CBC journo out?

Tonight, I’m hearing from a very well-placed source that Krista Erickson has cleaned out her desk and is going on “stress leave”. Whether this indicates a hushed firing or a quiet reassignment outside of Ottawa politics after a short leave is unclear. (see update)

UPDATE: I’ve heard that she is moving to CBC Sports. (see update)

I should also mention that everyone that I’ve spoken to at the CBC about this has, for the past few weeks, told me that they do not approve of the ways by which Erickson pursued this story. From an outside source I’ve heard that she will issue an apology tomorrow.

I think it would also be important to note that the Liberals should shoulder a lot of the blame for this. Erickson’s pursuance of the story, while over-zealous and inappropriate, would never have made the floor if a Liberal had not raised the issue. It was Pablo Rodriguez, Robert Thibault and Chair Paul Szabo, not Krista Erickson, that tore up the mandate of the ethics committee.

I should also say that I emailed Erickson the weekend after the Mulroney testimony for her comment on the story, but received no reply. Frankly, a frustrating element of this story was the silence coming from the CBC on this. While I don’t blame Erickson for not commenting on the story (in fact, she probably received some sage advice not to talk to anyone), CBC did not respond except to release a tu quoque-ish letter in response to Conservative concerns. CBC management owed it to other reporters (especially in the Ottawa office) to dispel the dark cloud which hung unfairly over their heads. Yet management was quiet. As I’ve said before, there are a number of good professional people that report and produce news for CBC. Management that writes their cheques paid with our money should not use these people as a shield for its own comfort. Management should never shirk accountability.

So, will the Liberals now be called to answer for the damage that they have precipitated? While it was inappropriate for Erickson to hope that they would have contempt for Parliament, it was wholly inappropriate for the Liberals to go through with turning the committee into a free-for-all.

We should always demand better of our public institutions, especially the CBC. The state-funded broadcaster should always seek a balanced product when it reports the news. But it should go without saying that the institution of Parliament should never be abused.

UPDATE 1/9, 5pm: A well-placed source at CBC has amended some of the details given above. Erickson’s reassignment to sports (or anywhere else) has not been confirmed (reassignment has not been acknowledged by CBC management). At this time, I believe that a reassignment to CBC Sports will not happen. Further she’s on vacation (not stress leave) and still has her desk at CBC Ottawa and that she has not yet issued an apology today.

Outside of that, what remains is that Erickson has been the topic of meetings held by senior management for the past couple of weeks and that a disciplinary review has been held. She was the reporter who passed on questions to Liberals regarding the wireless spectrum (well outside of the committee’s mandate on the Airbus settlement). CBC senior management has been very tight lipped about the proceedings of those meetings. What is known is that management must consider the appropriate balance between Canadian Media Guild concerns, political fallout, and details of the employee contract with respect to discipline. I expect a decision to be announced soon.

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:

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.