Read the followup piece: Help for the CBC on conflicts of interest
CBC Legislative Bureau Chief Stephen Smart reports regularly on the British Columbia government. The “year-end views” interview with Premier Clark is but one example.
Mr. Smart is married to Rebecca Scott, a Communications Officer for the Premier and her Deputy Press Secretary.
CBC practice guidelines state:
We are independent of all lobbies and of all political and economic influence… The trust of the public is our most valued asset. We avoid putting ourselves in real or potential conflict of interest. This is essential to our credibility.
CBC policies further state:
Integrity is one of our journalistic principles. We refrain from any involvement with stories in which a member of our immediate family (including in-laws) has a strong stake.
Independence is a core value of CBC. If a current affairs or news employee has a close relative, defined as spouse, parent, child or sibling who is a major actor in a story, that employee cannot be involved in the coverage.
I believe the marital connection, not disclosed with Mr. Smart’s reporting, is a potential conflict of interest that should be addressed. It is my understanding that CBC BC news management does not agree that any conflict exists.
This is a message I sent to Kirk LaPointe, CBC Ombudsman:
CBC Legislative Bureau Chief Stephen Smart reports fully and fairly when his wife’s employer is in the news. Well, at least that is what CBC says.
As intelligent skeptics, we should ignore their words and judge their actions. Consider a current example.
The employer of Mr. Smart’s wife, known here as Premier Photo-Op, is embarrassed by connections to Jaspal Atwal, a man convicted of attempted murder – a crime planned for political purposes.
Well read pundits and reporters in British Columbia—Michael Smyth, Alex Tsakumis, Les Leyne, Kim Bolan, Bill Tieleman, Ian Reid, etc.—had much to say about Christy Clark and Jaspal Atwal.
The CBC? Not a word.
Stephen Smart’s wife Rebecca Scott works in Premier Christy Clark’s office as an Order-in-Council appointment. Her employment was excluded from the hiring procedures used in the professional public service.
Since her job is directly and indisputably political, with the purpose of organizing positive press coverage for Premier Clark, it poses a real—not potential—conflict for Mr. Smart. He should not be working for CBC as its Legislative Bureau Chief, even if his connection to Scott were prominently disclosed. It is not.
H/T to Alex Tsakumis for a copy of the Order-in-Council appointing Stephen Smart’s wife as Christy Clark’s Deputy Press Secretary:
The New York Times, America’s flagship newspaper, deals specifically in its policy “Ethics in Journalism” with conflicts arising from activities of family members:
B2. AVOIDING CONFLICTS OVER FAMILY
98. In a day when most families balance two careers, the legitimate activities of household members and other relatives can sometimes create journalistic conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts. These can arise in civic or political life, professional work and financial activity. A spouse’s or companion’s campaign for public office would obviously create the appearance of conflict for a political reporter or television producer involved in election coverage. A brother or a daughter in a high-profile job on Wall Street might produce the appearance of conflict for a business reporter or editor.
99. Our company has no wish to intrude upon family members who are not its employees. Nothing in this document prohibits a spouse, companion or other relative of a staff member from taking part in any political, financial, commercial, religious or civic activity. Where restrictions are necessary, they fall on the company employee alone. But any attempt to conceal a staff member’s activity by using a relative’s name (or any other alias) would constitute a violation.
100. Staff members must be sensitive that direct political activity by their spouses, family or household members, such as running for office or managing a campaign – even while proper – may well create conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts. Even limited participation, like giving money or ringing doorbells, may stir suspicions of political bias if it becomes conspicuous. Staff members and their families should be wary of ambiguity. A bumper sticker on the family car or a campaign sign on the lawn may be misread as the journalist’s, no manner who in the household actually placed it. When a spouse or companion makes a campaign contribution, it is wise to avoid writing the check on a joint account.
101. To avoid conflicts, staff members may not furnish, prepare or supervise news content about relatives, spouses or others with whom they have close personal relationships. For the same reasons, staff members should not recruit or directly supervise family members or close friends. Some exceptions are permissible – in a foreign bureau, for instance, where a married couple form a team, or in a small news department, with the approval of top newsroom management.
102. The company and its units depend on staff members to disclose potential problems in a timely fashion, with an eye to working together to head off embarrassment to all concerned. Any staff member who sees a potential for a conflict of interest in the activities of spouse, relatives or friends must discuss the situation with newsroom management. In many or even most cases, disclosure will suffice. But if newsroom management considers the problem serious, the staff member may have to withdraw from certain coverage. Sometimes an assignment may have to be modified or a beat changed.