BOB GARFIELD: Now to our neighbors to the north. A labor dispute has disrupted the broadcasts of Radio-Canada, the French-language division of the Canadian Broadcasting Company. On March 23, employees of the public TV and radio stations staged a 24-hour strike, only to find themselves locked out the following day by CBC management. The lockout, which may last well into the summer, has left Radio-Canada's audiences with no new television shows and no news programs. For French Canadians who make up a quarter of Canada's population, it's just one more battle in the never-ending war against anglophonic cultural hegemony. Radio-Canada's David Gutnick has just come in from the picket lines and he joins us now from the union offices in Montreal. David, welcome to On the Media.
DAVID GUTNICK: Hello.
BOB GARFIELD: Is Radio-Canada the only francophone service for news and entertainment on-- in broadcast? Are there no commercial stations that provide this material?
DAVID GUTNICK: There are all sorts of commercial stations providing services, but in French Canada--Radio-Canada has a very important role here. The news is, is much more serious; much more in-depth. It's the place where you'll go to actually get a, a documentary for example on something happening around the world, whereas the, the commercial broadcasters-- they don't have the money to do that kind of thing. They don't have journalists overseas. So it's basically your rock and roll station. Now they've beefed -- they've taken advantage of the, of the lockout, and they're beefing up their news presentations, hoping to draw off the audience.
BOB GARFIELD:All right, why don't you summarize for me the labor situation. As I understand it, there were 3 main points. One is the union wants just more money.
DAVID GUTNICK: That's right.
BOB GARFIELD: Secondly, women are markedly underpaid relative to their male counterparts by 14 percent according to the statistic that the union is citing.
DAVID GUTNICK: Mm-hm.
BOB GARFIELD: And thirdly, workers there are working sometimes for 10 years under year to year temporary contracts instead of becoming full time hires. Is that basically the situation?
DAVID GUTNICK: Traditionally, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation negotiates with the English Canadian Unions differently than it has negotiated with the French Canadian Unions and that's just meant that there's French Canadian Unions have not negotiated as well, so here in Quebec we are paid a f-- less than they are in English Canada. So one of the things we've asked for is-- is-- to be paid equally to English Canada. So we've been walking the picket line in front of that building in, in downtown Montreal.
BOB GARFIELD:And the consequence is there are 1400 workers, give or take, who are not producing the news, not reading the news or for that matter entertainment programming as well.
DAVID GUTNICK: Absolutely. Now there - and all sorts of news has happened of course. You look at the Middle East -- imagine a news show where you're just getting clip after clip after clip of news from around the world and there's no one explaining what's going on! As for radio, it's basically just music all day long with managers reading little bits of news. So there's basically no journalism happening at all.
BOB GARFIELD:This happens at an interesting moment of time, this lockout, because we've been reading that Party Quebecois and French separatism is losing steam. What has the public reaction among francophones been to the lockout and has there been a lot of noise or is, has the silence been greeted with more silence?
DAVID GUTNICK: There has been some silence. You're absolutely right. Sort of surprising. You, you sort of expect that -- the, the public to stand up and say we want our, our documentaries, we want - we want our, our round tables. So that's always a little disheartening. You know Quebec is only a story -- what happens in this province is only a story for the rest of Canada when it's about splitting the country up. But when it's actually about preserving culture, when it's actually about making sure that you can turn on your radio and, and hear that there are actually intellectuals sitting around talking about important issues about Quebec and the world, that doesn't matter. So if right now we were in the middle of a battle about whether or not Quebec should stay in Canada, you could bet that this would not have been a lockout; that we would have been in there covering it, because the rest of Canada would have wanted to hear every single word.
BOB GARFIELD:There's one more thing I just have to ask you. The National Hockey League Playoffs are going on right now. Montreal is in them, playing Boston - ha-- was the game televised by Radio-Canada?
DAVID GUTNICK: You can bet it was televised, because the--the camerapeople who-- who are-- who are, you know, making sure that people can see the images are there, and the managers who push the buttons are there, but none of the commentators. So [LAUGHS] when you - when you turn on your television, what you see is pure hockey and you can hear the players swearing and you hear the [SOUND OF HOCKEY GAME AMBIENCE UP & UNDER] puck--
BOB GARFIELD: So-- how is that?
DAVID GUTNICK:Well, you know, it's, it's-- God I hope none of my union colleagues get angry at me for saying this, but you know what -- it's not bad. [LAUGHS]!
BOB GARFIELD: David Gutnick is a reporter and host on CBC Radio-Canada. [SOUND OF HOCKEY GAME AMBIENCE UP & FADES]
BOB GARFIELD: That was sound from Wednesday night's Canadiens/Bruins playoff game as broadcast on announcer-less, locked-out Radio-Canada. [MUSIC]