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The CBC needs financial flexibility, not more money

CBC chief executive Hubert T. Lacroix said Thursday in a speech ... reacting to comments from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on Wednesday that CBC already gets "substantial financing" and should not expect more.

He said the CBC does not want new money, but the flexibility to borrow against future years to weather the current recession.

He pointed out that CBC/Radio-Canada has no access to the capital markets or to commercial borrowing.

"Private broadcasters have the financial flexibility that comes from their sources of capital. In a cyclical downturn, they can effect some changes by smartly managing their balance sheets and lines of credit," he said.

"As a Crown corporation, CBC/Radio-Canada has no access to this type of borrowing so, when we lose a dollar of revenue, we must cut a dollar of expenditure or postpone the expenditure to next year in order to balance our budget."

The CBC gets $1 billion annually from government, but estimates advertising revenue next year will be $60 million or more below budget.

Cuts are looming at the public broadcaster that would hurt its ability to fulfil its mandate, Lacroix said.

Among the measures being considered at CBC to deal with the shortfall:

* Introducing more American programming into television schedules (currently 100 per cent Canadian from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.)
* Downgrading or selling parts or the whole of TV or radio services.
* Increasing advertising on the air.
* Shrinking geographic coverage of the country by consolidating local stations, which would reverse the current investment CBC is making in building regional coverage.
* Selling off assets.

Lacroix pointed out that CBC, unlike any private broadcaster, provides programming in English and French across five time zones and has services in eight aboriginal languages and eight international languages.

Investment in Canadian drama and comedy is up 38 per cent in the last eight years, he said.

"Other conventional broadcasters are facing stagnant or shrinking audiences, yet CBC Television's audience share in prime time has risen to 8.9 per cent this season — an increase of 1.5 points in just two years," Lacroix said.

The CBC gets about $34 from each Canadian taxpayer, he said, compared to $124 to support the public broadcaster in the U.K. and $77 in France. He said it's a modest investment, considering the huge mandate the CBC is required to fill.

Lacroix defended the diversity of platforms, including livestreaming and podcasting, that is delivering CBC to Canadians. He said he wants to maintain some key directions at CBC despite the economic downturn.

"We can't be all things to all people. We simply don't have the resources, nor should we," he said.

"We must focus where we can be most effective: content company, Canadian programming, leader in new media, deeply rooted in the regions."

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