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APTN board to restructure news operation. (News).

The news and current affairs staff at the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) will find out sometime in early December whether they'll still have jobs in the coming year.

Although management is saying publicly there's no reason to expect layoffs or drastic spending cuts, a freeze on expansion and 20 per cent budget cuts imposed on all APTN departments in the last fiscal year were discussed with the news team in a meeting. This, along with a decision by management that less expensive freelance reporters can be used so that money need not be spent opening new bureaus, has many of the 20 full-time reporters, editors and researchers looking over their shoulders.

Former news director Dan David resigned on Sept. 6 rather than, as he told this publication "be the axe-man for the board." A death in his family prevented David from elaborating on that comment, which was made in an e-mail response to our inquiries.

Award winning news anchor Carol Adams left the network in late October, saying she was excited about taking anew position with CBC television in Yellowknife.

A restructuring of the network's entire news and current affairs department is in progress. Jeff Bear, a Maliseet man who worked for CBC's The Journal and VTV's (Vancouver) award-winning First Nations newsmagazine, First Story, has been hired by the network to examine operations and produce a re-structuring plan. He will report to the board at its next meeting on Dec. 5.

Specific questions about why the 21-member board decided (during their September meeting) to take a new look at news and current affairs prompted only vague answers.

"It would be better if the board answered that one," said APTN chief operating officer Ron Nadeau on Oct. 23. "The best I could comment would be that in my view it's a very positive step to try to improve the quality of our programming in all areas. It means our current affairs program Contact, it means the In Vision News, which is now becoming APTN National News, and to add other programs, in-house productions. The whole nature of our board's viewpoint as they've expressed it to me is our basic strategy is to improve the quality of our programming as we go along from year to year."

David was replaced on an interim basis by director of programming, Jim Compton. The hunt is on for a permanent replacement. Sources report one name emerging as the board favorite: Miles Morrisseau, former editor of the now defunct Aboriginal Voices magazine and American Indian newspaper Indian Country Today.

Less than a year ago, David and Adams both enthusiastically told Windspeaker how honored. and excited they were; to have been given the historic opportunity to play a role-in the creation of a national Indigenous television news network.

During a phone interview from her Winnipeg home on Oct. 17, Adams said the opportunity to work as an anchor on the CBC national network was too good to pass up.

"I kind of had to take it. They just sought me out. I didn't apply for the job. They came to me and said, 'We'd like you to consider working for us?' So I did. It was one of those possibilities where if you turn it down, I think you'd kick yourself for the rest of your life," she said.

Adams worries she'll be seen as jumping from a sinking ship something she said is definitely not the case.

"I know there are concerns about news. I mean, it has been cut back in terms of how much money is available even for just covering stories and that's always worrisome for people who work there," she said. "It's not like we were top heavy or heavy at all. We were just sort of bare bones and I was proud of all the people who I work with who are able to do as much as they did with so few resources."

She said the staff was told, before David resigned, "we'd have to do more with less." Cuts and freezes were imposed when management realized, they would have to deal with a $6 million deficit if they didn't act.

On the morning of Sept. 25, during a meeting in the downtown Winnipeg APTN newsroom, Nadeau, Compton, director of operations Wayne McKenzie, sales and marketing director Deanie Kolybabi, and finance director Irene Adams met with the Winnipeg news staff. Reporters in the APTN bureaus (in Halifax, Ottawa, Edmonton and Vancouver) joined the meeting by conference call.

Windspeaker obtained an unedited copy of a tape made during that meeting.

At the meeting, Compton announced to the staff that the restructuring would be done. He told the staff that the network had faced a possible multi-million dollar deficit and that was why spending had been curtailed. The senior management team was expected to present a new budget and strategic plan at the APTN's next board meeting, he added.

With Nadeau sitting in on the meeting, Compton explained why the budgets were cut by 20 per cent.

"We were faced with a $6 million deficit," Compton said.

He said the news director had not kept in close contact with the management structure above the news department and therefore the management team had to impose a cut on news without the director's input.

"Well, I mean, when we were asked to put together a budget, and this is how the budget process works, we put our needs on paper and then we sit down as a senior management team and then cut from there. And that's exactly what we tried to do, but when push came to shove we didn't have that input, so we had to cap based on a 20 per cent cut across the board," Compton said.

On Oct. 23, 28 days after that meeting with the news team, Nadeau was able to deny there was a deficit.

"I don't know where you get, that information from, but suffice it to say it's totally bogus," he said. "As a matter of fact we're looking at a very healthy surplus. We have our financial auditors actually doing our audit and our preliminary financial reports indicate quite clearly that we basically have got money in the bank and cattle on the range."

The news staff believes its sacrifices made that surplus possible.

Nadeau also denied any knowledge of 20 per cent cuts.

"Well, I don't know anything about any of the figures you're quoting. Like 20 per cent cut, I don't know what that refers to," he said. "It's the first I've heard of it. The news area -- we refer to it as news and current affairs -- and what our board has decided to do, basically, is to look at the whole' news and current affairs area at APTN with a view to possibly re-vamping that whole area. That does not include reducing the scope of the news. It could quite reasonably mean doing more news and more current affairs. For example, we're currently doing two In Vision News programs a week; there are some discussions of making it a daily half-hour show."

Another area of contention involves money given to APTN by the CTV's parent company, BCE. The news staff believes it was supposed to go directly to expanding the news operation. Compton and Nadeau told them that wasn't the way the agreement with BCE worked.

"There is some uncertainty, in relation to the BCE update, basically the BCE deal. Some of the questions that I have been getting and [acting executive news producer Rick Ratte] has been getting, certainly the managers have been getting, is what about the BCE deal? What I can tell you about the BCE deal is there's nothing written on paper," said Compton. "What it is is a benefits package which is worth $3 million. What it breaks down to is APTN as a whole gets $600,000 a year to do what it wants with that money. However, having said that, in the verbal dealings that we've had with BCE, those dollars would go for six bureaus for news."

He told the staff that management had discussed the matter with APTN's director of regulations and been told they had broad discretion on how that money would be used.

"There's no hard and fast rules that say we have to set up a bureau in Toronto. There's no hard and fast rules that say we can't use stringers instead of bureaus. I want to hammer away at that. Those dollars are for APTN and they're not specifically for news per se."

Nadeau gave Windspeaker a similar interpretation.

"Well, the way I interpret it is we've been given various benefits packages by various broadcasters in Canada, that includes CanWest Global. It includes CTV and so on. When they gave us these benefits programs they suggest to us that 'we'd like you to spend this in a certain area.' But it's basically up to us how we, what areas we wish to spend the money. Speaking specifically about CTV, those funds have been, in the area of news, for example, we're spending, maybe, if you look at all our operational capital, both areas, we're spending probably in excess of $4 million on news and current affairs," he said. "If BCE is giving us $600,000 a year for the next five years, that basically goes into the pot and how we decide to spend it is certainly up to us. In this particular case, where we spent the money was on the news bureaus and on the news and current affairs area, period. So I don't see what the issue could be there."

According to information heard on the tape, resources for bureaus were scarce, even before the cuts. The Halifax bureau is without editing equipment and the reporter at the newly established one-person Edmonton bureau does not have a camera.

Plans for bureaus in Toronto and Montreal have been stalled for the moment pending the results of the restructuring. Staff at the network worry the cuts will be permanent and the first of more to come.

"I've heard rumors from three different sources that news is going to be dismantled," Adams said. "But, you know, they're rumors."

The news staff was led to believe the growth in terms of expansion of bureaus would happen faster than it has.

"It's nowhere near where it should be at this point. Right now, yes, we have someone on the East Coast and on the West Coast and a couple of people in between, but we were hoping to be up to a different level by this point," Adams said.

Beyond news and current affairs programming, many independent Aboriginal producers have been sharply critical of the content on APTN. They've seen programs of what they consider low quality -- in several cases produced by APTN board members or their companies -- filling slots, on the network while they can't break through. Nadeau said he can understand their impatience, but said things are changing.

"Oh, absolutely. You know, Rome wasn't built in a day. We're the new kids on the block We've been around for two years and it takes some time to build capacity. What we've been making a strong effort to do is build a strong capacity in terms of the whole area of independent Aboriginal producers to be able to provide them with license fees that enables them to be able to produce the best, quality programs. We'll never be satisfied until we have helped build the whole Aboriginal production community," he said.

"In our first year of operation, because we were a new network and we were trying to get on the air as quickly as we could, what that necessitated for the network to do was to use a lot of filler programming. But what we've done since our first year of operation, through our second year now, starting our third year, we've been acquiring new series produced by Native independent producers and we just want to continue doing that so we grow the whole industry in terms of the Aboriginal producers. So that's what our goal is, one of our goals."
COPYRIGHT 2001 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Barnsley, Paul
Publication:Wind Speaker
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Nov 1, 2001
Words:2024
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