The CBC breached its federal broadcast license by shelving local 6-o'clock news nationwide as the COVID-19 pandemic struck, according to regulators.
On March 18, 2020, CBC announced the it was “temporarily changing its news service in light of the coronavirus pandemic, including replacing local supper-hour and late-night newscasts across Canada with CBC News Network.”
When the decision to suspend local news was made, CBC's general manager of news, Susan Marjetti, stated, "As Canadians turn to us for the latest developments during these unprecedented times, we are temporarily pooling our resources into one core news offering to ensure the very best of our local and national journalism."
Marjetti continued, "We are needed now more than ever, and will work together across the organization to serve Canadians night and day with the trusted news and critical information they need for the duration of the pandemic, while keeping our teams safe. Simply stated, extraordinary times require extraordinary measures.”
Flagship Ottawa based political show, Power and Politics, was also placed on temporary hiatus as a result of the COVID-19 move.
According to a report by Blacklock’s Reporter, Senator Percy Downe (P.E.I.) said the blackout left his province without a local television newscast for three months. CBC is the only TV station on the Island.
“Islanders were surprised,” said Downe: “The CBC as a condition of their license promised at least seven hours of local programming per week. Another condition was they could not change that without approval from the CRTC following a public process of consultation. None of that was done.”
Downe continued, “The CRTC failed in their responsibility," and he described the news blackout as “idiotic”. “At the beginning of the pandemic, when we need it the most for information, they abandoned the field,” he said.
Downe also expressed frustration with the fact that the French language newscasts were never suspended.
“To compound the problem, they didn’t cancel the local CBC French news across Canada; they continued operating,” said Downe. “The English CBC said ‘it’s not safe and we have to protect employees.’” English language broadcasts resumed on June 15.
“The CRTC who was responsible for making them keep that newscast on did not do their job,” said Downe. “Why is the CRTC not doing their job?
Outside of PEI, Canadians may not have noticed that CBC quit airing local news. The average audience for CBC’s dinner hour newscast was 329,000 people across the entire country. According to recent data, Canada’s population is approaching 38 million.
Government subsidies remain the largest revenue source for CBC. The network receives a $1.2 billion dollar annual handout.