite 3920
Toronto, ON
M5J 2T3

Egon Zehnder International Inc.
1 Place Ville-Marie, Suite 3310
Montreal, PQ
H3B 3N2

Egon Zehnder International Inc.
Petro-Canada West Tower
150-6th Avenue S.W., Suite 3000
Calagary, AB
T2P 3Y7