Archive for July, 2015

I’m Rex Murphy! No, I’m Rex Murphy! …. CBC’s Sham.

Monday, July 27th, 2015

After I recently argued that CBC must stop calling Rex Murphy “just” a freelance opinionator, several people wrote to explain to me that there are actually two Rex Murphys at CBC.

They’re right, at least in the muddled minds of CBC managers. But it is a sham.

On CBC Television – Rex #1 is hired as “a freelancer,” encouraged to say whatever he wants. As a freelance commentator, he can also write opinionated columns for the National Post and make paid speeches.

On CBC Radio – Rex #2 is hired as “host” of Cross Country Checkup and contractually obligated to abide by CBC’s Journalistic Practices and Standards. He can’t reveal his own opinions, he must avoid any suspicion of conflict of interest and he must stay out of public controversies. Nor can Rex #2 write opinionated columns for the National Post or make paid speeches.

Hands up who thinks this works in the real world?

Example 1:

The National, CBC TV, 2011 – Rex praises the oil sands: “this one project, more perhaps than any other in Canada, has kept us out of the worst of the recession.”

Cross Country Checkup, CBC Radio, 2012 – Rex (contractually obligated to be impartial) asks Canadians their opinions on “The Appropriate Role of the Oil Sands in Canada’s Future?”

 National Post, 2015 – Rex says I am a supporter of the Newfoundland and Alberta oil industry.”

To be blunt, why shouldn’t listeners to Cross Country Checkup suspect that Rex (the impartial radio host) might be skewing his phone conversations with Canadians to support what Rex (the freelancer on television) believes about the subject of that Sunday’s program?

Because Rex says so?

Example 2:

National Post, 2013 – Rex criticizes the “deplorable effort to frame the interactions between Canadians and Canada’s aboriginal peoples as a genocide — an accusation both illiterate and insulting.”

Cross Country Checkup, CBC Radio, 2015 – Rex asks Canadians and First Nations peoples about their opinions on the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s report on residential schools. (Which was called a genocide by the Chief Justice of Canada just a week earlier!)

To support this nuttiness, CBC management has convinced itself – and asks Canadians to believe! – that Rex is a psychological Superman.

In management’s view, Rex (1 and 2) is in such complete control of his perceptions and biases that he can switch from one personality to the other while walking from a radio studio on the 3rd floor of the Broadcast Centre in Toronto to a TV studio on the 5th or to his kitchen to write a column for the National Post. That is obviously impossible, although convenient wishful thinking for CBC executives stuck in a pickle of their own making.

Arguing that this schizophrenic role playing makes journalistic sense is an insult to Canadians, who overwhelmingly think (as CBC’s Ombudsman admits) that Rex is a CBC employee just like Peter Mansbridge. Many Canadians are understandably troubled that Rex – unlike all his other CBC on-air colleagues – is allowed to offer his opinions on important public issues.

It’s like someone turning up in a courtroom to act as a judge one day and then the next, as an attorney – both working on the same case! It corrupts the clarity of the proceedings.

Finally, a question to CBC managers: would you ever advise another public broadcaster to hire one person to play two mutually opposing on-air roles?

How does this improve programming? What journalistic problem does it solve? Is it easily understood by audiences? Is it ethical?

This is not about Rex’s politics. It would be equally worrisome if CBC hired Rick Salutin or Chris Hedges to do what Rex does.

It creates confusion and mistrust among Canadians who value the CBC.

It is certainly not the way to ensure support for the CBC in these perilous times nor to protect the quality of its journalism.

Looking Inside, Looking Ahead … At The CBC

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

Two new items about CBC prompt this morning’s comments on the struggles inside my former employer.

The first is John Doyle’s excellent column in today’s Globe&Mail A New and Better CBC Must Start From Within in which he tackles the corrosive impact on CBC’s badly-damaged reputation arising from the relentless “lack of discipline and outbreaks of arrogance among on-air staff” – referring to the slew of scandals over the past year and a half involving CBC journalists Peter Mansbridge, Rex Murphy, Amanda Lang and others.

I would only add that Doyle goes much too easy on CBC management in all this, as I wrote in Huffington Post two weeks ago. Bad behaviour allowed is bad behaviour encouraged – and that is why this keeps happening over and over.

The second item is the release of an opinion from the CBC’s Ombudsman, Esther Enkin, answering a complaint from a Canadian upset that Mansbridge (until two weeks ago) and Murphy (still) serve as patrons of the controversial Mother Canada war memorial project in Cape Breton.

Again, CBC management’s comments in the Ombudsman`s review caught my eye.

Jack Nagler, the Director of Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement for CBC News, told the complainant that because he is only a history buff, Mansbridge “did not have any intention of being part of the decisions about design or location of this project. Since aspects of the project have become a matter of some contention, Mr. Mansbridge has resigned as one of the honorary patrons.”

Whatever Mansbridge thought about what he did/did not intend to do by becoming a patron is irrelevant. The CBC’s own rules are crystal clear on a situation like this. He – like all CBC journalists – is not allowed to take a position on any public controversy.

But Enkin adds that “is not always easy to assess what will create a conflict of interest. The line between a perceived conflict and the rights of an individual, even one who is a high-profile journalist at CBC, is not obvious, and each case must be judged on its merits.”

That anyone – anyone – in CBC management would think that a war memorial project could not become controversial, is amazing and disturbing. Which does lead to this question …

Did Mansbridge ask permission before accepting the patron offer?

Finally, in the Ombudsman`s review, we again read a tortured defense (cum apologia) of Rex Murphy`s status as a so-called freelancer for CBC.

And I mean tortured, as you will read. Enkin clearly believes the CBC is creating its own problems here, despite the fact she defends it. She states that it is no surprise the vast majority of Canadians believe Murphy is a journalist with the CBC just like Mansbridge and his journalist colleagues (despite the ridiculous distinction-without-meaning trundled out  every time that he is a freelancer.)

I don`t care what Rex Murphy talks about.

This is about good journalism and the abuse of privilege.

So here’s the problem to be faced by CBC managers and programmers who seem so committed to keeping Rex Murphy in the CBC public’s eye and ear – which came to me from a former CBC journalist.

You can just see disaster looming here and when it strikes, we will all be wondering how and why the CBC thought it was wise to put all their commentator eggs in one basket. Sure Rex is a freelancer and sure he can take money from whomever, but that doesn’t mean that the CBC can’t employ lots of other commentators to dilute whatever horrible impact awaits when the next and then the next crisis erupts over Rex’s so-called “freelance” status.”

Fix this mess for the good of the CBC.

End Murphy’s fictional (and disaster-magnet) status as a freelancer.

And much better, start paying for a much broader range of commentators.

But please, do something.

Who Are Canada’s Top 1% Earners … A Snapshot

Monday, July 13th, 2015

Just out from the Institute for Research on Public Policy  ..  Who Are Canada’s Top 1 % Earners

Lots of details on Canada’s richest folks here, comparing 1981 with 2011 (the latest good data available)

Quick profile of the Top 1 %:

To get into the 1%   ..  you need $160,232 in income

80 % are men …. down from 92 % in 1981

Average hours worked / week ….. 46  versus 38 for all workers in Canada

Major industry …  Business / services

Province with the most 1% … Ontario (43%) followed by Alberta  (21 %)

Last factoid before you read the full report … fewer doctors in the top 1 % in 2011 (15 %) than in 1981  ( 19%)

Read the full report


Course Correction by CBC: Peter Mansbridge No Longer A Patron of the Controversial Mother Canada Project

Sunday, July 5th, 2015

According to the website of the controversial Never Forgotten war memorial proposed for Cape Breton Island, the name of Peter Mansbridge, the CBC’s Chief Correspondent and anchor of The National, has just been removed as Honourary Patron of the so-called Mother Canada project.

(Note: Later this Sunday afternoon, CBC’s national radio call-in show Cross Country Checkup will debate “What makes a good monument and praise-worthy public art?” with specific reference to the Mother Canada project.)

Mansbridge’s appearance as a project supporter for many months was, to say the least, unusual as controversy over the memorial grew across the country.

It broke the CBC’s very clear rules on preserving journalistic impartiality.

 Section 2.2.17 …  Corporate Policies ….. Independence and impartiality are fundamental to CBC/Radio-Canada’s credibility. Not only must the Corporation be independent, impartial, fair and honest, but it also must be perceived as such. It is essential that CBC/Radio-Canada not take a position on controversial issues.

  Section 2.2.3  … Conflict of Interest Procedures and Guidelines 16 .. Employees may not take a stand on public controversies if CBC’s integrity would be compromised.

Nonetheless, given the long battle to convince CBC management to order a complete ban on paid speeches by its journalists, it is still troublesome that Mansbridge was given permission to act as a supporter of this project in the first place.

War memorials around the world have long spawned public furor over who is remembering what and why, and where memorials should sit.

These controversies often last years and they can stay nasty.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

The Yasakuni Shrine in Tokyo.

The Valley of the Fallen in Spain.

The Bomber Command (as in “Bomber Harris”) Memorial in London.

Right now, the proposed Monument to the Victims of Communism in Ottawa has everyone from the Chief Justice of Canada to architects to immigrant groups to politicians at all levels trading barbs.

What were CBC executives thinking when Mansbridge first asked for permission to become an Honourary Patron of the Mother Canada project?

(CBC commentator and host Rex Murphy is also an Honourary Patron of Mother Canada. As a freelancer, Murphy is technically exempt from the CBC’s rules on journalistic impartiality. But until a few hours ago, as the author pointed out to CBC Editor-in-Chief Jennifer McGuire last week, he was described as “Journalist CBC News.” He is now a “Freelance Journalist” with no mention of the CBC.)

In recent months, the Mother Canada controversy has been covered by newspapers, the web, TV and radio stations across the country.

According to the CBC’s website, the story has appeared on local CBC television and radio across the Maritimes and nationally, on As It Happens and The Current on CBC Radio.

As of this posting, Sunday afternoon July 5th, according to, the Mother Canada controversy has yet to appear on the network’s flagship national TV news program The National.