07/06/2015 04:05 EDT | Updated 07/06/2016 05:59 EDT

Why Was Peter Mansbridge Permitted to Support the Mother Canada Project?

Thompson Rivers/Flickr
<strong><a href="" rel="nofollow">Thompson Rivers University</a></strong> Peter Mansbridge, host of CBC Television's The National, regales the audience with tales from his years as a broadcast journalist, which began in Churchill, Man. Mansbridge was at the Grand Hall on Jan. 19, 2012 as part of <strong><a href="" rel="nofollow">TRU Students' Union</a></strong> Common Voices speaker series. <strong><a href="" rel="nofollow">Learn more about Journalism at TRU</a></strong>

"I decided that you can't cover a controversy by being in one."

That's Peter Mansbridge's revelatory explanation as to why his name no longer appears -- after many months -- as an Honourary Patron of the controversial Never Forgotten war memorial proposed for Cape Breton Island.

Apart from the fact that this is one of the basic tenets of journalism -- along with get your facts right, and don't misspell someone's name -- it avoids answering the really important question in this whole fiasco.

What were CBC executives thinking when they gave Mansbridge permission to become an Honourary Patron of the Mother Canada project?

The very idea breaks CBC's very clear rules on preserving journalistic impartiality.

Section 2.2.17 outlines CBC's corporate policy on political activity: "Independence and impartiality are fundamental to CBC/Radio-Canada's credibility. Not only must the Corporation be independent, impartial, fair and honest, but it also must be perceived as such. It is essential that CBC/Radio-Canada not take a position on controversial issues."

Section 2.2.3 covers the policy on conflict of interest procedures and guidelines: "Employees may not take a stand on public controversies if CBC's integrity would be compromised."

(CBC commentator and host Rex Murphy is also an Honourary Patron of Mother Canada. As a freelancer, Murphy is technically exempt from the CBC's rules on journalistic impartiality. But until Sunday morning, as I had pointed out to CBC Editor-in-Chief Jennifer McGuire last week, Murphy was described as "Journalist, CBC News." He is now a "Freelance Journalist" with no mention of the CBC.)

How could this have happened?

War memorials around the world have long spawned public furor over who is remembering what and why, and where memorials should sit.

These controversies often last years and they can stay nasty.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

The Yasakuni Shrine in Tokyo.

The Valley of the Fallen in Spain.

The Bomber Command (as in "Bomber Harris") Memorial in London.

Right now, the proposed Memorial to the Victims of Communism in Ottawa has everyone from the Chief Justice of Canada to architects to immigrant groups to politicians at all levels trading barbs.

Did CBC management think no one would notice Mansbridge's name on the memorial's list of patrons?

Did they think that the noble goal of honouring those who died while fighting tyranny trumped predictably mundane and messy questions of where a monument should be located?

In recent months, the Mother Canada controversy has been covered by newspapers, the web, TV and radio stations across the country.

According to CBC's website, the story has appeared on local CBC television and radio across the Maritimes and nationally, on As It Happens and The Current on CBC Radio.

Yesterday, just hours after Mansbridge's name was quietly removed from the list of Honourary Patrons, the issue of public monuments and the controversy they always generate was the subject of CBC's national radio call-in program Cross Country Checkup.

For several days before yesterday's broadcast, the Mother Canada project was featured in CBC's promotional material for Cross Country Checkup.

Perhaps the fear of an unscripted question about Mansbridge's impartiality from a listener on live radio caused someone in senior management to come to their senses.

As of the afternoon of July 6, I searched the CBC website and saw no mention of the Mother Canada controversy ever appearing on the network's flagship national TV news program, The National.


Journalism Scandals