POLITICS

Kathleen Wynne Documentary Shelved By TVO Over Editorial Concerns

05/22/2015 10:57 EDT | Updated 05/22/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - TVO has backed out of a documentary about Premier Kathleen Wynne because of concerns about its "editorial integrity" and how a byelection scandal was being represented.

The documentary had been commissioned from White Pine Pictures and TVO, but the broadcaster said Friday a film consistent with its "journalistic standards for editorial integrity, independence and quality" was not delivered.

The original premise was a behind-the-scenes look at the preparation for the budget, but TVO said it expected that "any events of significance" during their filming period would be fairly and fully represented.

That period was dominated at the legislature by the events surrounding a February byelection in Sudbury. Provincial police are investigating allegations that two Liberals, including Wynne's deputy chief of staff, broke bribery and corruption laws by offering a would-be candidate a job or appointment to step aside for their preferred candidate. The Liberals deny the allegations.

"There were essentially two visions for this film — one vision met our journalistic standards and one didn't," said John Ferri, TVO's vice-president of current affairs and documentaries.

"One represented those events in a fair and fulsome way."

Some members of the premier's staff viewed the footage and her office said they had concerns the documentary was deviating from the original premise. Wynne said Friday she is aware there were discussions about the scope of the project, but she was not part of those conversations.

"As of yesterday, whatever version had been seen by my staff, we assumed was going ahead because there was nothing in that footage that they saw that was a problem," she said.

Wynne's spokeswoman said they worked closely with the producer to determine the parameters of the film.

"There was always a clear understanding we would have no editorial control but would be allowed to review portions of the film with government lawyers for issues like breaches of cabinet confidentiality or privacy legislation," Zita Astravas said in a statement.

"That review was supposed to happen next week and we were set to sign the final agreement and release forms. We're really hoping that can still happen as we would like to see the film go to air."

The Toronto Star cited sources as saying the premier's aides wanted to see the entire film before signing release forms and they were "alarmed by an apparent focus" on the Sudbury scandal.

TVO said it was told by White Pine Pictures that they did not obtain releases from several people in the documentary. White Pine Pictures did not return a request for comment.

From the outset TVO insisted "there be a journalistic treatment" of the film, including hiring a journalist as the director. But after director Roxana Spicer walked away from the project Wednesday, TVO terminated its agreement and announced it is looking for White Pine Pictures to refund the $114,075 advance.

Wynne said she hopes the documentary will still be produced.

Both opposition leaders expressed concern the premier's office is "stifling" independent journalism.

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