CBC chief defends Richard Stursberg firing

Lacroix: Ouster was result of long reflection of CBC's future

TORONTO -- Canadian Broadcasting Corp. president Hubert Lacroix has created a reputation as a straight-shooter with his occasional memos to his pubcaster employees hurtling towards the digital age.

But his directness reached new heights Thursday when he defended his recent dismissal of former CBC English language TV head Richard Stursberg, going as far to insist he wasn't frog-marched to the curb.

"By the way, we did not escort Richard out of the building (where do people get these rumors?)," Lacroix said in a mid-summer note to network employees.

"It was, rather, the culmination of a very long reflection on the future of the Corporation, the culture it needs to adopt in order to change and adapt in an evolving media environment and our ability to agree to a long-term plan based on a shared vision," he confided.

The blogosphere has lit up since last week when the CBC announced Stursberg's sudden departure, especially as the public broadcaster is enjoying a ratings revival on the strength of more commercial Canadian fare, Hollywood movies and U.S. game shows "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel Of Fortune" in its primetime lineup (HR, Aug. 6).

Stursberg has kept his powder dry since leaving the CBC last week, choosing not to speak to the media.

But his former chief of staff, Jason MacDonald, in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper Thursday voiced concern that Lacroix might now backtrack and air more highbrow fare and fewer crowd-pullers on the CBC schedule going forward.

"But if the rumors are true that Stursberg's departure was due to a clash of opinions over the future of the public broadcaster -- i.e. whether to maintain the network's successful present course or, well, I'm not sure what -- then I worry the successes he and his senior team achieved risk being undone, and the CBC will again start the slow slide into irrelevancy,"
MacDonald wrote.

Not so, Lacroix told CBC employees in his latest missive.

He's staying the course.

"You should immediately know that there is nothing (and I mean nothing) in our current programming strategies that I don't stand by: so, those out there who think this is in any way a repudiation of where we stand today will be disappointed big time," Lacroix argued.

Not since the recent public tussle between Canadian broadcasters and cable giants over retransmission fees has the boardroom machinations of the Canuck business proved so dramatic.

"The point is, we are moving forward from the strong position we hold, not going back to the past," Lacroix concluded, before signing off with a wish for a "less eventful" end to the summer for everyone.