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Long-time CBC executive Mark Starowicz is leaving the public broadcaster.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Mark Starowicz, a long-time CBC radio and TV executive who helped create many of the public broadcaster's most celebrated programs and has overseen its documentary programming since 1992, is leaving it on Friday, CBC managers told staff Thursday morning.

Starowicz, 68, was part of the team that made As It Happens a success in the early 1970s. He created the award-winning radio documentary show Sunday Morning, became the first executive producer of CBC-TV's flagship current affairs show The Journal, and produced both the landmark series Canada: A People's History in 2000 and the 2012 acclaimed aboriginal series 8th Fire.

He is leaving to set up his own production company specializing in documentaries.

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His departure comes during an historic shakeup in documentary production at CBC which stripped Starowicz of much of his responsibilities. Last year, CBC's management announced its intention to eliminate all in-house documentary production, one of Starowicz's two portfolios. (He was also responsible for commissioning independently produced documentaries, which at the time comprised 75 per cent of CBC's documentary programming.)

The move spurred a sharp rebuke from some of CBC's most respected journalists, including Peter Mansbridge, Adrienne Arsenault, Anna Maria Tremonti, Wendy Mesley, and Neil MacDonald, who called for the in-house documentary unit to be saved and embedded within the news and current affairs department. More than 300 of their colleagues eventually signed a letter in support.

Their suggestions were rejected.

Charlotte Engel, a well-regarded producer from the private sector, was hired in April to commission independent productions; CBC's last in-house documentary producer left in June.

In a note to staff on Thursday, Heather Conway, the executive vice-president of CBC's English language services said that in his more than 45 years at the broadcaster, "Mark has become a giant on the Canadian documentary landscape. His vision and talent have guided generations of reporters and documentary producers to deliver award winning shows."

She added: "Mark championed the cause of public broadcasting and Canadian programming in speeches and debates across the country. He was one of the architects of the Radio Revolution. He championed the advancement of women in the CBC and defied convention by naming two women – Barbara Frum and Mary Lou Finlay - as co-hosts of The Journal. He took chances on young people and mentored literally hundreds of them, many of whom went on to be leaders in Canadian broadcasting."

In addition to his management responsibilities, Starowicz regularly produced and directed documentaries for CBC, including The Third Angel, a 1992 portrait of a Canadian woman who was fighting to protect the rainforests and orangutans of Borneo, and Dawn of the Eye, a series about the history of the news.

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Fluently bilingual – he grew up in Montreal, received a B.A. from McGill, and began his journalism career at the Montreal Gazette - Starowicz was a strong advocate of CBC's cross-cultural programming, which included A People's History. In her note, Conway praised that series as "an epic collaboration of CBC's French and English networks that crossed the language divide and gave pride of place to our aboriginal heritage. It became the most highly viewed documentary series in Canadian history."

Starowicz's most recent in-house documentary, The Mystery of the Bell, about the Bell of Batoche, aired last year. It will be rebroadcast on CBC's Doc Zone on Aug. 13.

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