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.