POLITICS

CBC's editor-in-chief says Evan Solomon didn't meet ethics standard

06/10/2015 02:44 EDT | Updated 06/10/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - A raft of ethical lapses by journalists has the editor-in-chief of CBC News calling on members of the profession to clean up their act.

Jennifer McGuire bemoaned the state of the industry in a message to staff Wednesday, a day after the public broadcaster fired CBC News Network personality Evan Solomon over conflict-of-interest allegations.

While detailing the circumstances of Solomon's ouster, McGuire cited a recent LinkedIn article by Al Jazeera America journalist Ali Velshi which chastised TV news for "shooting itself in the foot."

"It's time for every single professional journalist and media organization to stop providing ammunition," McGuire said in the memo.

Some people have questioned the integrity of CBC's news, McGuire continued, "and that of CTV, Global, NBC and ABC."

Nearly all of the major networks have weathered a media scandal of some sort in recent months.

Bell Media parted ways with its president Kevin Crull after he admitted to trying to influence how subsidiary CTV covered a news story.

Global News anchor Leslie Roberts resigned after reports he co-owned a public relations company, and that some of the firm's clients appeared on his morning show.

Over on the U.S. networks, NBC news anchor Brian Williams was suspended after exaggerating about his experiences as a reporter, and ABC's George Stephanopoulos admitted to donating substantial sums to the Clinton Foundation, casting doubt on his ability to offer impartial coverage of Hillary Clinton's presidential race.

In firing Solomon, McGuire said the "Power & Politics" host failed to meet the "very highest standard of journalistic conduct and ethics."

"A decision like this is never pleasant," she said of parting ways with the prominent personality, previously considered a possible successor to Peter Mansbridge on "The National."

"Yesterday, we took the steps necessary to protect the integrity of our colleagues and the service we provide to Canadians. Going forward, we will continue to convey that message, clearly and proudly."

The firing came in the wake of a Toronto Star report that alleged the 47-year-old broadcaster secretly brokered lucrative art sales to wealthy contacts he also approached for interviews.

Solomon has said he never intentionally used his CBC position to secure deals and that he was "deeply sorry" for any damage his activities had caused.

McGuire offered few specifics about Solomon's dismissal but said the decision to cut ties was made shortly before the Star piece was published.

She said Solomon disclosed in April that he and his wife owned a production company that had a business partnership with an art dealer.

"He assured us, this could not conflict in any way with his work for CBC News," she said.

"On Monday, a Toronto Star reporter approached us with allegations which, if true, significantly changed our understanding of the situation."

Solomon's union, the Canadian Media Guild, issued a statement Wednesday night which questioned whether CBC had been too quick to act.

"We are concerned that there may have been a rush to judgment here and a disproportionate response to what at worse may have been an unintentional breach of corporate policy that had no impact whatsoever on how Evan conducted himself as a host and journalist," said president Carmel Smyth.

"We are concerned that factors unrelated to this case have caused management to single out and treat a respected journalist unfairly and in a way that may be very damaging to his career."

The Solomon scandal follows a damning report that chastised CBC bosses for how they handled sexual assault allegations involving former radio host Jian Ghomeshi.

Ghomeshi was fired after CBC executives saw what they described as graphic evidence that he had physically injured a woman. Ghomeshi has admitted to engaging in rough sex but said it was consensual. His lawyer has said Ghomeshi will plead not guilty to several sexual assault charges.

Labour lawyer Erin Kuzz was loathe to compare the two cases, but noted they both point to a supposed "host culture" brought to light by the harsh findings of Janice Rubin.

"That may be where you can draw the closest parallel, the whole concept of host culture and (the notion that) either: 'What people don't know won't hurt me,' or 'I can do what I want because I'm a very well-regarded host,'" said Kuzz, a founding member of the Toronto firm Sherrard Kuzz LLP.

"This may be the second significant wake-up call that the CBC has received on that and they may need to look at making some internal changes.... If these two terminations don't bring a change to that host culture, I don't know what will."

Solomon's exit from the CBC comes a few months after conflict-of-interest allegations were directed against fellow network personality Amanda Lang, who was ultimately cleared by a CBC review.

In early January, media website Canadaland alleged that the host of "The Exchange with Amanda Lang" tried to "sabotage" a 2013 story about the Royal Bank of Canada and its use of temporary foreign workers. The report said the bank sponsored some speeches or events at which Lang spoke and that Lang had a "serious relationship" with a bank board member.

Kuzz said it seemed that Solomon was held to a different, harsher standard.

"Which is part of what makes me wonder if there isn't more than we've heard," she said.

"There does seem to be an inconsistent treatment.... Certainly the allegations surrounding Lang were attention-getting and this on its face doesn't seem to be significantly worse. But that's just based on what we read in the newspaper report."

Thompson said the "circumstances are different" with Lang.

"We're not going to re-litigate a matter that we dealt with through a thorough internal investigation that most notably found that no, that the journalism was not compromised," he said.

Kuzz said anything that merely raises the reasonable perception of a conflict is enough to demand action.

"It's one of those things where — particularly for a journalist or other public figures — not only being free of conflict but (seeming) to be free of conflict or influence are incredibly important."