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!

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