Saturday, December 29, 2007

CBC Lives in Glass House, Throws Stones

CBC claims about transparency are utterly laughable

In the most recent development in the allegations that an as-yet unnamed CBC reporter fed questions to Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez, the CBC has finally broken its silence...

...about a Conservative party fundraising letter.

In the letter, CBC news publisher John Cruickshank castigates Conservative party campaign chairman Doug Finley for spreading cynicism throughout the political process:

"Dear Mr. Finley,

I have reviewed your pre-Christmas fundraising letter.

I write this public response to you because I believe that by its inaccuracy, innuendo, exaggeration and expressed malice towards hundreds of Canadian journalists you risk damaging not just your target, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, but also public faith in our political process.

I understand that a private association like the Conservative party does not have the sort of transparent and reliable complaints process that we have at the CBC. That is regrettable.

I understand that you have already availed yourself of access to our Ombudsman, complaining that a member of the CBC News staff communicated suggested questions to Liberal MPs in advance of a public hearing. I appreciate this show of confidence in the integrity of our process. I wish you had reflected that respect for our commitment to answer any and all complaints about our work in your unfortunate letter to potential donors.

You were well aware when you sat down to write your appeal for cash that CBC News had publicly condemned the behaviour you complain of and had called a disciplinary meeting to look into it.

Your suggestion to your potential contributors that the CBC was waging a partisan campaign against your party and the government of Canada was flatly contradicted by every step we had taken before you composed your cash appeal.

We accept that you are not the only, or even the first, Canadian political party to use CBC News as a whipping boy for fundraising purposes.

The Liberal party accused us of bias on several occasions when it fit their agenda.

As a public broadcaster we take our responsibilities to all Canadian shareholders very seriously. This is more than just a glib promise. Unlike any other broadcaster in the country, the CBC has a journalistic standards and practices book. This book is given to each reporter, producer, editor and host working at the CBC. It outlines in explicit detail the code of conduct for our journalists. It covers conflict of interest; it covers issues of journalistic fairness and balance. It is clear, and it is binding. It is also a living document. We talk about it and refer to it daily when we are dealing with difficult ethical issues. It is also freely available to the general public to see, so they know exactly what standards we aim to maintain.

I would be delighted to share a copy of it with you.

CBC News is especially sensitive to how we cover partisan political debates. The CBC is non-partisan. We do not want to be seen to be a creation of any party (although, as you know, it was a Progressive Conservative government that brought our organization into being.)

While all our journalists try to live by our code of conduct, CBC News is not infallible. But we are accountable. When there are errors of judgment, or misunderstandings or improper interpretation of the journalistic standards and practices, we investigate. When we discover shortcomings, we change our standards and practices.

No other news organization in the country operates within such a demanding ethical regime. For you to sully the reputations of so many dedicated Canadian professionals is utterly unacceptable. Your denigration of our ethical standards can only contribute to the public cynicism about public life that is already far too pervasive.

Yours sincerely,
John Cruickshank,
CBC News
Of course, Cruickshank's letter seems to overlook a number of problems regarding the overall situation.

First off, he insists the CBC's process for dealing with complaints is "transparent and reliable". Yet, the CBC has already promised it will not be releasing the identity of the reporter in question. Not only will the public not have the benefit of knowing to whom to attribute this clear case of misconduct, but the individuals who will have to interact with him or her will not know, either. They certainly have the right to know about the ethical standing of any potentially disreputable reporter, so that they may make an informed choice about whether or not they wish to take the risk of dealing with that reporter.

In fact, the entirely behind-closed-doors disciplinary process practically ensures that the various questions that need to be answered won't even be asked.

Questions that also deal with the notable ambiguity of key passages of the very code of conduct that Cruickshank alludes to. (An email directed to the "transparent and reliable" CBC ombudsman, Vince Carlin, regarding this last particular matter has yet gone unanswered.)

Cruickshank's big words aside, a great many Canadians are calling for some accountability from the CBC, but we have yet to see it.

It's a very frustrating position to be in to find that one cannot have their questions about the operation of a publicly-funded organization answered. We've been asking them for weeks.

Cruickshank's stonewalling in the wake of Finley's fundraising letter (the greater implications of which are discussed elsewhere) only stands to reinforce the fact that a public inquiry is the only way Canadians will get the answers about the CBC that they deserve.

Will John Cruickshank finally begin answering some questions, or will he at least advise Prime Minister Stephen Harper to start the process by which these questions can be answered publicly?

The time for an answer to this question, and to many others, is now.


  1. How and why did this guy get a letter, is he a closet conservative, a grassroots member, a contributor or what.
    Or did someone send him a copy of the letter.
    Does the cbc have moles inside the conservative party.
    Did this letter come via fax, e-mail, snail mail or hand delivered.
    Imagine the outrage in the liberal party if news got out that the head of the cbc was -gasp- a member of the conservative party.

  2. How did everyone else get the letter? It pretty much became public.

    The letter is also published and discussed on this site, and I'm not a Conservative party member.

  3. This letter was supposedly a fund raiser, sent to the membership.
    If it was sent to others beside members, then is it asking for money from everyone, not just conservatives. And, if so, how many will respond with cheques.
    I wonder if the writer expected it to be responded to by the cbc.
    Regardless, the message is out there that the cbc is in cahoots with the liberals.

  4. Well, let's keep in mind that we actually don't know that just yet. We need to have a public inquiry so we can determine whether or not they really are and, if so, how long has it been going on, and to what extent have they been "in cahoots"?


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