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The CBC Is Wrong On This One … Letting Outsiders Pay Its Journalists.

February 27th, 2014

In the absence of knowing all the facts about Peter Mansbridge’s recent speech to an oil industry convention (paid for by the industry)   – because I am not inside the CBC any more and because I can’t research/ask around and given any number of other caveats about not knowing all that I might want to know – I find myself feeling pretty unconflicted about my opinion on this issue.

I was a journalist at the CBC for 27 years.  (i.e. I’m not talking about Rex Murphy and Kevin O’Leary here, although the (self-serving and excusatory) muddy waters surrounding their roles as freelancers/commentators/voices are problematic, I’d argue.)

I can’t say that I ever memorized the Code of Journalistic Practices, but over the years, I certainly looked at it from time to time when potential  conflicts, etc. would arise.

And while the world is indeed gray and few things in life are simple and crystal clear, those guidelines were – and are – pretty good. Especially when I had others around me – and my supervisors – to discuss the concerns.

But there is another mechanism much less codified, but no less – in fact, generally  much more – illuminating and clarifying when questions come up about should I?/shouldn’t I?/can we?/etc. in the way the CBC practices journalism.

It’s called … The Smell Test … and anyone who has been around a CBC newsroom (a tax-payer funded newsroom) for a few years develops a pretty good nose for what passes that test – or doesn’t.

The famous question about Brian Mulroney and Karlheinz Schreiber comes to mind here: “Brian, what part of being in a hotel room with paper bags filled with cash seemed like a good idea at the time?”

While I don’t know if all the quoted comments and justifications from Peter, Jennifer McGuire and others at CBC in recent days are accurately reported, the question still stands:

“Does giving permission to Peter Mansbridge to be paid by a Canadian industry association to speak at a private meeting pass The Smell Test as answered by virtually anyone working in a CBC newsroom across the country?” (Let alone by the Canadian public?)

Don’t look for halos over my head, but that’s a pretty easy question to answer: no.

Finally, if the quote of justification from Chuck Thompson, CBC’s Head of Media Relations, is correct:

“Peter is encouraged by management to speak on a regular basis, it’s part of an outreach initiative in place for many of our hosts that ensures CBC News and in this case our Chief Correspondent is talking to Canadians in communities across the country.”

The CBC should be paying for it, not outside organizations (of any kind,) which immediately calls into question the CBC’s impartiality.

It really is pretty simple.

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