CBC News changes policy on speeches given by on-air personalities by Simon Houpt

Jun 24, 2014

Source: Globe and Mail

CBC News on-air personalities such as Peter Mansbridge will be banned from giving paid speeches to a wide array of groups after the public broadcaster came under fire for allowing its chief news correspondent to speak to a conference hosted by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Freelance contributors such as Rex Murphy who have given a number of paid speeches to oil industry groups and others will also be forced to disclose such engagements to the broadcaster. CBC said it will in turn disclose those to the public.

In a blog post published Thursday, the CBC News’s general manager and editor in chief, Jennifer McGuire, said the change in policy was driven in part because of a perception that coverage of hot-button issues could be affected by payments to journalists.

After Mansbridge’s October 2012 speech to CAPP came to light in February, he noted in a blog post that he gives about 20 speeches a year to various groups, including schoolchildren, though he never addresses current events. “I don’t offer my opinion on matters of public policy or on certain divisive issues that often dominate the news. Ever. No matter whom I’m speaking to. A resource industry, a food bank, a financial services group, a teacher’s association, nurses, lawyers, doctors, police officers, environmental organizations, judges and the list goes on. If I leave a speech and those in attendance think they know where I stand on any controversial issue, then they’re guessing. Because they won’t find it in the words I’ve spoken.”

Still, the CBC News said it would take another look at how it was enforcing its existing policy on speeches.

McGuire said the broadcaster will now “reject requests from companies, political parties or other groups which make a significant effort to lobby or otherwise influence public policy, even if the speech or event seems innocuous.” In the past, she wrote, “when one of our staff reporters or hosts was invited to do a paid speech, we would allow payment as long as the speech was neutral – thoughts about the state of journalism, or about their career. It was our practice to turn down requests if the event or its sponsor posed a direct conflict to the journalist’s everyday work.”

CBC News will now also “post regularly online a list of appearances by our reporters and hosts – both paid and unpaid. This will allow you to judge for yourselves how well we’re living up to our commitment.”

She added: “When it comes to freelance hosts, we will be updating their contracts so that they are compelled to disclose their paid events to us, and we in turn will disclose them to you.”

McGuire defended the news organization’s previous approach, even as she announced the pivot. “We were disappointed some people were willing to believe that someone the calibre of Peter Mansbridge would sacrifice his professional integrity, or that Rex Murphy’s opinion is for sale. We were even more disappointed when some people hinted – without evidence – that our content was compromised. It was not.”

At the same time, she said she recognized CBC News was obligated to ensure there was no appearance of conflict of interest.

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