BUSINESS

CBC Defends Amanda Lang In Wake Of Conflict Of Interest Allegations

01/13/2015 06:59 EST | Updated 01/23/2015 01:59 EST
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The CBC continues to strongly defend its senior business correspondent, Amanda Lang, in the wake of conflict-of-interest allegations reported by CANADALAND.

However, the network's spokesman walked back a key element of that defence on Tuesday.

It all started on Monday when the website CANADALAND published a story alleging that Lang attempted to "sabotage" a CBC investigation into the use of temporary foreign workers by RBC, a bank that had sponsored events at which Lang was paid to speak

When she didn't get the story killed, CANADALAND reports that Lang then conducted a "softball interview" with RBC CEO Gord Nixon before taking to the op-ed pages of the Globe and Mail to minimize concerns about the bank's use of temporary foreign workers.

The CBC initially told CANADALAND the Lang was approached by the Globe about writing the editorial. However, the Globe told CANADALAND that it was Lang that contacted the paper about writing the piece and not the other way around.

CBC spokesperson Chuck Thompson admitted a mistake on CBC's initial claim and confirmed that it was Lang who reached out to the Globe.

Thompson did not immediately respond to inquiries on Twitter about how he came to be mistaken about how the opinion piece came into being.

In a memo sent to CBC staff and later published on the CBC website, the broadcaster's general manager and editor in chief Jennifer McGuire admits Lang failed to tell CBC News management she would be writing an editorial for the Globe.

CBC employees are required by the broadcaster's Conflict of Interest and Ethics policy to obtain permission before doing work for competitors.

McGuire writes the "matter was dealt with at the time and Amanda recognized that this was a breach of process."

The rest of the memo, however, presents a strong defence of Lang and CBC News.

McGuire writes that CANADALAND's assertion that CBC killed an RBC story on the radio program "The World at Six" is false and suggests that it's "ludicrous" to think that CBC's journalism "can be bought by an event's sponsor." Read the full memo.

Meanwhile, the CBC reporter who spearheaded the investigation into RBC and temporary foreign workers, Kathy Tomlinson, opened up to CANADALAND about her experiences with Lang and her feelings about the broadcaster's handling of potential or perceived conflicts of interest.

Tomlinson said she remembers being scheduled and then unscheduled to do a piece on RBC for "The World at Six," but that she believes it was simply a case of the program running a similar segment handled by another journalist instead.

But that's about the only positive thing Tomlinson has to say about the whole affair.

The veteran CBC reporter told CANADALAND that Lang did not notify her of potential conflicts -- such as her romantic relationship with an RBC board member, a scheduled speaking engagement with the outsourcing firm used by RBC or a blurb endorsing Lang's book from RBC's CEO -- before criticizing the foreign workers investigation.

Tomlinson told Canadaland that she was "very upset" when she learned of the potential conflicts and that she was not alone in expressing concerns about them.

Lang told the Toronto Star that she did not try and "sabotage" the RBC story and that she did not try to hide any potential conflicts of interests.

CANADALAND earlier reported that Lang did speaking engagements paid for by major insurance companies and then gave them "favourable" coverage on CBC. Lang responded to that story on Twitter with "the haters hate."

CBC's management of potential conflicts of interest has been the subject of intense scrutiny after it emerged last year that lead anchor Peter Mansbridge did a paid speech for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. The story eventually led the CBC to place new limitations on when its employees can accept speaking gigs and to begin posting them online.

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Read the full Jan. 12 memo from Jennifer McGuire, general manager and editor in chief of CBC News, to staff:

While we welcome discussions and debate about our coverage, this morning’s blog post by Sean Craig on Canadaland about a story from two years ago is based on several misrepresentations. It is misleading and is ultimately damaging to us as a news organization. Despite reaching out to us over the weekend for a response, Mr. Craig deliberately made false assumptions and left out important facts.

It is now important to set the record straight.

CBC News did not kill any story about RBC's use of the foreign worker program. We did not kill a story on the World at Six on Monday, April 8, 2013 as Mr. Craig implies in his blog. It is not true that we did not speak to people who took part in the call. We spoke to the producers who organized it, as well as some participants, both in 2013 and more recently as Canadaland was pursuing the story. Yes, there was a different point of view about the story and yes that different point of view was aired during the call. There was rigorous debate but there was no "sabotage," and the notion that "Lang's efforts to scuttle the story were successful, at first" is categorically untrue. The story rolled out on all platforms.

We continued to invest in the story, and our coverage led to a change in government policy. It is a story we are proud of and continue to follow.

As we all know, story selection and treatment is part of a collective process with many inputs and several checks and balances before we go to air or publish. That includes the live interviews we do. It is legitimate to question the quality of what we air. If there are issues with how interviews are conducted, we have an objective process through the Office of the Ombudsman. To suggest that Amanda deliberately “soft balled” the issue is insulting to all those involved in producing and airing that interview.

CBC News had no prior knowledge of Amanda Lang writing the editorial for the Globe and Mail in 2013. That matter was dealt with at the time and Amanda recognized that this was a breach of process.

Upon learning of Amanda’s personal relationship with a board member at RBC and the potential conflict that might create, her executive producer put in place appropriate protocols.

On the subject of paid speaking engagements, it is ludicrous to suggest that our journalism can be bought by an event’s sponsor. Many events have multiple sponsors. Does the fact that RBC was one of many sponsors of the Mohawk College President’s dinner to support student bursaries mean we cannot be involved? Should we now stay clear of the Scotiabank Giller awards too? Will we no longer participate in worthy causes like Canadian Journalists For Free Expression because Scotiabank is a major sponsor of its gala? Sponsorship is one of the factors we consider when we approve speaking engagements. It is not the only one. And we publicly disclose everything we do - paid and unpaid. ​

It is unfortunate that our internal processes are fodder for external debate by people who have their own agendas. If there are any concerns about what we put to air, by all means take them forward and let’s have a robust discussion. Half truths based on anonymous sources is not going to achieve anything constructive.