Bell Media’s decision to sell dozens of local radio stations, lay off thousands of media workers and shut down news programs is catastrophic, appalling and reprehensible, B.C. Premier David Eby said this morning.
The premier called on the federal government to use its authority to regulate media to support local journalism and prevent companies like Bell from owning so many outlets.
“Bell and corporations like Bell have overseen the assembly of local media assets that are treasures to local communities,” Eby said. “Like corporate vampires, they sucked the life out of them, laying off journalists.”
The companies are responsible for the “encrapification” of local news, said Eby. “Now they say it is no longer economically viable to run these local radio stations, it’s no longer economically viable to have investigative news and they were allowed to do this.”
Eby said he finds the company’s actions “reprehensible” and “appalling” and that Bell and other companies have turned local news stations into garbage.
The companies “now say unsurprisingly that there’s not a lot of support for them,” he said. “I just want to say shame on you. Shame on you.”
Bell’s parent company BCE announced its year-end results for 2023 on Tuesday morning, including a 3.1 per cent dividend increase. It is cutting 4,800 positions, about nine per cent of the workforce, in its biggest restructuring in 30 years. Once complete the cuts would save $250 million a year, the company said.
Bell Media is also in the process of selling 45 of its 103 radio stations to seven buyers, a move that requires CRTC review. Twenty-one of those stations are in B.C., including ones serving Kelowna, Terrace, Prince Rupert, Penticton, Vernon, Fort St. John and other communities.
Bell said no one was immediately available for an interview.
In an email to employees, Bell Media president Sean Cohan said audience fragmentation and declining advertising revenue had made cost reductions necessary. “The news sector around the world and our Bell Media group continues to face highly unfavourable regulatory rulings, broadcast viewership pressures from changing consumer habits, and steep annual losses,” he said. “While we all understand that change is a necessary part of evolution, it does not make it any easier to see colleagues we care about leave.”
“Restructuring decisions are incredibly tough for all of us because it affects the people we work with and care about,” said a message to “team members” from Mirko Bibic, the president and CEO of BCE Inc. and Bell Canada.
“We know these decisions are hardest on those leaving Bell,” said Bibic, adding that reductions will be made by natural attrition and not filling vacancies when possible. “Please know we will support each person affected, including fair severance packages along with career transition services and continued access to our health benefits. For those who are leaving the company, I thank each of you for your contributions.”
Eby pointed out that BCE had net earnings of about $3 billion in 2023.
“The impact on communities in British Columbia of their unrestrained corporate greed... is profound,” he said. “The fact that they cannot find it possible with all of their MBAs to operate a few local news stations in British Columbia to ensure people get accurate, impartial, reliable information in an age of disinformation and social media craziness is such an abandonment of any idea of corporate responsibility.”
Eby called on the federal government to stop companies from assembling media outlets, calling them indispensable sources of information.
Federal agencies “have authority over monopolies and competition law, as well as media regulation law,” said Eby. “Previous administrations at the federal level allowed companies like Bell to buy up all these local outlets and slowly over time turn them into one consistent outlet that’s not responsive to local communities.”
The practice cannot be allowed to continue, he said. “We’ll support them in the work they need to do to support local media as well.”