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CBC’s Chief Correspondent Peter Mansbridge. CBC Photo.

Money talks

CBC bans journalists from making paid appearances

By Dennis Gruending

Forced by growing public criticism, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is now prohibiting its on-air employees from giving speeches — those that sometimes netted thousands of dollars per appearance — to corporations and industry groups.

The directive this month comes almost a year after it was reported that Peter Mansbridge, CBC’s chief correspondent and host of The National, gave a paid speech to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in 2012. Mansbridge later indicated that he gives about 20 speeches each year, both paid and unpaid. It was also reported that Rex Murphy, who provides commentaries on The National and who hosts CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup, has given numerous paid speeches to oil industry groups. In those same speeches, Murphy regularly praises the industry while criticizing environmental groups. And in late 2014, more controversy arose over paid appearances by Amanda Lang for Manulife and Sun Life Financial. Those companies are covered by Lang, the CBC’s chief business correspondent.

Of course, CBC managers initially defended their journalists and expressed “disappointment” that anyone would call their integrity into question. Murphy even used his column in the National Post to say, “It’s an empty, insulting slur against my reputation as a journalist.” Lang used her Twitter account to defend herself, too, writing that, “The haters hate.”

Shortly after, though, CBC management moved to modify its policy somewhat. They promised to publish on its website all of the paid and unpaid appearances made by CBC reporters and hosts. The corporation also said it would “reject requests from companies, political parties or other groups, which make a significant effort to lobby or otherwise influence public policy, even if the speech or event seems innocuous.”

Frank Koller, a former CBC journalist and foreign correspondent, used his blog to follow the controversy, and in late 2014, initiated a series of exchanges with CBC management and the broadcaster's ombudsman. Koller said that some of the CBC’s most prominent journalists flaunted the policy announced in April and that management allowed them to do it. He listed a number of companies and organizations who are registered as lobbyists with the government of Canada, but for whom CBC journalists, including Mansbridge and Lang, had recently made paid appearances.

Then on Jan. 22, the CBC finally announced its ban on all outside paid appearances by on-air employees.

Still, the central question remains. Is it ethical for any journalist to accept money for speeches and appearances from organizations that attempt to influence public policy — those on which they report? In addition, the CBC is paid for by taxpayers and has provided its journalists with training, experience, credibility and, in some cases, a certain celebrity status. So is it right for those individuals to use that public investment in them for their own private gain?     

It's worth noting that the CBC isn't the only organization whose journalists have regularly taken money for speeches and appearances. To all of them, I say that it's simply not right, and they should never do it — period.

Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
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