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

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.

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