Prime Minister Justin Trudeau trash-talked BCE Inc.’s widespread layoffs Friday, calling cuts to Bell Media a “garbage decision.”
“I’m furious,” Trudeau told reporters at a press conference in King City, Ont.
Bell Media said Thursday (Feb. 8) it is ending multiple television newscasts and making other programming cuts after its parent company announced job reductions and the sale of 45 of its 103 regional radio stations.
Trudeau said the company should know better.
He said radio stations and small community newspapers are increasingly being bought up by large corporations that lay off journalists and change the quality of their offerings.
“Then, when people don’t watch as much or engage as much, the corporate entity says, ‘Oh see, they’re not profitable anymore, we’re going to sell them off.’”
Bell Media’s advertising revenues declined by $140 million in 2023 compared with the year before, and its news division is seeing more than $40 million in annual operating losses, chief executive Mirko Bibic said.
The prime minister said the move is eroding quality local journalism and Canada’s democracy.
Stories from local communities are what binds the country together, he said.
“We need those local voices, and over the past years, corporate Canada — and there are many culprits on this — have abdicated their responsibilities toward the communities that they have always made very good profits off of,” Trudeau said.
“So yeah, I’m pretty pissed off.”
Bell Media did not respond to a request for comment on Trudeau’s statement.
The company said less than 10 per cent of its 4,800 eliminated positions would come from Bell Media, which includes both news and entertainment teams. As part of the shakeup, it said “multi-skilled journalists” would replace news correspondent and technician teams in some provinces.
Experts say the layoffs could lead to further deterioration of local newsrooms and lower quality journalism, which audiences notice.
Journalists are increasingly being tasked with doing more despite fewer resources, said Concordia University’s Magda Konieczna, who researches local news.
“Can one human being do video and audio and text and ask good questions and come up with story ideas? Yes, of course it’s possible. But they’re not going to do any of those things as well as they would have if that was their pure focus,” she said.
“Ultimately, you get stories that are not as deep, not as contextual.”
As part of Bell’s programming changes, weekday noon newscasts at all CTV stations except Toronto have ended. It also scrapped its 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts on weekends at all CTV and CTV2 stations except Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.
Bell ended evening programs The Debate, This Hour and Top 3 Tonight on CTV News Channel, which will be replaced by a four-hour news broadcast on weeknights beginning at 6 p.m.
At BNN Bloomberg, weekday daytime programming is “being streamlined” to reduce the number of separate broadcasts.
W5 has also shifted from a standalone documentary series to a “multi-platform investigative reporting unit” featured on CTV National News, CTVNews.ca and other news platforms.
“The result, I think, is that audiences don’t hear or see the local content they used to see,” said Christopher Waddell, a professor emeritus at Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication.
“Audiences aren’t stupid and audiences notice when changes are made, when things they used to listen to or the programs they used to get no longer talk about their own local community … In a world where there’s lots of competition, when you do things that alienate your audience, you pay a pretty big price.”
Decisions like those made by Bell can lead to “a vicious circle or a death spiral,” said Waddell. If fewer viewers feel inclined to tune in to their city’s CTV station because they become disillusioned by gaps in local coverage, advertisers won’t pay as much.
“So that means there’s less revenue, which means they lay off more people, which means there’s less coverage and less local programming,” he said.
Sammy Hudes and Laura Osman, The Canadian Press