Yesterday I posted the response I received from the CBC Ombudsman to my Jennifer Ditchburn conflict of interest complaint and this one was from Canadian Press Editor in Chief Scott White.
Canadian Press: Patti Tasko Senior Supervising Editor, Scott White Editor-in-Chief
CBC Ombudsman: Kirk LaPointe
Canadian Press reporter Jennifer Ditchburn and her conflict of interest with the CBC
In Jennifer Ditchburn’s article “CBC contributes $3.7B in gross value to Canadian economy: report” she fails to disclose her own relationship as a paid panellist for such CBC shows as “At Issue” and “Power and Politics” thus leaving her readers without any knowledge of her potential bias.
My complaint is two-part:
1) What is the policy of Canadian Press on full disclosure in the matters of financial relationships in which your journalists are involved?
2) Did Ditchburn get “fed” this self-serving CBC story from a CBC employee with whom she has a conflicting relationship?
Before I get to the issue of conflict of interest, I want to correct some misinformation about the genesis of the story on the CBC. It was not “fed” to Ms. Ditchburn. The CBC publicly released this report; Ms. Ditchburn was assigned the story by an editor and did not generate the idea herself; the story makes it quite clear the comments by Mr. Lacroix were made in a conference call and not to CP only.
You didn’t raise the issue of whether there was bias in Ms. Ditchburn’s story, so let me address the issue of whether there is a conflict of interest on the part of Ms. Ditchburn because she is an occasional commentator on CBC.
I acknowledge there is the potential for conflict for the very reason you’ve raised. I would have concern about conflict if Ms. Ditchburn was on contract with CBC and it was a significant part of her income. But she is not on contract with them. She is one of many of our reporters (not just in Ottawa) who appear on TV (not just the CBC) and that doesn’t mean they can’t write an objective story about one of the networks because they get occasional fees for their appearances. We also have a robust editing system in place to guard against anything that would be against our journalistic standards — including conflict of interest on the part of a particular reporter. Given all that, I have no problem with the fact that Ms. Ditchburn wrote this particular story.
One final thought from my end: the CBC is a client of The Canadian Press and that means they pay us for our service. But that doesn’t prevent us from writing stories about the CBC. Some people may see that as a conflict, but I don’t. Newspapers take advertising dollars from the TV networks and still write stories about them. I don’t see that as a conflict either.
I don’t know if you agree with my explanation, but I wanted to let you know our thinking on this topic.
Thank you for your reply and I would like to address just one of the issues at this time.
Since I wrote you it’s come to my attention that CBC President Hubert Lacroix held an invite-only conference call with a select journalists and others to release the report. No advisory was issued on the normal wire services to participate which contradicts what you are now telling me. Was this editor one of the invitees?
I will be asking the CBC Ombudsman to investigate this additional matter as it lends to select journalists being “fed” this article.
I don’t know the details of Mr. Lacroix’s conference call, but it doesn’t contradict what I’m telling you. I said he didn’t only make the remarks to CP and our story clearly identified that his remarks were made in a conference call.
I have no idea how and why the CBC decided to make Mr. Lacroix available. You would need to ask them that. It’s not unusual for newsmakers to do conference calls with a select group of news organizations. The NHL does it on a regular basis, as do many businesses.