CBC responds to Doug Finley

CBC News’ publisher John Cruikshank took issue with the Conservative Party’s letter to its members outlining the latest CBC controversy. I’ve reproduced Cruikshank’s letter below and offer my own responses to this senior manager at CBC in between paragraphs.

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

The underlying issue here is the potential damage done to Canadians’ faith in the public broadcaster’s ability to deliver a non-partial news report and to remove itself from the political process. Your statement is akin to blaming the victim. The political process? Again, allegations of conspiratorial parliamentary committee manipulation between the Liberals and the CBC are so egregious because the questions went far outside of the mandate of the committee and if the allegations of collusion are true – it goes without saying – they extend beyond the mandate of the CBC.

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.

You say “private” like it’s a bad thing. Besides, it is not the transparency and accountability of the Conservative Party that is in the spotlight here. Again, it is that of the CBC.

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.

This isn’t so much a show of confidence in the process but rather an indication of the limited number of avenues of accountability that the Conservatives can seek of the institution. The only method by which one can cry “foul” to the material reported by the CBC is to write to an ombudsman. We cannot use our remotes or our wallets to demand accountability as the CBC receives $1 Billion in tax revenue every year from the government. Even the government is elected; it is directly accountable to the voter via the electoral process. CBC directors are not popularly elected and they may not even represent the Canadian reality. As a private institution, the Conservative Party is accountable to Canadians. The party cannot operate without donations from Canadians and we gave the party our confidence to the tune of $18.9 million in 2006 (2007 annual figure not yet available). One wonders of the extent of the sum that the CBC could raise (even without $1100 donation caps) if it faced the direct accountability of Canadians via the market.

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.

An appeal for change and for action should neither be dismissed nor diminished because of the process underway. The Conservative Party seems to seek preventative action rather than put its faith in process that only comes about when malpractices (alleged or not) come to light.

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.

Again, it is the initial allegations of journalistic malpractice that likely concerns the Conservative Party. You are arguing that since there is now an internal investigation (again, only after the fact), that this dispels the cloud. It is absurd to say that an investigation of alleged partisanship itself disproves partisanship.

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.

By this argument you suggest that the CBC isn’t non-partisan but rather that it is bi-partisan. The Ombudsman that seems to be the most hopeful lever of accountability has recently concluded on CBC missteps towards the Conservatives. The Liberal Party may have accused the CBC of skewed reporting, but the ombudsman has convicted the CBC of it following conservative concerns.

As a public broadcaster we take our responsibilities to all Canadian shareholders very seriously. This is more than just a glib promise.

Hey John, where can I sell my shares?

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.

Conflict of interest?

Conflict of interest?

Fair and balanced ?

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.)

Here, the PC reference isn’t simply offered by you as trivia, you suggest some introspection for the Conservatives as if the Conservatives behaviour is inconsistent by your implying that both entities are the same. Yet this controversy started by alleged manipulation of a Parliamentary committee by the CBC outside of the committee’s mandate as the Liberals (via the CBC, allegedly) tried to tie Harper to Mulroney.

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.

I take issue with your circling of the reputational wagons of hundreds of so many Canadian professionals around an institution which may have serious faults to address. There are good, capable and professional people that contribute to reporting for the CBC and they should not be your shield. Further, the Conservatives are not denigrating the Corporation’s ethical standards, they are concerned about staff that may fail to meet set standards and managers and directors that fail to enforce them and/or meet such standards themselves.

Yours sincerely,
John Cruickshank,
Publisher,
CBC News

CPC keeps pressure up on CBC, shifts focus to Liberals

Conservative Party is keeping up the pressure on the state-funded broadcaster and asks some tough questions for the Liberals:

LIBERALS MUST COME CLEAN ON CBC COLLUSION ALLEGATIONS

December 17, 2007

CBC must also explain disturbing pattern of anti-Conservative bias

OTTAWA – The Liberal Party of Canada must reveal the scope of the party’s alleged collusion with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) on House of Commons committee business, and explain the party’s denials of collusion given contradictory statements from senior members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery and the CBC itself.

“The Liberal Party must reveal the full extent of its cooperation with the taxpayer-financed CBC,” said Conservative M.P. Dean Del Mastro. “And Liberals must explain why they�re the only organization denying the collusion allegations.”

According to former Liberal Cabinet Minister Jean Lapierre, now a political reporter with the TVA network questions asked by Liberal members of the House ethics committee on December 13th were “written by the CBC” (CTV Newsnet, December 13, 2007). CTV’s Mike Duffy later added that Liberal researcher Jay Ephard admitted that the CBC and Liberals worked together on the Liberals’ committee questions (Mike Duffy Live, December 13, 2007). And now, according to Canadian Press, the CBC has launched its own internal investigation into what it described as “inappropriate” practices (Canadian Press, December 14, 2007).

Yet the Liberal Party’s has denied that there was collusion between his party and the CBC and called the allegations a “total fabrication” (National Post, December 15, 2007).

“Are the Liberals saying that Jean Lapierre, Mike Duffy and the CBC itself are fabricating their stories?” asked Del Mastro. “More importantly do Liberals believe that it is appropriate for their party to actively collude with the country’s public broadcaster?”

While Conservatives welcomed the launch of an internal CBC investigation into the alleged Liberal-CBC collusion, the party remains concerned about a disturbing pattern of anti-Conservative bias from the public broadcaster. During the 2004 election, the network was caught soliciting anti-Conservative participants for a town hall-style meeting. And the network admitted “regret” in 2006 after airing a report that negatively portrayed Stephen Harper by using out-of-context footage.

“The CBC receives over a billion dollars a year from taxpayers and is there to serve all Canadians,” said Del Mastro. “Canadians who want fair and balanced reporting are going to be asking some tough questions about why the CBC was working with the Liberal Party on parliamentary business.”

Some people have been saying, “but reporters suggest questions with committees all the time”.

The most striking problem with this instance is that the questions under Conservative complaint here are questions that go beyond the scope of the committee’s scope, which is actually defined as: “Study of the Mulroney Airbus Settlement”. Suddenly questions about Maxime Bernier and the wireless spectrum auction came up.

The Prime Minister instructed his caucus to put a freeze on communications with Mulroney so that the opposition could not suggest or imply that the former Prime Minister, who continues to be under fire, is linked to the current crop of Conservatives.

It is interesting that it was not the opposition that was the genesis of the attempt to link Mulroney to Harper, but allegedly it was the CBC.

The Liberals, however, are ultimately to blame if this report of “collusion” is true. That party and their MP Pablo Rodriguez were the ones to channel the CBC’s request(s) into the committee. To the CBC (and the reporter following the wireless spectrum story), the sole opportunity to question the former Prime Minister may have proved too tempting to pass up, even if it meant inappropriate influence of a committee far beyond “the airbus settlement” to “Mulroney and everything Conservative”. Conservative committee members termed Rodriguez’s line of questioning as “a fishing expedition”. The Chair (also a Liberal) was quite liberal himself in his ruling in allowing the unrelated questions to continue.

What is the extent of influence of the CBC on the Liberal Party? How high does Trudeau’s party jump when the public broadcaster tells it to?

Frankly, this wouldn’t be a scandal in the eyes of the CPC if the Liberals had laughed at the CBC’s request/demand and had proceeded by staying within the mandate of the parliamentary committee on access to information, privacy and ethics. The Liberals were ultimately the precipitators of this scandal by showing that they could be influenced to brutally stretch the committee’s scope. It is also troubling to know that the CBC itself is party to the political process on the Hill.

Here are the questions from CBC that Jean Lapierre alleged (and Jay Ephard, a Liberal researcher confirmed) were given to the Liberals to ask:

CBC-Liberal scandal unfolds

Mike Duffy commentator Jean Lapierre makes allegation that CBC wrote questions for the Liberals on the wireless spectrum auction.

Liberals clarify and say that they only suggested the questions and the Liberals subsequently wrote them down

Conservative MP Dean del Mastro puts out press release demanding answers into possible CBC-Liberal “collusion”

CPC Head of Political Operations demands CBC Ombudsman investigate Lapierre’s allegations

CBC announces launch of internal investigation

CPC wants answers over alleged CBC-LPOC collusion

Situation escalated, CPC demands answers from CBC ombudsman. Click here, or scroll down for the update

CBC announces internal investigation. Click here, or scroll down for the update

Official Conservative Party press release just received:

Conservatives Demand Answers from the CBC over Alleged Collusion with the Liberal Party

OTTAWA – Today, former Liberal Cabinet Minister and current TVA journalist Jean Lapierre made shocking allegations about strategic collusion between journalists at the CBC and Liberal Members of Parliament at the House of Commons Ethics Committee.

According to Lapierre Liberal Members of Parliament asked former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney questions written by journalists at the CBC regarding any involvement in the spectrum auction for cellular and wireless devices.

“I knew all about those questions. They were written by the CBC and provided to the Liberal Members of Parliament and the questions that Pablo Rodriguez asked were written by the CBC and I can’t believe that but last night, influential Member of Parliament came to me and told me those are the questions that the CBC wants us to ask tomorrow.” (CTV Newsnet, December 13, 2007)

If proven true these allegations would mark the third major case of orchestrated anti-Conservative bias from a broadcaster that is financed by all Canadians for the benefit of all Canadians.

In 2004 an email from Stephanie Matteis of CBC’s The National exposed the CBC’s search for Canadians that would not vote for the Conservatives because they were “scared, freaked out or worried about the Conservatives, the Conservative agenda or its leader.” (http://www.smalldeadanimals.com/archives/003009.html )

The CBC was also forced on August 21, 2006 to express “regret” over a story by CBC reporter Christina Lawand that misrepresented an answer given by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. (http://www.stephentaylor.ca/archives/000645.html )

“This is a very serious allegation that the CBC must provide an answer to,” said Conservative Dean Del Mastro.

- 30 -

Here is the clip:

UPDATE 12/14, 3:53pm: Just was forwarded this letter by the party. It’s addressed to the CBC Ombudsman:

Vince Carlin,
Ombudsman
CBC
P.O. Box 500, Station A
Toronto, Ontario M5W 1E6

December 14, 2007

Dear Mr. Carlin,

I am writing about allegations made by former Liberal Cabinet Minister and current TVA journalist Jean Lapierre.

According to Mr. Lapierre Liberal Members of Parliament asked former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney questions at the House of Commons Ethics Committee written (or suggested) by journalists at the CBC regarding any personal involvement in the spectrum auction for cellular and wireless devices.

“I knew all about those questions. They were written by the CBC and provided to the Liberal Members of Parliament and the questions that Pablo Rodriguez asked were written by the CBC and I can’t believe that but last night, influential Member of Parliament came to me and told me those are the questions that the CBC wants us to ask tomorrow.” (Mr. Lapierre, CTV Newsnet, December 13, 2007)

On the TV program Mike Duffy Live, Mike Duffy stated the following.

“Liberal researcher Jay Ephard approach him and say, no, Jean, it’s not true. The CBC didn’t write those questions that were asked by the Liberals. We wrote them. Yes, the CBC phoned us up and suggested questions we should ask but we actually typed them out ourselves.”(Mike Duffy, Mike Duffy Live, December 13, 2007)

Regardless of who wrote the questions the fact that our national public broadcaster was actively cooperating with a political party in an attempt to embarrass the Government raises serious questions about the impartiality of Canada’s publicly funded national broadcaster.

We would appreciate your immediate assistance in getting to the bottom of this matter and hopefully providing Canadians with answers to these troubling allegations by December 20th, 2007.

Sincerely,

Doug Finley

Director of Political Operations, Conservative Party of Canada

UPDATE 12/14, 6:06pm: CBC has launched internal investigation: CP

Dec 14 2007 17:55:00 – Source: CP [The Canadian Press]

CBC reviewing claim reporter fed questions to Liberal MP (CRAFT-CBC-Reprimand) OTTAWA _ The CBC has begun an internal investigation and possible disciplinary process after one of its parliamentary reporters suggested questions to a Liberal MP on the Commons ethics committee.

The probe follows a formal complaint by the Conservative party.

The complaint centres on claims that Liberal Pablo Rodriguez directed questions from the CBC to Brian Mulroney during a highly anticipated Commons committee hearing on Thursday.

CBC News says the reporter, who it did not name, “may have been in pursuit of a journalistically legitimate story.”

But the broadcaster says it was an “inappropriate way of going about it and as such inconsistent with our journalistic policies and practices.”

Rodriguez was accused of going on a “fishing expedition” by Tory MPs after he began questioning Mulroney about possible lobbying efforts on wireless regulation during a hearing into the decade-old Airbus affair.

The Liberal party denies there was anything untoward, saying it gets “bombarded” daily with comments and ideas for questions from Canadians and from reporters.

We get letters!

The other day, I got an email from Dr. Tom Flanagan, political science professor and close adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Dr. Flanagan writes:

Here’s the CBC report:

As you can see, only one “expert” is called upon to comment and that expert supports the thesis that Tell’s participation is inappropriate. If Flanagan were to comment, he’d provide balance. I decided to call Dr. Flanagan to provide that very balance that was lacking in the CBC piece:

The CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices Part III section 5.1 reads:

“Single programs dealing with a major controversial issue should give adequate recognition to the range of opinion on the subject. Fairness must be the guiding principle in presentation, so that the audience is enabled to make a judgment on the matter in question based on the facts.”

So what is the story about? The story is about a conservative sitting on a committee that suggests candidates to the Conservative Minister of Justice. The Minister can disregard the suggestions, of course.

You might also want to take a look at the “balance” of the Saskatchewan bench achieved under the past two Liberal governments.

UPDATE: Things get even more interesting when John Carpay of the Canadian Constitution Foundation leaves me a voicemail. I’ve reproduced it below with his permission: