Last week, Rogers announced that they were getting out of the snitch business. Until then, the company ratted out its own customers to government agencies hundreds of thousands of times every year. Without asking for a warrant, Rogers provided subscriber data to authorities that linked real names to all kinds of private online expression and activity. On a previous episode of CANADALAND, The Citizen Lab’s Christopher Parsons described the common practice among telecom companies of charging police and other agencies a fee of $5-$15 each time they came knocking.
The Supreme Court has since ruled that this kind of warrantless information sharing is an illegal violation of individual privacy. Only then did Rogers desist, and I took the opportunity to remind people just what they had been up to, over a period of time that we learned in today’s Toronto Star stretches back to at least 2006. Here’s what I tweeted:
This is huge. Rogers previously sold the data of 100s of thousands of customers to police w/out warrants. No more. bit.ly/Wb3PF3
I soon received a public response from “Chris @ Rogers” (@Rogers_Chris), an official Rogers social media presence who I will assume is an actual person.
@JesseBrown We do not sell data to police, we comply with the law and respond to legally valid requests from police.
Of course, in complying with thousands (millions?) of warrantless police requests, the highest court in the country has ruled that Rogers was in fact not complying with the law, but let’s leave that aside for a moment and deal with the matter in contention: was subscriber data provided by Rogers for free, or did police pay for it? Suspecting that Chris was relying on some semantic quibble about the difference between the terms “charging a fee” and “selling,” I asked for clarity in my response:
@Rogers_Chris do you charge a fee of any kind when supplying basic subscriber data?
Chris wrote back suggesting that we take the conversation private. He promised to have someone “more familiar” with this issue follow up with me via email. That was last Thursday.
I’m still waiting.
UPDATE – JULY 28 –
A Rogers rep, Kevin Spafford, got in touch after I posted the article above. He confirmed that “in some cases we charge a minimal fee” when providing law enforcement officials with customer data. When asked how much this fee is and how often it is charged, Spafford declined to provide details, answering instead that the fee varies depending on the amount of work required to provide the information, and that “in most cases” no fee is charged. Given the enormous volume of data requests, this leaves much room for interpretation, leaving the public in the dark as to whether Rogers has been collecting hundreds, thousands, or millions of dollars in return for providing information to police on its customers.
CANADALAND has obtained internal CBC documents illustrating how the organization is dealing with employee tension, rage and confusion.
Here is CBC News’ “Digital Mantra”, also titled “CBC Digital Strategy in 3 Slides” (link)
Here is management’s attempt to answer questions submitted by employees following last month’s employee town hall (link).
The CBC work atmosphere has by all accounts hit a new low since the town hall, where employees hoped to learn whether or not they would be keeping their jobs. Instead, they were forced to endure President Hubert Lacroix’s “Vision 2020” unveiling, a smokescreen of digital futurism bafflegab that obscured the painful truth, that 1500 unspecified positions will be eliminated over the next 5 years. While each employee waits to find out if they’re getting the axe, they are expected to internalize and execute the CBC’s “digital mantra”, which will result in news content designed for phones and tablets, somehow (it has to do with “pillars” and “planks”).
A couple of brave (doomed?) workers actually piped up to demand Lacroix’s resignation for running the whole enterprise into the ground (he refused) and the whole affair was hustled to a premature close as questions were still being hurled at the stage.
Employees were assured that all queries would be answered if submitted via email. The results of that process have since been posted to the CBC’s iO! employee intranet and then leaked to CANADALAND.
The full document is a slog of mendacious, obfuscatory doublespeak. So, for your reading pleasure here are the
TOP 5 BAFFLING BITS OF CBC MANAGEMENT JIBBERISH
1. “The strategy is a plan, not a blueprint.”
Those are just synonyms.
How about: “the scheme is a gambit, not a ploy” or “the excuse is a justification, not an alibi”?
Take into consideration the context, and it’s even more angry-making. Here’s the employee question it purports to answer: “If you don’t have any specific, concrete numbers about how this will impact us, why are you sharing the strategy?” In other words: you still haven’t told us who’s getting fired, so why are you bothering us with this digital future horseshit? Why? Because this isn’t a blueprint, people- just a plan. We call it a strategy.
2. “We are keeping incentive-based compensation for managers…to provide an accountability framework to drive the successful achievement of the Corporation’s annual objectives”
….and that’s why your boss will still be getting her bonus while you’re getting shit-canned. Amazing how management types needs incentives beyond their generous salaries to achieve their goals. Everybody else is expected to do their job because it’s their job.
3. “We are in the content business, not the infrastructure business.”
This lies at the core of the lie. The Vision 2020 plan appropriates the media-exec mantra of the moment: that progressive shops are all about content, cuz the game is no longer about having the most powerful transmitters, the widest network, or the biggest pipes. Let us all be “device agnostic”, let us simply create the best product out there and the people will gobble it up on whichever screen or gadget they choose.
If backed by deed, that would actually be a plan. The CBC could shed massive amounts of legacy costs by selling off its TV infrastructure entirely. Without channels across the country to technically maintain and fill with content, the Ceeb could focus instead on quality, nimbly creating only as much video as it needs and wants to, then providing it as streaming video and through podcasts and through a Netflix-like app. But that’s not the plan. The actual plan is the opposite: the CBC plans to get out of original video content production entirely, news and current affairs excepted, and buy content from outside production companies. They will then become a middleman, using public funds to buy privately-made content, which will then be broadcast over their public infrastructure. They are actually doubling down on infrastructure and abandoning content production.
4. “As the strategy takes shape, there is the need to challenge and rethink the organization design to ensure that the structure, roles, people, processes and reward systems support and enable the overall plan.”
This is less than meaningless, and seems little more than a dodge to the posed question:
“How will CBC work to attract and keep younger / new workers with skills in these fields amongst layoffs that will again ensure that employees with the longest seniority are kept employed, regardless of their abilities to work in digital spaces?”
Or: how does the CBC intend to become such a hip digital company when union rules make sure that younger workers will be the first ones to get laid off? Those with the most seniority reserve the right to “bump” newer hires, even when it means axing someone with digital skills from a digital position and replacing them with an older and more expensive worker who must then be trained. This literally results in 50-year-old video editors trying to write code and getting paid six figure salaries to stumble through it.
5. “CBC’s people are our most precious resource.”
This smug nugget is management’s response to employee outrage over being invited to ask questions about a strategy they were given access to a mere hour before the town hall occurred, and which contained little hard data about where the axe will fall. The whole enterprise of unveiling an exciting new plan for the future as it sheds hundreds of jobs shows the CBC’s workers just how precious they really are to management. It’s like telling your girlfriend all about the awesome new apartment you’ll be moving into after you break up with her.
Globe executives want to monetize the integrity and reputations of The Globe and Mail’s journalists – the same award-winning reporters and editors that management proudly (and rightly) claims are vital to the enterprise’s future as a powerful, independent, fearless and profitable news organization.
CORRECTION: SUN Media and SUN News are separate companies, both owned by Quebecor. An earlier version of this story confused the two.
(April 24/14) SUN Media has since contacted me to dispute Septembre’s account of her interview questions- they claim Monique Beech never asked the questions described below. SUN also points out that Monique Beech did in fact respond to my request for comment, to ask for more details before agreeing to an interview. This is correct. So while CANOE.ca failed to respond to my request for comment, Monique did respond, and I dropped the ball on that. I apologize to her for the oversight. -JB
Septembre Anderson, a Toronto journalist, was asked about her political leanings while on a job interview with SUN Media web portal CANOE.ca.
Anderson applied to be CANOE’s front page digital editor. When she arrived for her interview this past February, she immediately saw that Monique Beech, SUN Media’s digital content director, had been researching her online presence.
“She had my Twitter feed and my Tumblr open on her desktop, and she’d been Googling me as well,” recalls Anderson. Such digging is standard in modern hiring, especially in the media business. What Anderson didn’t expect were questions about her politics.
As Anderson recalls, Monique Beech said, “I can see that you’re very left-leaning and you talk a lot about social justice.”
She then recalls being asked: “What makes you think you can work for a right-wing company?’”
Neither CANOE nor Monique Beech responded to CANADALAND’s request for confirmation and comment about the incident. * (see correction above)
Septembre Anderson rolled with it, answering “I’m a journalist, I can put my politics aside”. But the interview left her with a bad taste in her mouth.
“It felt wrong,” she recalls. “I don’t think that was a question that should have been asked. I feel it was inappropriate.” Ultimately, she didn’t get the job, and suspects that her politics might have had something to do with that.
And here’s the shocker: as far as I can tell, if Anderson was rejected because of her political leanings, such discrimination may have been perfectly legal.
Ontario’s Human Rights Code protects workers and job applicants from discrimination or harassment on the basis of their race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability.
But political opinions, expressions or affiliations are not explicitly protected in Ontario, as they are in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI, Newfoundland & Labrador, NWT, Yukon, B.C., and Manitoba.
It’s been argued that political affiliations should be covered under “creed”, but the Court of Appeal for Ontario has rejected this notion, inasmuch as they’ve ruled that belonging to a political party does not constitute creed. A complete set of political beliefs like Anderson’s, encompassing social justice, economics, and a slew of other issues certainly sounds like a creed, but the courts have yet to take a firm position.
In the meantime, all you crypto-lefties working for SUN and the National Post should take note: you can get sacked for your pinko tweets, so best keep mum.
First it was Rex, then it was Peter. Now, personal appearances at oil industry events by Amanda Lang, Mark Kelly, and Ian Hanomansing are coming to light. Were they paid too?
When it was just Rex, the CBC’s excuse was that he was a commentator, not a reporter, and a freelancer, not an employee. “…taking a provocative stand is what we pay him to do,” blogged Editor in Chief Jennifer McGuire. “Our regular staff abides by rules in our Journalistic Standards and Practices.”
Now that Mansbridge is being questioned, they’ve got a new tune. Here’s what a CBC press flack told VICE yesterday:
“Peter is encouraged by management to speak on a regular basis, it’s part of an outreach initiative in place for many of our hosts that ensures CBC News and in this case our Chief Correspondent is talking to Canadians in communities across the country…Peter does not weigh in on matters of current controversy or sensitivity… By the way, earlier today he spoke to a grade five class.”
And in a separate statement to the Huffington Post:
“(Peter) speaks to a variety of groups and has given more than 200 speeches in the last ten years; some of those groups include associations or organizations looking out for the environment. There are occasions where he is paid to speak but given he’s taking on extra work and doing so on his own time, we think it’s fair that he gets compensated.”
Well there you have it! It’s not a conflict of interest, it’s community outreach! And all that oil sands cash (estimated at $28,000 per appearance, with four known appearances) merely subsidizes Peter’s goodwill missions to schoolchildren and tree-huggers.
What absurd bullshit. What an inconsistent fit of rationalizations.
So: when Rex does it, it’s okay because he’s speaking his mind. When Peter does it, it’s okay because he isn’t. When Rex does it, it lies outside of his job at the CBC. When Peter does it, it’s part of his job at the CBC.
It’s all very amusing, and I’m as eager as anyone to engage in a conversation about the finer points of objectivity, bias, and the economic realities of modern journalism. But there’s a bottom line that the CBC is dancing on, and it is this:
A journalist shouldn’t get paid on the sly by the people they cover.
It’s an ethical concept laid out plainly in the in-house rulebook that McGuire cites (see Conflict of Interest). It’s an ethical concept a child could grasp.
But okay, fine. If CBC News feels otherwise, if they have embraced some radical, postmodern vision of mercenary, free-for-all journalism, an all-drug Olympics of news reporting- then let them say so. Not on their obscure Editor’s Blog, not in a statement released to pestering independent news sites, but to their own audience, on the air, on the news.
If their defence is actually “yeah, he did it, all our hosts do it, we know all about it, so what?”, then I’d love to see them run it past their viewers.
They will never do this. They will offer their evasions and rationalizations in the hope of nipping this scandal in the bud while it’s still relatively unreported (no mainstream coverage yet!), but Peter Mansbridge will never tell his own audience, on The National, before an At Issue panel on the Oil Sands, that he has been paid thousands and thousands of dollars by petroleum companies.
People wouldn’t be okay with that.
This photo of Peter Mansbridge holding forth from behind a CAPP (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers) lectern popped up online last weekend. Grabbed from CAPP’s Facebook page, it’s dated December 11, 2012, and contains this caption:
“Peter Mansbridge at CAPP’s Investment Symposium last night. He articulated that energy has moved to the forefront of news: economic, environment, safety.”
So was Mansbridge paid to tell Oil Sands companies how important they are? The answer is yes. When asked if her group paid the CBC anchor a fee or honorarium for the keynote, CAPP spokesperson Geraldine Anderson answered:
“Yes, Peter Mansbridge delivered the keynote speech at CAPP’s Investment Symposium, held in Toronto in December 2012. CAPP procured Mansbridge’s services through Lavin Agency. As part of our agreement with Lavin, we cannot disclose the fee.”
The Toronto Sun reports that Mansbridge has received as much as $28,000 per gig, but the amount is a secondary issue. The Oil Sands is perhaps Canada’s most controversial and divisive news topic, with competing interests constantly vying for positive media exposure and public sympathy. As the CBC’s Chief Correspondent and anchor of their flagship national news broadcast, Mansbridge exerts undeniable influence over what Oil Sands stories The National covers and how it covers them. The fact that he has been moonlighting for the energy industry is a clear (and undisclosed) conflict-of-interest.
And he may have done it many times.
The twitter account that broke news of the CAPP keynote belongs to one Sierra Rayne, who describes herself himself in his profile as a Saskatchewan environmental scientist with a Ph.D. in chemistry. Rayne also links to this event, the 2008 Global Petroleum Show, where Mansbridge is listed as a moderator for the Global Petroleum Conference, this 2011 keynote by Mansbridge for the Canadian Association for Petroleum Landmen (sponsored by oil company Cenovus) and this 2004 moderation gig for the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy & Petroleum.
When Rex Murphy was revealed to have taken similar jobs, CBC Editor in Chief Jennifer McGuire defended him on the basis that Rex is a freelancer, and therefore doesn’t have to follow the rules set out for full time CBC employees. Here are some of those rules, as laid out in the CBC’s Conflict of Interest and Ethics policy:
1. No conflict should exist or appear to exist between the private interests of CBC/Radio-Canada employees and their official duties.
5. Employees must not use their positions to further their personal interests.
10. Gifts, benefits, money or other special considerations offered to CBC/Radio-Canada employees to influence, obligate or appear to influence a CBC/Radio-Canada decision must be refused.
15.Employees may not engage in activities likely to bring CBC/Radio-Canada into disrepute.
16.Employees may not take a stand on public controversies if CBC’s integrity would be compromised.
18. Employees shall not engage without permission in outside work which involves services in competition with the CBC/Radio-Canada, exploits their connection with the CBC/Radio-Canada or restricts their availability, efficiency or causes a conflict of interest with their CBC/Radio-Canada duties.
19. The duty to disclose and remove conflicts of interest rests with the employee.
Blogger Dean Skoreyko says he’s filed a complaint about the conflict with CBC Ombudsman Esther Enkin.