Friday, January 16, 2015

Accountability, Whither Goest Thou?

If there is one good thing to be said about the Leslie Roberts scandal, it is that privately owned Global Television has acted with dispatch both in its investigation of the newsman/PR firm co-owner's terrible breach of ethics, and its subsequent actions. While the official 'story' is that Roberts has resigned, there is little doubt in my mind that he was given that option by management lest he be unceremoniously turfed.

This decisive behaviour stands in sharp contrast to the inaction of other media outlets. Perhaps the most notorious example of patently unethical choices is Margaret Wente's much-reported serial plagiarism which the Globe and Mail treated as some form of pecadillo that merited exactly what? All we know is that the editor at the time, John Stackhouse, said she had been disciplined; the terms of that discipline were private.

More recently, of course, we have had the sad spectacle of the CBC's Amanda Lang who, it is alleged, tried to stop a story exposing the RBC's use of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program to train and replace permanent employees; Lang's was a clear conflict-of-interest violation given the nature of her relationship with an RBC board member and the fact that she has accepted paying gigs from the bank.

As of this writing, the CBC continues to insist that Lang did nothing wrong, essentially the same approach that it took with conflict allegations against Peter Mansbridge and Rex Murphy.

These are hardly decisions that inspire confidence in the public broadcaster.

In his column today, Rick Salutin explores who is to blame for the sad state of affairs at the CBC (it is the managers, who cower in the shadows behind their “stars”) and remembers a time when when public institutions adhered to public values for the benefit of all:
Canada’s other main public cultural institution, the National Film Board, was built by John Grierson in the 1940s. He was a titan of global film. He acted imperiously. He recruited young Canadians and dazzled them with his ego and vision. One said, “A day never passed at the Board that Grierson didn’t remind us we were there to serve the people of Canada.”

Among his recruits was Sidney Newman. Newman went to the UK and worked in private TV, creating The Avengers. Then the (public) BBC hired him as head of drama. He revelled. He created Doctor Who, now in its 51st brilliant year. For the 50th anniversary, BBC did a film about Newman! He was its superhero.
Today, we regularly read reports of the death of traditional media, reports that, if I may borrow from Mark Twain, seem greatly exaggerated. However, those media do themselves no favours by trying to rationalize and justify failures when they occur. We, the news-consuming public, deserve much better.


  1. .. thanks for the succinct analysis..

    Without being critical in any way.
    may I suggest its not that we 'deserve'
    but that we expect.. require, better from CBC etc
    and all our media or journalists, artists & ordinary Canadians

    What we expect or count on from our politicians
    is another story.. but when media or 'news' are comprimised
    our perspective becomes skewed.. distorted & flawed

    Like a navigational chart that is inaccurate. indeed invented
    we begin to follow a course to disaster

    1. I think your marine metaphor is very apt, Salamander. The efforts to reduce our faith in both our public and our institutions are indeed leading us towards the shoals of educed expectations and deep cynicism.

  2. In a world where money is the prime directive, Lorne, there are few other standards.

    1. it is a world that cries out for renewed leadership and public integrity, Owen.

  3. One thing I expect from any and all news services is that their first target focus should always be those that hold governing power, whomever they are. This should especially be true for CBC as a public duty obligation as a public broadcaster IMHO. For me it really is that simple. The whole point about the need for a free press in an open society is to be able to hold those in/with power to account, and to make possible an informed citizenry so they can in turn make responsible decisions when it comes to electing governments. Its not rocket science or neurosurgery after all.

    1. I agree completely, Scotian. Unfortunately, nowadays at the CBC, managers seem to feel their greatest obligation is to themselves and protecting their careers, which, in these times, usually means ruffling as few feathers as possible.