Source: Ottawa Citizen
The head of CBC's English television, radio and online operations lost his job Friday after six years with the network, raising questions whether Richard Stursberg's abrupt departure as one of the CBC's key executives signals the onset of a fresh struggle over the future of Canada's public broadcaster.
On the cusp of leading the Crown corporation in drafting a new five-year strategic plan, CBC president Hubert Lacroix felt the time was right to "bring in new leadership," CBC spokesman Bill Chambers told Postmedia News.
"The decision," he confirmed, "was made by Mr. Lacroix."
Stursberg served as the CBC's executive vice-president of English services during a particularly challenging time in the media universe, navigating severe budget cutbacks and tectonic shifts in the advertising market while overseeing rapid growth in digital content.
While earning praise for helping to bring such pure-Canadian rating hits as Little Mosque on the Prairie and Battle of the Blades to air, Stursberg also infuriated some defenders of the CBC's traditional mandate, who prefer the network to eschew commercial imperatives in favour of fostering national identity.
Efforts to reach Stursberg, who married CBC News host Carole MacNeil last year, were unsuccessful.
A spokesman for Heritage Minister James Moore said Stursberg's departure is an internal CBC matter and that the government would not comment given its arms-length relationship with the public broadcaster.
Ian Morrison, spokesman for the lobby group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, said a high-level CBC source told him that it was announced within the corporation on Friday that Lacroix dismissed Stursberg "over irreconcilable policy differences regarding CBC's strategic plans for the next five years."
Those differences were difficult to detect in the formal statement issued by the CBC on Friday afternoon to announce Stursberg's departure.
Lacroix — appointed to his post in 2007 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper — hailed Stursberg for leading a "revolution" that transformed both CBC programming and corporate culture.
"When Richard was appointed executive vice-president of CBC Television six years ago, he brought with him a revolution that shook the foundation of the organization and eventually of the whole of our English services," Lacroix stated. "He challenged every premise, attacked conventional wisdom, and uprooted whole parts of the internal culture. Six years later, the institution is better off than it was."
But perhaps alluding to conflicting visions among CBC's senior ranks, Lacroix added: "We are in the midst of developing a new strategic plan that will guide CBC/Radio-Canada through the next five years. This is the opportune time to bring new leadership to English Services and to ensure alignment of the senior team on the future of the public broadcaster."
Morrison said he was hard-pressed to define the legacy of Stursberg — the former head of Telefilm Canada — beyond what he described as the championing of "Hollywood movies" and two popular U.S. game shows — Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy — that "he was responsible for buying."
He also listed the loss of Olympic television coverage and turmoil at CBC Radio Two as significant failings during Stursberg's time with the network.
The Friends spokesman summed up Stursberg's approach as one of "chasing audience for its own sake rather than paying attention to the goals of the Broadcasting Act." And he insisted that Stursberg's frequent boasts about CBC's prime-time audience increases in recent years relied heavily on "those American shows" — an accusation Chambers strongly denied.
The CBC spokesman listed TV programs such as Dragon's Den, the Republic of Doyle and Heartland — all nurtured by Stursberg's programming team — as clear-cut rating winners brimming with compelling Canadian content.
Chambers said the CBC confronts major financial challenges, a "rapidly evolving" media landscape and "a large mandate" as it begins to shape its new five-year plan.
He emphasized that the executive chosen to replace Stursberg on an interim basis — CBC Television general manager Kirstine Stewart, described in the official statement as "Richard Stursberg's official delegate" in her current job — represents continuity and stability for the broadcaster and a vote of confidence in its current direction.
© Ottawa Citizen