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CBC to get major boost in budget

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OTTAWA - The CBC will get a multimillion-dollar boost when the federal budget is tabled Wednesday, the Canadian Press reports.

The extra cash will be enough to restore local programs, notably regional newscasts, a senior government source said on condition of anonymity.

Local supper-hour newscasts were slashed in 2000 amid deep budget cuts. Employees were laid off across the country and more than 200,000 viewers tuned out when hour-long regional evening newscasts were shortened.

Critics assailed the CBC's effort to replace the popular local newscasts with Canada Now, a Vancouver-based show that includes regional inserts.

CBC president Robert Rabinovitch recently outlined a plan to restore regional radio and television content. It calls for sustained funding that would gradually increase from $34.4-million in the first year to $61.2-million in the second, levelling off at $82.8-million by the third year.

"Faced with massive government reductions in our funding during the 1990s, CBC/Radio-Canada was forced to make very difficult programming decisions," Mr. Rabinovitch told employees two weeks ago.

"But we are committed to rebuilding our local and regional service and this plan details how we would do that, and what it would cost."

About $930-million of the CBC's $1.3-billion annual budget comes from the federal government.

Ian Morrison, spokesman for Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, hopes Ottawa will insist that any new funding must be used to boost regional programming. The non-profit, independent watchdog group advocates improved content across the country.

"We do not detect that the senior management at the CBC, president Rabinovitch and his senior people, are really committed to regional programming," Mr. Morrison said yesterday.

"It's going to be important for the government to earmark the funds specifically enough to kind of hold CBC management's feet to the fire."

A cash injection for the CBC was foreshadowed in December when the all-party Commons finance committee, during prebudget consultations, recommended increased and stable funding, he said.

Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for CBC/Radio-Canada, said cost estimates for restoring regional programs were prepared at the request of the Commons heritage committee. "If we were to receive the money for the local/regional plan, that's exactly what we would use it for," he said.

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