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CBC Needs to Look Inside and Look Ahead to Fix This Mess

07/23/2015 06:16 EDT | Updated 07/23/2016 05:59 EDT
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Two new items about CBC prompt these comments on the struggles inside my former employer.

The first is John Doyle's excellent column in the Globe and Mail "A New and Better CBC Must Start From Within" in which he tackles the corrosive impact on CBC's badly-damaged reputation arising from the relentless "lack of discipline and outbreaks of arrogance among on-air staff" -- referring to the slew of scandals over the past year and a half involving CBC journalists Peter Mansbridge, Rex Murphy, Amanda Lang and others.

I would only add that Doyle goes much too easy on CBC management in all this, as I wrote in Huffington Post two weeks ago. Bad behaviour allowed is bad behaviour encouraged -- and that is why this keeps happening over and over.

The second item is the release of an opinion from the CBC's Ombudsman, Esther Enkin, answering a complaint from a Canadian upset that Mansbridge (until two weeks ago) and Murphy (still) serve as patrons of the controversial Mother Canada war memorial project in Cape Breton.

Again, CBC management's comments in the Ombudsman's review caught my eye.

Jack Nagler, the Director of Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement for CBC News, told the complainant that because he is only a history buff, Mansbridge "did not have any intention of being part of the decisions about design or location of this project. Since aspects of the project have become a matter of some contention, Mr. Mansbridge has resigned as one of the honorary patrons."

Whatever Mansbridge thought about what he did/did not intend to do by becoming a patron is irrelevant. The CBC's own rules are crystal clear on a situation like this. He -- like all CBC journalists -- is not allowed to take a position on any public controversy.

But Enkin adds that "is not always easy to assess what will create a conflict of interest. The line between a perceived conflict and the rights of an individual, even one who is a high-profile journalist at CBC, is not obvious, and each case must be judged on its merits."

That anyone -- anyone -- in CBC management would think that a war memorial project could not become controversial, is amazing and disturbing in my opinion. Which does lead to this question I did not raise two weeks ago:

Did Mansbridge ask permission before accepting the patron offer?

Finally, in the Ombudsman's review, we again read a tortured defense (cum apologia) of Rex Murphy's status as a so-called freelancer for CBC.

And I mean tortured, as you will read. Enkin clearly believes the CBC is creating its own problems here, despite the fact she defends it. She states that it is no surprise the vast majority of Canadians believe Murphy is a journalist with the CBC just like Mansbridge and his journalist colleagues (despite the ridiculous distinction-without-meaning trundled out every time that he is a freelancer.)

I don't care what Rex Murphy talks about.

This is about good journalism and the abuse of privilege.

So here's the problem to be faced by CBC managers and programmers who seem so committed to keeping Rex Murphy in the CBC public's eye and ear -- which came to me from a former senior CBC journalist.

"You can just see disaster looming here and when it strikes, we will all be wondering how and why the CBC thought it was wise to put all their commentator eggs in one basket. Sure Rex is a freelancer and sure he can take money from whomever, but that doesn't mean that the CBC can't employ lots of other commentators to dilute whatever horrible impact awaits when the next and then the next crisis erupts over Rex's so-called 'freelance' status."

Fix this mess for the good of the CBC.

End Murphy's fictional (and disaster-magnet) status as a freelancer.

And much better, start paying for a much broader range of commentators.

But please, do something.

This piece orginally appeared in Frank's blog.

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