How much profit does Bell really need?

Posted on November 22, 2015 in Debates – Opinion/Commentary – Bell Media’s recent round of newsroom layoffs is a reminder of the threat to journalism that corporate conglomerates pose.
Nov 22 2015.   By: Mark Bulgutch

The people who work for Bell Media are having a rough time these days. The company has sharpened its knives and is going through its CTV and radio newsrooms across the country cutting employees loose.  About 300 people are losing their jobs. That’s 300 individual stories of heartache and sadness with the knock-on effects on spouses and children.

But it’s also sad for Canadian journalism. The company can argue, as it has, that the television industry is “evolving quickly,” so changes must be made. But it can’t argue that its newsrooms are stronger because there are fewer people working in them.

Which means the news the rest of us need to know to be engaged and informed citizens is diluted.

It’s true that television isn’t what it was 20 years ago, or even five years ago. The multi-channel universe and competition from internet sources has splintered the audience and made it more difficult to attract large numbers of viewers and listeners.

So you might be tempted to accept what is happening as a necessary consequence of this shifting broadcasting landscape, shrug your shoulders and move on.

But we shouldn’t accept it.

Bell Media is not some mom-and-pop small business set up over a laundromat, trying its best to make an honest dollar. It’s a very big corporation.

Earlier this month, its parent company BCE reported its profits for the third quarter of this fiscal year: $791 million. That’s profit. In just three months.

So let’s do some math.

If each employee losing a job at Bell made $100,000 (and I’m pretty sure that’s much higher than the real figure) then the company is saving $30 million a year, or less than $8 million every three months.
So its last quarterly profit would have been only $783 million.

Isn’t that enough?

Running a news service is not the same as running a widget factory. You have the right to make money, but you don’t have the right to squeeze every nickel from the operation.
It’s not just me who says that.

In 1969, a committee of the senate looking at media ownership concluded that, “This country should no longer tolerate a situation where the public interest in so vital a field as information is dependent on the greed or the goodwill of an extremely privileged group of businessmen.”

Eleven years after that, a royal commission said that, “Conglomerates should be kept out of newsrooms.”

It recommended that no company or individual be allowed to own a newspaper (and by implication a TV or radio newsroom) if they already owned something that was worth more.

Unfortunately, no government listened to either the senate committee or the royal commission.

And so we are left with a journalistic enterprise that is part of an empire, unwilling to make just $783 million every three months.

Mark Bulgutch worked at CBC News for 40 years and teaches journalism at Ryerson University. His new book is That’s Why I’m a Journalist.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, November 22nd, 2015 at 11:13 am and is filed under Debates. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

One Response to “How much profit does Bell really need?”

  1. I agree with this article.

    Bell Media is a huge Canadian multimedia company and is one of the biggest in the country. This is a media company that a vast majority of people turn to get their information. As much as Bell is a corporation in the media business, it should keep their business interests out of the news and the way it affects news and the way its accessed. Firing these 300 employees saves them no more than $8 million dollars from their $791 million they make in only 3 months. They’re argument is that media is constantly changing, but I see this as a weak attempt to justify cutting expenses for reasons that may not even affect their competitive advantage.

    I think the Trudeau’s Liberal government should rethink their policies on the limitations on control that big multimedia corporation have with the news. Implement policies where the government intervenes with the corporation in making big decisions. There has to be limitations on the control that big media companies have because their influence on society is tremendous. To give a huge responsibility like that to a small number of people is preposterous. Trudeau should bring forth an attitude where we recognize delivering news and information as a privilege that’s got to be earned through integrity. We should get stricter on the media companies because they have the power to influence public opinion, societal values, and even give misleading information. After all, media is one of the biggest weapons in modern day society.


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