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CBC’s Damaging Inability to Make Clear Policy Statements

June 11th, 2015

Yesterday, June 10, a day after Evan Solomon was fired for running his own private art brokering business out of his office at CBC TV’s Power&Politics, Ottawa Morning (CBC’s morning radio program) interviewed Kevin Donovan, the Toronto Star reporter who broke the story (and who had also been the lead reporter on exposing the Ghomeshi scandal.)

As her final question, host Robyn Bresnahan  asked him “So who is your next target at the CBC?”

It was an appalling moment in journalism. It’s bad enough what this latest sad story says about the place I worked in – and loved doing it –  for so many years without a question like this to nurture the public impression of a near-Senate like sense of self-importance and immunity from scrutiny at CBC.

I wrote to Robyn, Karla Hilton (the show’s exec) and Rob Russo (head of CBC in Ottawa) suggesting an apology was needed. None came.

This morning, June 11th, Robyn interviewed Brian Stewart about the story. No clams this time, but the overall tone of the discussion prompted another note to Robyn, Karla and Rob. Have a read.

*********     Dear Robyn, Karla and Rob …

This is a big story in our city, no question, and so it was completely appropriate to continue the discussion again this morning.

There are grey areas here, as in any part of real life … i.e., is accepting a coffee and croissant offered by an interview subject appropriate?, can I attend her organization’s office Christmas party?, etc.

The problem on display again this morning on the show  – and writ large, this is the CBC management error that is bedeviling the organization in so many areas of recent controversy –  is that grey does not mean a discussion of these questions coming from the acceptance of the idea that “there are always 2 sides to an issue.”

No. In some cases, there aren’t 2 sides to an issue of policy, whether public or in this case, inside the organization.

A perfect example in our world of journalism involves climate change and whether or not, mankind is seriously jeopardizing the health and safety of the planet by its burning of fossil fuels.

The BBC and several other public broadcasters (not the CBC, I don’t think, correction please?) simply won’t allow this to be debated on air – as a statement of corporate/journalistic policy – because the debate has been settled overwhelmingly by the international scientific community at every level.To do otherwise would be irresponsible to the public interest.

Over the past few years, there has been way too much of this kind of fuzzy thinking from senior management at CBC on the broad constellation of issues surrounding the paid speeches fiasco and now, by extension, Evan’s involvement with the art brokering business.

There is no “other side” to these kinds of issues, nor has there been for decades as I and a number of other worried former CBC folk (Jeffrey Dvorkin, Andrew Mitrovica, Jesse Brown, etc.) kept hammering home over the past year.

A CBC employee (or his family members) cannot personally profit –or be seen to profit – in any way from her or his role as a CBC employee. It is codified in the Broadcasting Act, in the Code of Journalistic Practices and – perhaps most powerfully – in the “stink test” in any CBC newsroom across the network.

Jennifer McGuire and Heather Conway got themselves in such horrible rhetorical knots last year by their refusal to issue this clear statement – a re-statement, in fact!  – of longstanding CBC policy, no matter how awful became the story of prominent CBC journalists taking huge amounts of cash from organizations they cover. The two of them ended up saying foolish things in public about so-called grey areas when in fact, everyone knew this was nonsense. And their intransigence terribly damaged our organization’s reputation as a result.

It is entirely possible to make concise, clear – and yes, appealable – policy statements about an employee’s involvement away from work.

While I am no longer inside the CBC, it seems that there has NOT been a continuing, forceful and blunt campaign of clarification from senior management on this issue.

Changing a corporation’s culture involves much more than publicly firing someone after a clear violation, as in Evan’s situation. He did it and then lied, according to the Corporation, and now he is gone. Fine. But changing a culture requires determined, consistent and relentless repetition of what is expected and required from everyone on an ongoing basis. And now, sadly, that will require repeating it almost ad nauseam, given what’s happened. So be it.

This is now the only way to prevent any CBC employee from having any trouble in the future in answering the question  “gee, could I perhaps make a few bucks on the side by ________ ? (fill in the blanks.)

Finally, and I stand to be corrected, in none of the coverage by CBC on this story have I heard it mentioned that Evan was also involved in the paid speeches mess, as I pointed out last year. He seems to have had previous trouble answering the question in the above paragraph. You should have mentioned this.






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