CBC Ombudsman findings on Krista Erickson and those planted questions

Main findings/opinions from Vince Carlin:

“In my reading of policy, both written and unwritten, Ms. Erickson clearly did go “over the line” in allowing the appearance that she was providing “script” for certain sources to use. However, it appears to me that she lacked the experience and sensitivity to realize where the line was. There is absolutely no evidence of any partisan interest on her part—she is an aggressive reporter who will pursue a story no matter whose interests are at stake. But, as I found in a previous conversation with her, she is not fully versed on the CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices. She should not have been placed “in harm’s way” without a better understanding of CBC policy and proper background or training in the difficult business of Parliamentary reporting.

In addition, News management, going back to my time in a position of authority, should have taken steps to elaborate a clear policy and apply it to all CBC personnel who cover legislative bodies. I note that the Globe and Mail policy manual has the simple and direct statement, “No reporter or editor should plant questions with members of any federal, provincial or municipal legislature or council for any purpose without the prior approval of a senior editor.”

To sum up: Ms. Erickson was pursuing a legitimate and newsworthy story. In her desire to expand her “source” base, she unwisely sent questions to a Liberal source who appears to have moved them through the Liberal Research Bureau. They formed the background for the questioning of Mr. Mulroney, as they might have had she broadcast those questions in a report. I should note that Pablo Rodriguez appears to have written his own questions based on material supplied to him by his colleagues. Due to the nature and specificity of the subject matter, it is not surprising that the language would be similar to the original questions shared by Ms. Erickson.

There is no explicit prohibition in CBC policy of the conduct in question, although it has been the practice of the CBC Ottawa Bureau for the last 30 years to avoid such conduct.

According to Carlin:

It is clear, however, that there was no bias at play, no matter how perceived by partisan interests.

What is your opinion? Is Mr. Carlin fair and accurate in his opinions and/or findings?

Cruikshank apologizes for Mallick column, recognizes CBC’s left-wing editorial bias

A mea culpa from CBC News publisher John Cruikshank concerning this column by Heather Mallick published on the CBC website.

In the column, Mallick calls American voters “white trash”, Republican men “sexual inadequates” and Sarah Palin a “hillbilly” among other slurs.

Here is Cruikshank’s letter (emphasis mine):

More than 300 people have taken the trouble this month to complain to the CBC ombudsman about a column we ran on CBCNews.ca about Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin on Sept. 5.

The column, by award-winning freelance writer Heather Mallick, was also pilloried by the National Post in Canada and by Fox News in the U.S. Despite its age — it is three weeks old, several lifetimes in web years — this posting remains a subject of fascination in the blogosphere.

Vince Carlin, the CBC ombudsman, has now issued his assessment of the Mallick column. He doesn’t fault her for riling readers by either the caustic nature of her tone or the polarizing nature of her opinion.

But he objects that many of her most savage assertions lack a basis in fact. And he is certainly correct.

Mallick’s column is a classic piece of political invective. It is viciously personal, grossly hyperbolic and intensely partisan.

And because it is all those things, this column should not have appeared on the CBCNews.ca site.

Healthy restraint
On the whole, the CBC News policy handbook takes a very anxious view of any mixing of opinion in with the news business. It sees the two as nitro and glycerin, innocuous on their own but explosive together. This is a very healthy restraint for a public broadcaster.

But every news organization needs to have an opinion dimension. Access to different viewpoints helps readers, listeners and viewers make reasoned choices, especially during an election campaign.

As a public broadcaster we have an added responsibility to provide an array of opinions and voices to complement our journalism. But we must do so carefully. And you should be able to trust us to provide you with work that’s based on solid reporting and free from the passionate excesses of partisanship.

We failed you in this case. And as a result we have put new editing procedures in place to ensure that in the future, work that is not appropriate for our platforms, will not appear. We are open to contentious reasoned argument but not to partisan attack. It’s a fine line.

Ombudsman Carlin makes another significant observation in his response to complainants: when it does choose to print opinion, CBCNews.ca displays a very narrow range on its pages.

In this, Carlin is also correct.

This, too, is being immediately addressed. CBCNews.ca will soon expand the diversity of voices and opinions and be home to a diverse group of writers with many perspectives. In this, we will better reflect the depth and texture of this country.

We erred in our editorial judgment. You told us in no uncertain terms. And we have learned from it.

Here was CBC ombudsman Vince Carlin’s assessment of the complaints that followed Mallick’s column,

Krista Erickson reassigned

CBC just sent out this release:

TORONTO, Jan. 21 /CNW/ – CBC News today released the following letter:

Doug Finley,
Director of Political Operations
Conservative Party of Canada

January 21, 2008

Dear Mr. Finley:

This letter is in response to your complaint to the CBC Ombudsman about “collusion” involving one of our reporters during the recent Mulroney/Schreiber hearings in Ottawa, during which questions were asked about lobbying efforts by Mr. Mulroney directed toward the current federal government.

Following an investigation by senior management of CBC News, we have determined that our reporter Krista Erickson did, in fact, provide questions to a Member of Parliament in the lead up to the Ethics Committee meeting in December. Those actions, while in pursuit of a journalistically legitimate story, were inappropriate and inconsistent with CBC News policies and procedures, specifically under our Principles, Sec. 3:

“Credibility is dependent not only on qualities such as accuracy and fairness in reporting and presentation, but also upon avoidance by both the organization and its journalists of associations or contacts which could reasonably give rise to perceptions of partiality. Any situation which could cause reasonable apprehension that a journalist or the organization is biased or under the influence of any pressure group, whether ideological, political, financial, social or cultural, must be avoided.”

Our investigation determined there was no bias in related news coverage.
However, our reporter, acting on her own, used inappropriate tactics as a
result of journalistic zeal, rather than partisan interest. CBC News
management has made the decision to reassign its reporter from the story and
to Toronto, effective Jan. 21.

Given the potential risk to the journalistic credibility of our Ottawa bureau, its reporters and CBC News generally, we have chosen on an exceptional basis to make the detailed outcome of our disciplinary process available to you, our employees and the public at large.

I trust this addresses your concerns.

It is also my responsibility to inform you that if you are not satisfied with this response, you may wish to submit the matter for review by Vince Carlin, CBC Ombudsman. The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent and impartial body reporting directly to the President, is responsible for evaluating program compliance with the CBC’s journalistic policies. The Ombudsman may be reached by mail at the address shown below, or by fax at (416) 205-2825, or by e-mail at ombudsman@cbc.ca

Sincerely,
John Cruickshank
Publisher
CBC News

Box 500, Station “A”,
Toronto, Ontario
M5W 1E6

cc. Vince Carlin, CBC Ombudsman

CBC-Liberals update

Conservative Party of Canada Director of Political Operations Doug Finley has sent another letter to CBC Ombudsman Vince Carlin. Finley demands satisfaction!

January 8, 2008

Mr. Vince Carlin
Ombudsman
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
P.O. Box 500, Station A
Toronto, Ontario
M5W 1E6

Dear Mr. Carlin:

Back in December I wrote to you and asked that you, in your capacity as CBC Ombudsman, look into an allegation of CBC-Liberal collusion made by former Liberal cabinet minister and current TVA reporter Jean Lapierre. As you will recall Mr. Lapierre told a national television audience that CBC wrote questions for Liberal members on the House of Commons ethics committee.

On December 15th, Canadian Press reported that CBC spokesperson Jeff Keay admitted that a reporter pursued a story in an “inappropriate way” that was inconsistent with the Corporation’s “journalistic policies and practices”. Further, Canadian Press reported that the particulars of the matter were being investigated by the CBC and that disciplinary action was possible.

Given Mr. Keay’s admission to Canadian Press back in December, I was troubled to read his comments in yesterday’s edition of the Hill Times. Not only did he refuse to name the reporter who allegedly wrote questions for the Liberals he said he wasn�t sure when the CBC would be willing to do so. Further, he said he was unwilling to characterize the type of discipline the reporter could face.

Mr. Carlin, the CBC has already admitted that inappropriate practices were followed by one of its reporters. Given this I believe it is incumbent upon the Corporation to:

* Update Canadians on the status of the investigation and estimate when the investigation will be completed; and

* Commit to releasing the name of the reporter in question and outline what disciplinary measures have been or will be taken.

While recognizing that Mr. John Cruickshank has, according to CBC policy, up to 20 working days to respond to the substance of my December 14th e-mail I’d ask that you specifically assure me that the Corporation will commit to releasing the name of the reporter in question and outline what disciplinary actions have been – or will be – taken to ensure that Canadians view the CBC as a non-partisan source of news and information.

Sincerely,

Doug Finley
National Campaign Director
Conservative Party of Canada

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.