BUSINESS

Jesse Brown, Blogger Who Broke Ghomeshi, Lang Stories, Says Canadian Media Needs Scrutiny

01/13/2015 05:18 EST | Updated 03/16/2015 05:59 EDT
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TORONTO - The man who helped bring to light two major controversies at the CBC — including this week's conflict-of-interest allegations against business reporter Amanda Lang — says he's made it his mission to take a critical look at what is happening inside Canada's media organizations.

Jesse Brown, whose podcast and media news website Canadaland also helped break the Jian Ghomeshi scandal, says unlike the U.S., Canada has allowed its media organizations to remain largely unscrutinized.

"There's just so many different ways that the American media holds the American media to account through hard news satire analysis. We had nothing like it here," he said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Brown said he initially pitched the idea for a media criticism podcast to established news organizations, and most were receptive — until they realized they, too, would come under the microscope.

"So it was clear to me that something had to be done and probably had to be done independently and that's what I did," he said.

"I think as we're seeing now, there's a lot of stuff going on in media that was going unreported that needed to be reported."

Canadaland reported on Monday that Lang had attempted to "sabotage" a 2013 story about a bank that had sponsored some speeches or events at which she spoke. It also said Lang was in a "serious relationship" with an RBC board member at the time the story ran.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Lang said Monday she disclosed the relationship in 2012 to the public broadcaster, which determined an on-air disclosure before an interview with RBC CEO Gordon Nixon was not necessary.

CBC said the allegations that Lang tried to "sabotage" the story on RBC's use of temporary foreign workers were "categorically untrue."

CBC isn't the only network to come under fire recently for alleged conflict of interest. Global Television suspended one of its main Toronto news anchors last week after a media report he was part-owner of a public relations firm.

While TV critics in major newspapers have done a "pretty good job" of examining specific programming, "there's no overall culture of media criticism here," said Jeffrey Dvorkin, a media analyst and director of the journalism program at the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus.

"Part of it is that we're a smaller country than the United States and there is a tradition of everybody knows everybody else," said Dvorkin, a former managing editor for CBC Radio.

"As a result, it's kind of a cosy culture of journalism in this country, and it's getting smaller because of the nature of the economy and the nature of how media organizations are functioning now. So I think that no one is really willing to say anything that might shift that coy relationship. People may want jobs, so they're not willing to be particularly critical," he said.

When Canadaland launched in October 2013, it was a part-time job for Brown, a freelancer who worked for CBC until 2009 and went on to write for Macleans and Toronto Life. But finding freelance work proved more difficult once the podcast began, he said.

"It became clear to me that if I was doing Canadaland, I might not be able to do freelance so much for the rest of the Canadian media," he said, adding he feels his listeners want him to remain independent.

Canadaland is now full-time work for Brown, with more than 60,000 downloads per podcast. Stories such as Monday's on Lang drew more than 100,000 unique views, he said.

The site and podcast are funded by monthly public donations through the crowdfunding site Patreon. More than 1,600 people have signed up to support Canadaland for a total of roughly $8,700 a month, Brown said.

When the donations reach $10,000 a month, Brown has promised to turn Canadaland into a "micro news organization and podcast network," which would involve posting at least one story a day. It would also mean hiring other reporters, he said. Brown currently works with Toronto-based reporter Sean Craig, who broke the Lang story.

Canadaland was thrust into the spotlight last fall after Brown collaborated with the Toronto Star on an investigation into assault allegations against Ghomeshi.

The former "Q" host is now facing seven counts of sexual assault and one of overcoming resistance by choking for incidents alleged to have occurred in 2002, 2003 and 2008. He has admitted he engaged in "rough sex" but insisted it was always consensual. His lawyer has said he will plead not guilty to the charges.

Working with the Star allowed Brown to pursue a controversial story while minimizing the risks, he said.

"At the time, the vast majority of people had never heard of me or Canadaland and I have very strong reason to believe that Ghomeshi's response, if it had been me alone reporting that, would've been to discredit me. I'm certain that there's still smear jobs coming from somewhere or another to try to stop me but I think at that point it would've been a certainty," he said.

"I think Canadaland has a lot of credibility now, our stories hold up, so I don't feel the same anxiety (about going it alone) that I did in that case."

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