Live and in colour, labour chaos at the CBC
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Live and in colour, labour chaos at the CBC
Strike makes a mess of the broadcasting day
Thursday, February 18, 1999
With reports from David Roberts in Winnipeg, Kevin Cox in Halifax and Jane Toyne in Vancouver.
Chaos and reruns filled the air on CBC's radio and TV stations yesterday as network managers scrambled to perform the jobs of 1,800 striking technical workers.
Viewers who tuned in to yesterday's early evening national TV newscasts witnessed something like small-town amateur theatre, with a hodgepodge of murky, often inaudible dispatches from the handful of reporters who crossed the picket lines, most of them seated in the same room and without accompanying footage, mixed with stale news reports from the previous day, long stretches of seemingly unedited footage, and frequent apologies from anchors.
The first major CBC strike in a decade had a dramatic effect yesterday, as many on-air personalities and journalists refused to cross picket lines. CBC officials said they will seek an injunction today to prevent members of the Canadian Media Guild, which represents on-air employees and producers, from staying away from work.
However, Media Guild members are themselves poised to strike, and a failure to resolve deadlocks with both unions in coming weeks could result in a complete CBC shutdown.
In the meantime, the strike has made a hash of the CBC's broadcasting day.
Viewers who turned on the CBC Newsworld cable channel for its live broadcast yesterday morning were greeted with 10 minutes of colour bars at 6:30, followed by a documentary about ballerina Karen Kain, a repeat of Tuesday's budget coverage and several old episodes of Fashion File.
There were many cancellations: All local and regional TV newscasts have been yanked off the air, and production of many series has ground to a halt.
Radio fared little better: In Ottawa, St. John's, Halifax, Regina, Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria, morning and noon-hour information shows were replaced with classical music.
The flagship national program This Morning was replaced with a rerun of Monday's episode, introduced by Alex Frame, the CBC's head of radio, since hosts Michael Enright and Avril Benoit were not there. Mr. Enright was on a plane at the time, returning from the Feb. 16 funeral in B.C. for CBC veteran Alan Maitland. Ms. Benoit's absence was a show of solidarity. The evening radio show As It Happens was also replaced with reruns.
Even as CBC executives promised to keep hockey games and national newscasts on the air by putting management and administrative staff behind the cameras, many of the TV shows that did make it to the air were hampered with awkward moments and delays.
Newsworld's top-of-the-hour newscasts were plagued with lurching cameras, fumbled lines and out-of-date reports. Live interviews and phone-in appearances were cancelled by Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, federal Finance Minister Paul Martin, Health Minister Alan Rock and other politicians, resulting in long delays and frequent use of old reruns.
In 1981, CBC technicians went on strike for three months, and managers were able to put together a bare minimum of programming; in 1989, a similar strike hobbled the CBC for a month. This time around, managers might have a harder time since the equipment has become more complicated.
CBC employees came within a few hours of a strike in 1996, and many of the issues from that dispute have emerged again in this year's talks.
This time around, the CBC had a contingency plan ready in the event that technicians went on strike, Dianne Warnick, a senior manager for Western Canada, said in Vancouver yesterday.
But the plan had to be readjusted after members of the Media Guild decided to honour the CEP picket lines. Ms. Warnick said the Vancouver AM station was "basically . . . spinning discs all day." The FM station, with its schedule of mostly prerecorded music, remained unchanged.
HOW PROGRAMS WILL BE AFFECTED
Hockey: CBC executives will attempt to broadcast Saturday night's game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, which is the inaugural game at Toronto's Air Canada Centre. However, the union has promised to disrupt the game with pickets. The CBC will also try to broadcast Saturday's Vancouver Canucks-Anaheim Mighty Ducks game from Vancouver.
Local TV news: Supper-hour and late-night local newscasts in all regions have been cancelled indefinitely. Instead, the network will try to substitute a 6 p.m. national newscast.
National TV news: The CBC will attempt to broadcast The National at 10 o'clock each night in each time zone. A 6 o'clock supper-hour newscast and a noon-hour news program may be broadcast starting today. The morning news programs on Newsworld will be cancelled indefinitely, but the station will try to air its top-of-the-hour news updates.
Local radio news: In many cities, local morning and late-afternoon shows have been replaced with classical music. CBC executives say they will try to order staff back today.
National radio news: Most national news shows will continue, likely with limited staff. Information shows, such as This Morning and As It Happens, did not broadcast yesterday and may appear today in limited form, if at all.Staff