CBC's Dispatches, Connect say goodbye

CBC Radio foreign affairs program Dispatches aired its final episode on Thursday and CBC News Network's Connect closes down after Friday's show. Radio Canada International, which broadcasts in seven languages, also stops its shortwave service on Friday.

Radio Canada International shortwave service also ends after budget cuts

CBC Radio foreign affairs program Dispatches aired its final episode on Thursday and CBC News Network’s Connect closes down after Friday’s show, both victims of budget reductions at the public broadcaster.

Radio Canada International, which broadcasts in seven languages, also stops its shortwave service on Friday. Employee Wojtek Gwiazda said Canada had lost "the best ambassador it has internationally" with the end of the service.

Mark Kelley is the host of Connect, which airs its final show Friday on the CBC News Network. (CBC)

The programs were cut after the federal government reduced CBC’s parliamentary allocation by $115 million over three years. CBC has already unveiled a more modest fall and winter schedule and begun steps to eliminate as many as 650 jobs in response to the cut.

Dispatchesa well-regarded CBC Radio One program that allowed correspondents to tell stories that might not have fit into more conventional news programs, has run for 12 years.

An experiment that works

"Dispatches was an experiment and it worked. It still works. The formula didn't fail the audience. I'm always going to be proud of that. That's my takeaway," said host Rick MacInnes-Rae on Friday.

"That, and when you get knocked down, you get back up and push the hell back. That's the takeaway in this for all of us."

Dispatches earned international radio awards from Amnesty International, the Gabriels and the New York Festival. Just recently, Alison Crawford’s October 2011 report on the legacy of Argentina’s 1970s rights abuses won an award for human rights reporting.

Connect, hosted by Mark Kelley, is a news magazine that got behind the day’s headlines with longer interviews and in-depth coverage of issues such as bullying, the Montreal protests and the cost of Canada’s fighter jets.

'Heartbroken to let go'

"I built a great team of young, courageous, whip-smart people, who inspired me every day with their creativity. Together, we made a great show that I am so immensely proud of. And so heartbroken to let go," Kelley said on Friday.

"Behind the scenes, we took chances, we pushed our luck, and we tried harder each day. And we succeeded. However, cancellation is no reward for success."

Aired at 8 p.m. every weeknight on CBC News Network, Connect began as a two-hour show, then was chopped in 2010 to just an hour. Both Connect and Dispatches were produced out of Toronto.

'Voice of Canada' muted

Radio Canada International is headquartered in Montreal and has correspondents in Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Halifax. Begun in 1945 as the "Voice of Canada" to the world, it has reports in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, Arabic and Portuguese. 

CBC reduced its budget from $12.3 million annually to $2.3 million, resulting in dozens of job cuts and the need to end the shortwave service. RCI will continue to broadcast via the internet.

Staff at the show said they were unclear at this point where the reports for the internet would come from, after such a deep cut.

Gwiazda said RCI has had cutbacks for decades, including losing its Russian and Brazilian programming, and these latest cuts amount to the effective end of the service.

Internet censorship will block RCI

Jian Wang, who prepares news and current affairs reports for the Chinese section, says many people in China may not have access to RCI over the internet because of censorship.

"As you know in China … almost 10,000 [internet] pages are blocked by the government with firewalls, so people cannot go there, including RCI Chinese programs, so they can't listen to us anymore," he said.

Wang said people in China need objective sources of information.

"So we need some perspective, some objective news from Canada. We tell the truth and many of our listeners know that already."

Rashi Khilnani, who does a radio show called the Indo-Canadian report, says Canada will miss out on potential ties with the subcontinent with the loss of a shortwave service.

"Jason Kenney has called Indian immigrants 'good immigrants,' so if you're trying to lure immigrants here surely they're entitled to know more about the country before coming here. And to realize that Canada is more than the stereotypes. It's such a shame, we're losing the opportunity to share that with the world," he said.

Many people on the subcontinent do not have access to the internet, he said. Literacy is only 65 per cent, so people rely on radio.

With files from Lauren McCallum