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

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 cbc.ca/appearances 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


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