Canwest cuts 560 jobs Canada-wide

Canwest announced Wednesday it was cutting five per cent of its workforce across the country as part of the newspaper publisher and broadcaster's streamlining of operations in the face of an economic slowdown.

Slowing economy forces reductions at entertainment channels, community papers

Newspaper publisher and broadcaster Canwest announced Wednesday it was cutting five per cent of its workforce across the country, or about 560 jobs, as part of its streamlining of operations in the face of an economic slowdown.

The elimination of 210 broadcast and 350 publishing jobs involves voluntary buyouts, attrition and layoffs, and is expected to reduce annual operating costs by about $61 million, the company said in a release.

"We are implementing a number of initiatives that will provide savings that will allow us to better compete in the current economic environment, without compromising our core products and services," Canwest's president and chief executive officer Leonard Asper said in a statement.

"It will not impact our strategy to invest in growth media like digital online, mobile and specialty channels."

Canwest, which owns the Global television network and the National Post, as well as several major city newspapers across Canada, said the cuts are in addition to several hundred jobs that were eliminated over the last two years.

The 210 job cuts to Canwest's broadcast wing come from a restructuring of the E! entertainment specialty stations, the company said.

In Victoria, where 18 people, including on-air personnel, were being let go at CHEK-TV, stunned employees learned the news at a lunch-hour meeting.

On the publishing side, Canwest said it was making 350 cuts through restructuring the community newspaper group, streamlining production and reducing web operations of certain newspapers. The publications were not named.

Meanwhile, the Winnipeg-based company's flagship publication, the National Post, will make changes to "accelerate its road to profitability" by focusing on its profitable markets and reducing deeply discounted circulation.

Changes accelerated due to economy

Some of the changes had been planned, but were accelerated because of the current economic climate, as well as competitive pressures on the company's conventional TV operations, Asper said.

"While we anticipate that advertising revenues will be negatively affected by the current economic slowdown, Canwest's diversified revenue base and strong fiscal management will see it though this period and management remains dedicated to taking the necessary steps to provide the company with the flexibility required over the longer term while building for the future."

Shares in the company fell nearly seven per cent on the Toronto Stock Exchange Wednesday to 85 cents, a drop of close to 90 per cent this year alone. The company is due to release its fourth-quarter results Friday.

It reported losses of $28.4 million in its third quarter, as debt costs and other expenditures overwhelmed a 15 per cent rise in revenue. 

Canwest has purchased itself into heavy debt with the acquisition of the $3-billion Southam chain of papers and other assets in 2001, as well as a $2.3-billion deal to acquire Alliance Atlantis and its series of specialty television stations.

Peter Murdoch, of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, criticized "the binge of acquisitions" for the company's financial troubles.

"What is paying the price here is not only employees but Canadian consumers," Murdoch said.

Asper says CRTC decision partly to blame

Asper blamed some of the company's troubles on a recent decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that turned down a controversial fee-for-carriage proposal, in which conventional broadcasters called for broadcast distributors to pay them for carrying their over-the-air signals.

In their October ruling, the CRTC said the broadcast networks hadn't established a clear economic need for the higher revenues, which would have been worth about $300 million year.

"Previous initiatives including the Canwest News Service, digital newsrooms and synergies achieved through the integration of the former Alliance Atlantis specialty channels have helped us manage costs and reduce our workforce," Asper said Wednesday.

"However, the current environment requires that we go further — especially in light of the CRTC's failure to adequately recognize the structural issues facing conventional broadcasters."

Canwest employs more than 9,800 people in Canada and abroad, where it has media investments in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Turkey and the U.K.

With files from the Canadian Press