After the head of Canada’s public broadcaster gave a newspaper interview earlier this year that promised the CBC would eventually become a digital-only product and criticized Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, senior executives were quick to refute his comments, internal emails suggest.
The Globe and Mail reported in February, based on an interview with Catherine Tait, that she was preparing to end traditional television and radio broadcasts and switch completely to a digital platform, but that was unlikely to happen in the next decade.
Emails detailing CBC staff’s unease over the report have been released to The Canadian Press under freedom of information legislation.
Months earlier, the BBC had announced its intention to go online only during the decade.
“But that’s not the reality for us at CBC,” a senior CBC BC and Alberta executive said in an email. “Even with a plan to move forward and move towards a streaming future, no Canadian will be left behind.”
Tait was first named president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada in 2018, and her term was extended last month until early 2025.
In the newspaper interview, she also accused the federal Conservative leader of inciting attacks on the public broadcaster as a political fundraising tactic.
Some journalists “expressed concern about the views shared by Catherine regarding political campaigns and Canadians opposed to CBC funding,” an email said.
George Achi, head of journalistic standards at CBC, reassured staff via email saying “that statements made by our corporate executives (outside of CBC News) are completely separate from CBC News coverage.”
“It goes without saying that we should cover this case with the same fair, precise, balanced and factual approach that we use for any other story,” Achi wrote.
It was noted in another email that Tait would continue to discuss the importance of the public broadcaster with politicians from all parties.
In 2021-22, the RSC received over $1.2 billion in government funding. Its board of directors determines how the funds it receives are spent.
Leon Mar, a CBC spokesperson, said Tait was unavailable for an interview to discuss the documents, adding, “We do not comment on internal employee conversations, which by their nature are confidential.
The union representing CBC staff raised concerns about the February interview, documents show.
Emails say the Canadian Media Guild was preparing to release a public statement about Tait’s remarks on the day the story came out, but agreed to delay it for a day to await clarification from management.
They wanted to know where the 10-year window came from and why it first appeared in the Globe newspaper, with an email saying Tait’s remarks were out of the spirit of “no surprises”.
The union was also concerned about job losses, shrinking newsrooms and increased workloads for employers in the event of TV and radio cuts. A common question from staff members, according to an email, was: “Does this mean I will be out of a job in 10 years?”
Shaun Poulter, executive director of public affairs strategy and government relations at CBC/Radio-Canada, said in an internal email at the time that union representatives said they felt “blindsided” and “betrayed” by the first digital language.
“Is there someone you can talk to out there and ask them to read the article and not get sucked into click bait. We don’t give up on TV and radio ffs,” Poulter asked a colleague in another email, using an abbreviation for an expletive.
CMG did not respond to a request for comment on the documents.
They show that Tait’s comments also drew criticism from the general public.
One person wrote an email to Tait and Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez saying “CBC is abandoning older Canadians” whose lifetime taxes have supported the broadcaster.
“As a liberal, I would be very upset if my tax dollars were used to provide services that I don’t want,” said the individual, whose name was redacted in the documents that were released.
The person, who identified as being over 65, suggested that going “online only” could cause them to stop supporting the broadcaster.
They warned CBC not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. “Warning to be careful: old babies can cry like crazy!”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 23, 2023.
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