In a recent email being circulated amongst various bloggers, an unnamed CBC vice president has promised the CBC will get to the bottom of the matter:
"I wanted to let you know that CBC news chiefs have looked at the allegations made [recently].It's a big promise.
They feel that the reporter's actions in pursuing the story were inappropriate and against CBC/Radio-Canada's Journalistic Standards.
They are continuing to investigate the particulars and will follow the disciplinary processes outlined in the CBC's collective agreement.
I imagine that the CBC Ombudsman will be responding to complaints and investigating what happened as well.
They want to make sure this doesn't happen in future."
But aside from the fact that the CBC has already announced it will not publicly reveal the identity of the reporter in question (raising some suspicion of an impending cover-up), a cursory examination of the CBC's published Journalistic Standards actually says very little about the matter at hand.
It's important to remember that there have been two explanations for the matter forwarded: that forwarded by the Liberal party and the CBC itself, suggesting that the reporter in question was merely pursuing a story of his or her own, and one forwarded by various Conservatives suggesting that the CBC and Liberal party were "strategically colluding".
If approached from the CBC/Liberal perspective, only one segment of the document, listed under "information gathering" seems to have any significance to the matter at hand. The passage refers to clandestine methods, and reads as follows:
"As a general rule, journalism should be conducted in the open. The credibility and trust placed in the CBC's journalistic programming by the public depends largely on confidence in the ethical and professional standards of its practitioners.From this point of view, the reporter in question would be guilty only of using unnecessary means to get the information he or she desired. Such a question could be asked of Mulroney, or anyone else involved in the sale of wireless spectra, in the course of a properly-arranged interview.
Covert methods, as referred to in this policy, should only be employed with due regard to their legality, to considerations such as fairness and invasion of privacy and whether the information to be obtained is of such significance as to warrant being made public but is unavailable by other means."
Yet, one has to consider the chain of events necessary for this controversy to have transpired in the first place.
Pablo Rodriguez, as it turns out, is not a regular member of the House of Commons Ethics Committee. In order to be allowed to question Mulroney at the hearing, he first had to be granted permission to do so by the committee chairman, Liberal MP Paul Szabo. Beyond that, Szabo had to agree to allow the question despite the fact that it clearly dealt with matters outside the hearing's topic matter.
Conservative members of the committee called for a vote on whether or not the line of questioning would be allowed, and were outvoted.
It seems the opposition -- the Liberal party in particular -- were very interested in having Rodriguez's questions -- whether penned by or merely "suggested" by the CBC -- asked.
Once it becomes clear that a good deal of maneuvering by the Liberals was necessary in order to get these questions asked in the first place, it also becomes clear that the asking of the questions was not merely an attempt to glean the truth regarding the spectra auction, but rather a political ploy. The case for suspecting outright collusion becomes clear and quite persuasive.
The CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices document does contain a section regarding socio-political activities, which reads as follows:
"Employees assigned to information programming areas are limited in engaging in political activity, as they have the potential to influence or appear to influence politically related programming.Interestingly, aside from passages forbidding anyone employed in a CBC newsroom from publicly expressing political support or standing as a candidate without first requesting and recieving a leave of absence, the CBC's document on Journalistic Standards and Practices says very little about the matter at hand.
The following is Corporate By-Law No. 14(3)33 under the heading OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES
"(3)(a) No employee who is employed by the Corporation on a full-time basis as a producer, a supervisor of news or information programming, an editor, a journalist, a reporter, an on-air personality, or who is a designated management employee or primarily responsible to represent the Corporation in its contact with the public, may, subject to subparagraph 14(3)(b) or (c), take a position publicly in a referendum or plebiscite, actively support a political party or candidate, stand for nomination as a candidate and/or be a candidate for election to the House of Commons, a provincial legislature, the Yukon legislative assembly, the legislative assembly of the Northwest Territories, or a municipal or civic office. For the purposes of this paragraph "designated management employee" means any employee who is a member of the Executive Group (persons paid on the Executive payroll) and any management employee who reports directly to a member of the Executive Group.
(b) A designated management employee may stand for nomination and/or be a candidate for election to a municipal or civic office with prior permission of his or her superior officer.
(c) An employee whose political activities are restricted under subparagraph 14(3)(a) and to whom section 87 of the Canada Elections Act (Revised Statutes of Canada 1985, chapter E-2) applies, shall be granted leave of absence without pay to stand for nomination as a candidate and/or be a candidate for election to the House of Commons, a provincial legislature or the Yukon legislative assembly, or the legislative assembly of the Northwest Territories, on the following conditions:(i) that prior to the taking of such leave, the employee shall apply in writing to the president, requesting such leave and setting out the period of time required; and,(d) Employees of the Corporation affected by subsection 14(3) may attend political occasions as private-citizen members of a publicly invited audience.
(ii) that the employee shall accept assignment to another position in the Corporation on his or her return, if the president in his or her discretion, determines that the usefulness of the employee in his or her duties to the Corporation will be impaired by the taking of such leave. If the assignment to another position is refused by the employee, the employee shall be separated from the Corporation effective at the time of the expiration of the leave of absence.(i) Subject to paragraph 14(3)(a), any employee of the Corporation employed on a full-time basis may take a position publicly in a referendum or plebiscite or actively support a political party or candidate and may be granted leave of absence without pay to stand for nomination as a candidate and/or be a candidate for election to the House of Commons, a provincial legislature, the Yukon legislative assembly, the legislative assembly of the Northwest Territories, or a municipal or civic office, on prior written application to the Corporation setting out the period of leave required, if any."
(ii) An employee who is a candidate for election to the House of Commons, a provincial legislature, the Yukon legislative assembly, the legislative assembly of the Northwest Territories, or any municipal or civic office and is elected shall be separated from the Corporation on the date that he or she is officially declared elected. However, an employee declared elected to any municipal or civic office may apply to his or her vice-president for permission to continue his or her employment with the Corporation while holding such office. If the vice-president in his or her discretion determines that the holding of such office will not interfere with the proper and regular performance of the employee in his or her duties to the Corporation then such permission shall be granted.
In fact, aside from an ambiguously-worded passage forbidding "active support" of a political party or candidate, there's very little in this document to prevent a CBC journalist from working behind the scenes politically.
When considering this particular controversy as a case of CBC/Liberal collusion, it becomes evident that the reporter in question was working behind the scenes.
Without a more explicitly-worded statement in the document at hand, there is a valid question regarding whether or not the CBC can discipline the reporter in question at all.
Of course, failing to take any action at all can only serve to undermine the CBC's self-claimed "unique position of trust".
The lack of any specific statements regarding behind-the-scenes political work by CBC personell -- whether that behind-the-scenes work involves the use of CBC resources or not -- also puts CBC ombudsman and "leading commentator on journalism ethics in Canada" Vince Carlin in a difficult position. He may find his hands tied regarding any charges of collusion, but if that turns out to be the case, he'll also have to see to it that the CBC's Journalistic Standards statement is amended.
That could be viewed as a tacit admission that something shadier than a misguided attempt at getting information has occured here.
Whether or not the CBC lives up to its big promises and maintains its "unique position of trust" remains to be seen.