The CBC would be wise to "hike up the charm offensive" and "embrace disclosure" in its simmering battle over access to information, says HuffPost Canada's Ottawa Bureau Chief Althia Raj.
Raj joined CBC's At Issue panel on "The National" Thursday night and critiqued the public broadcaster's handling of the controversy. The corporation has been pitted against a House Of Commons committee, Canada's Information Commissioner and competitor Quebecor over whether it must release internal documents regarding its operations.
"Hubert Lacroix, the CBC President, is still as stubborn as he has always been about refusing to explain and give away anything on why the CBC is pursuing this agenda. I think it boggles the mind to most Canadians, and people who follow this at all, why CBC is fighting tooth and nail to have final say over what it excludes or not. If this was a government department everyone would be outraged," Raj said.
Lacroix appeared before the access to information and ethics committee in Ottawa on Thursday and defended the CBC, arguing the broadcaster is accountable for the money it spends.
The CBC has refused to provide documents requested under the Access To Information Act, citing a clause in the Act that protects journalistic, programming and creative records. The majority of the requests for document have come from a law firm representing Quebecor Media Inc., parent company of Sun Media. Quebecor's publications and television stations have attacked the CBC over alleged excessive spending and lack of accountability.
The access to information requests have triggered a complex court battle. Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault has gone to court twice to obtain permission to examine the documents so she can review the validity of CBC's arguments. On Wednesday, she won a battle at the Federal Court of Appeal which ruled the files should be handed to her. Thursday, the access to information and ethics committee which was also investigating the CBC's refusal to provide the documents, decided not to open a sealed envelope containing the files the public broadcaster had fought to keep secret and hand it back to the Crown corporation.
Edmonton Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber is now attempting to use Parliament's order paper to find out how much the CBC pays stars such as Peter Mansbridge, Rick Mercer and George Strombolopolous, according to iPolitics. Rathegeber is also trying to find out what CBC spends for the rights to air Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, expense information from foreign bureaus and a list of everyone at the broadcaster who makes more than $100,000.
While access to information requests can take months, or even years, to yield fruit, questions on the order paper are supposed to be answered within 45 days. Whether Rathgeber will be successful remains to be seen.
While the battle over CBC information will likely have serious consequences for the future of the broadcaster, anchor Peter Mansbridge ended the At Issue debate on a lighter note.
"There was the CBC discussing the future of the CBC and the current battle. None of these people work full-time for the CBC, but they are all on contract on Thursday nights. We own them. For these 14 minutes."