Feds want to amend disclosure laws that protect CBC by Tobi Cohen

Nov 24, 2011

Source: Vancouver Sun

OTTAWA — Unimpressed with the CBC's explanations regarding its financial accountability and handling of access to information requests, Conservatives indicated Thursday they may look at amending a law that exempts the broadcaster from certain disclosures.

The comments came from Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro during an often adversarial Commons committee hearing where CBC president Hubert Lacroix fielded questions about a recent court battle between the broadcaster and Canada's information commissioner that centered around a clause in the Access to Information Act.

Section 68.1 exempts the CBC from releasing publicly any information that pertains to its journalistic, creative or programming activities, other than that which falls under general administration.

"I think transparency and accountability of the public broadcaster is incredibly important," Del Mastro said after the hearing. "There's other models around the world that would provide a good direction for the committee on recommendations we can make for the government to further define Sect. 68.1 to make sure we are providing transparency and accountability."

Lacroix argued the law as it stands is adequate.

"(Section) 68.1 is key in terms of us protecting our journalistic material or journalistic sources," he said. "I think that the court of appeal clearly says that the model works and what we have to do now is make sure we interpret it correctly."

Lacroix's appearance came a day after the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault was entitled to vet access requests the CBC believes are excluded under the Act.

In recent months, the Commons ethics committee took an interest in the battle which centered on a series of requests, many of which were made by Quebecor Media which has been highly critical of the broadcaster.

Even though the matter was before the courts, Del Mastro had even asked the CBC to turn over the both redacted and unredacted versions of the documents in question to the committee for review behind closed doors.

The CBC surrendered some of those documents last week "under protest" but those items deemed to compromise the CBC's journalistic, creative and programming activities were placed in a sealed envelope and committee members were asked to consider an attached legal opinion on the matter before viewing the documents.

The documents have all remained locked in a safe since then and on Thursday, committee members indicated the Appeal's Court decision settled a number of key issues and they agreed to return the still-sealed items to the CBC.

© Vancouver Sun