Archive for December, 2014

Final Thoughts Sent to Jennifer McGuire and Heather Conway ..

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

After receiving a reply on the paid speeches issue on Friday afternoon from Jennifer McGuire, I sent the following note to both Jennifer and Heather Conway (Head of English CBC), with whom I had also been in contact, offering some final thoughts.

Dear Heather and Jennifer ..

 Thanks very much for the speedy reply Friday afternoon. I know well how swamped things are this time of year.

 I can take little solace from your answer, however.

 You admit that Amanda’s speech for  Sun Life (grandfathered in) would NOT be allowed now, under the new policy – which means that you do explicitly admit that Sun Life (in the exact words of the policy) “makes a significant effort to lobby or otherwise influence public policy.”

 Yet you recently APPROVED  paid speaking events  for Morningstar Mutual Funds, a prominent private law firm, the Investment Portfolio Managers Association of Canada, a consortium of companies involved in large scale infrastructure (soft and hard) development and the Chamber of Commerce (a national organization of private businesses.)

 If you think that these kinds of individual firms and industry associations (as divorced from Sun Life, “an insurance company”?) do not  “make significant efforts to lobby or otherwise influence public policy” for the direct economic benefit of the individual firms or their members  …..

 Then you are either blissfully unaware – or worse, willfully blind – to the day-to-day workings of an economic and political system that I reported on for CBC for 27 years.

 But with that final word, I do wish you and the CBC, my home for all those years, all the best in 2015.


Frank Koller


Jennifer McGuire Replies: “CBC is 100% Living Up To Its Committments on Paid Speeches”

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Dear Frank,               (This is the COMPLETE TEXT of the letter I received – FK)

Thank you for the email you sent me yesterday on paid speaking engagements.  I have great respect for the perspectives you share, as well as your commitment to the principles of public broadcasting.

When it comes to the issue of speaking engagements, CBC is 100% living up to the commitments we made when we concluded our review last April.

First, I am glad you noted our transparency with the public about what events our on-air staff attend.  Anyone can go to and see the information for themselves.

If they do, one of the first things they will probably notice is how actively CBCers are involved in the community and speaking to groups of all sorts. The November results alone show 102 events.  And it’s good for the CBC to have reporters and hosts talking to groups from all parts of society.

Of those 102 events, 81 were unpaid.  It is only a small fraction that offered a fee.

And those events fit the framework we’ve established perfectly well.

You quoted a key section of our new practice accurately:  “We’ll reject requests from companies, political parties or other groups which make a significant effort to lobby or otherwise influence public policy, even if the speech or event seems innocuous.”

So let’s use that and hold it up against each of the examples you questioned:

(1)          A Morningstar Mutual Investment Funds awards dinner.

(2)          A Canadian Chamber of Commerce Awards dinner.

(3)          A Project Management Institute Conference

(4)     A Portfolio Managers Association of Canada panel discussion:  Perspectives on the Investment Management Industry:  Evolution or Revolution?”

None of these organizations makes a significant effort to lobby or otherwise influence public policy.  I suppose you could make an argument about the Chamber of Commerce by that definition.  But we feel pretty comfortable judging that a reasonable person would not perceive a conflict of interest when one of our journalists speaks to the Chamber of Commerce.

I also don’t believe that most reasonable people would agree with the extremely narrow filter you use to define a conflict.  For instance, you believe that because Peter Mansbridge has discussions on the air about economy or other issues relating to Canadian investors, that he is in conflict for hosting an award ceremony recognizing high-performing mutual funds?  By that logic, he wouldn’t be able to speak at any public event, because The National could conceivably cover anything.

But that, I realize, is your point – that paid speaking engagements should be banned altogether.  Well, our policy does not go that far.  We have never promised to go that far.  And we are confident we found the right place to land – a place that preserves the integrity of CBC journalists, and keeps them involved in the community.

And, for the record, let’s all remember that all these journalists adhere strictly to CBC journalistic policy at any event they attend.  They do not express opinions on matters of public controversy.  And they do not counsel these organizations on how to achieve their goals.

There is one example you raised in yesterday’s email that I understand fully would cause you concern – a speech at a Sun Life event.  This is an example of a request we now reject.  But it was booked many months ago, before our review was complete.  So we allowed Amanda Lang to honour her obligation.

That principle of “grandfathering” is one I know you accept.  You even wrote about that in an earlier email to me this summer acknowledging “There may be a few more to come, understandably, as these gigs are often booked very far in advance.”

I thank you again for your e-mail, Frank, and wish you a happy and healthy 2015.


Jennifer McGuire

General Manager & Editor in Chief,

CBC News and Centres


The CBC is Seriously Backtracking On Its Paid-Speeches Policy

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

A letter to Jennifer McGuire, General Manager and Editor In Chief, CBC News

Dear Jennifer …

I was hopeful for a while that the “new” policy on paid speeches was being taken seriously by the CBC and as a result, having an effect on the number of (seemingly all senior) CBC News journalists accepting paid speaking engagements. (In my view, “none” would be best, as you know.)

For some months – I guess in retrospect, it was just summer – the numbers were decidedly down and I wrote you to compliment you on the fact that progress was being made on an issue that you seemed to agree was important for the integrity of journalism at the CBC.

A perusal of the November stats on paid speeches is upsetting.

21 paid engagements by a variety of the most senior of the CBC’s TV and Radio journalists.

Let me ask, using a few examples, as to how you came to approve these events:

  • Amanda Lang taking money to speak from the Portfolio Managers Association of Canada and from Sun Life. Does Amanda regularly report on the worlds of investing, pensions and insurance in Canada? Yes, she does.
  • Peter Mansbridge taking money from Morningstar Mutual Investment Funds to speak at its awards dinner. Is Peter regularly involved in discussions of the world of Canadian investment, either in news items or in leading panel discussions on the “Your Money” panel? Yes, he is.
  • Diane Buckner taking money from a prominent law firm and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to speak at an awards dinner honouring private business leaders. Does Diane regularly cover Canadian business issues in her reporting? Yes, she does.
  • Diana Swain taking money to speak from PMI, a private sector organization (with some public partners) dedicated to improving “project management.” Does Diana often report on Canadian business and economic issues? Yes, she does.


In the new policy announced last April 24, you promised that requests for paid speaking engagements would be rejected:

from companies, political parties or other groups which make a significant effort to lobby or otherwise influence public policy, even if the speech or event seems innocuous.

Certainly, with any reasonable reading of this policy and considering the payers involved in the above examples and the others listed, one would have expected the CBC to have immediately refused permission for its journalists to attend – and be paid.

I appreciate the new “commitment to all Canadians that CBC will be more transparent” being honoured; i.e. releasing paid speech information after the fact, on a monthly basis.

But what’s the point, if you are continuing to allow – and thus encourage – exactly the same kind of behaviour to continue taking place that created such widespread public concerns about the impartiality of journalism at the CBC in the first place last spring.

You can do better.

Canadians expect that of you.