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:
This afternoon (March 6, 2007) I got a call from CBC TV news reporter Krista Erickson. She said she was desperately seeking someone to provide balance for a story she was doing on Christine Tell and the Saskatchewan Judicial Appointments Committee. Ms. Tell is the law enforcement representative on the JAC. The Liberals are calling for her to resign because she has also decided to run for the Saskatchewan Party in the next provincial election. I said that I didn’t really want to comment on Ms. Tell because I didn’t know her and didn’t have first-hand knowledge of the facts of her case, but that I would be glad to defend the government policy on JACs.
Ms. Erickson said a crew would be there in 20 minutes to interview me. Then she called back and said that the story had been scrubbed, so they wouldn’t need an interview after all.
When I watched the National at 10 PM, I saw that they ran the story after all, and without balance. They had law professor Lorraine Weinrib to call for Ms. Tell’s resignation, but no one to give a view from the other side. I’ve watched the CBC for too many years to be surprised at the lack of balance, but I am genuinely surprised at the lack of professionalism. I’ve been cut out of stories before, and I can’t complain about it; no one has a right to appear on the CBC. But why didn’t Ms. Erickson just tell me, we don’t want your interview after all because it doesn’t fit into the one-sided story line we are planning to construct? Or, we can’t interview you because you don’t have the right expertise? Why did she have to make up a story abut canceling the story?
I’d like to know where the CBC was from 1993 to 2005, when Jean Chretien and Paul Martin were filling the bench with Liberal donors, failed Liberal candidates, and spouses of Liberal advisers. Our national network has its collective knickers in a knot because a JAC member is associated with a provincial party, but it never found it worthwhile to report on twelve years of appointing Liberal partisans to the federal courts.
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: