Report news while making news?

RossK at The Gazetteer linked to this item first published about three years ago. It is worth attention now since it demonstrates the issue of conflicts in media did not begin and end with Global TV Anchor Leslie Roberts.

Listen to the audio clip that follows but remember that certain bloggers “with an axe to grind” have argued that the NW trio themselves are conflicted by receipts of cash from commercial groups affected by their coverage of issues. Additionally, be aware that government payments totalling 7-figures have been made to family members of Press Gallery colleagues, without a single mention in the corporate media. 

Sensitivity to the morass of conflicts may explain the strained efforts on the audio clip as Bill, Vaughn and Keith pretend the issue should never have been raised. Conflict of interest is Oldspeak; hoary words stripped from the language of modern journalism.

First published here January 23, 2012:

Response to the CBC Ombudsman faulting Stephen Smart’s position as Legislative Bureau Chief is muted in the local corporate media except for the Good, the bad and the other on Friday morning. CKNW’s triplets typically dance together in favour of the status quo and conflict of interest is a subject that makes these guys uncomfortable. For good reason, too.

Charlie Smith at the Georgia Straight discusses the wider and more important issue in B.C. legislature press gallery should come clean on all conflicts of interest:

So why will this ruling make other members in the press gallery squirm? It’s because Smart isn’t the only one with a family member who has collected cheques from the B.C. government for providing communications advice.

In the past, I’ve written about press-gallery members receiving speaking fees from business organizations that seek legislative changes from the B.C. government.

There’s never any public disclosure about the amounts of money changing hands between these lobby groups and the scribes.

I believe that the time has come for the press gallery to create a transparent ethics policy with a disciplinary process for those who violate it.

Blogger RossK at The Gazetteer exposes part of the silliness offered by the Three Amigos. I hope they are better reporters than they seemed Friday because of the reliance on misinformation and misdirection. For example, they suggested that Stephen Smart’s wife was like any other government employee, as if being the Premier’s Deputy Press Secretary is akin to making tea or trimming lawns at the Legislature.

Of course, these guys — operating on suspect motives themselves — assume critics of a news agency that ignores its own guidelines act as partisans for the opposition. In fact, they know that most MLA’s and party activists purposely avoid raising complaints about media coverage, no matter how aggrieved the politicians feel. It is a no-win situation. So, if people denouncing the conflicted CBC situation were taking direction from party managers, the issue would not have been raised.

In early December, I wrote the article that follows. It connects to Charlie Smith’s earlier work on conflicts and I think is worth examination again:


It is appropriate to ask if political writers can report objectively after they become paid participants in the public forum, earning appearance fees and other remuneration from businesses with interests in their coverage. In 2009, Charlie Smith at The Georgia Straight wrote this:

There are members of the press gallery who’ve accepted speaking fees from business groups that lobby the provincial government regarding pieces of legislation.

I think the members of the press gallery should disclose these payments through an on-line registry, which would be available for the public to see…

However, as long as the members of the press gallery are so busy patting each other on the back, they’re not going to bother covering something like this.

They’ll go blue in the face telling the public how Ken Dobell or Patrick Kinsella were unregistered lobbyists, but they don’t apply the same standards to themselves when it comes to disclosing their own potential conflicts of interest.

I’m not saying that these payments influence the way they cover stories. Not at all. I am saying, however, that these speaking fees should be disclosed so readers, viewers, and listeners will know if members of the press gallery have recently been on the payroll of an organization that they’re covering. It’s called transparency.

A short while later, Smith touched on the subject again:

I may have left the impression in recent blog postings that Vancouver Sun provincial-affairs columnist Vaughn Palmer only speaks to business organizations like the Council of Forest Industries, British Columbians for Private Forests, the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, the B.C. Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association, the B.C. Human Resources Management Association, the Council of Tourism Associations of B.C., and others.

Palmer has also spoken to government associations as well as to civic and labour groups. They include the Professional Employees Association, the Bellingham City Club, and the Canadian Association of Members of Public Utility Tribunals.

Next month, Palmer will speak to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association.

in April last year, Smith offered a particular example. He thought Vaughn Palmer:

…could be caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the HST.

As I’ve reported before on this site, Palmer has a public-speaking career in addition to his work as a paid columnist.

In the past, he has appeared at events sponsored by such groups as the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, the Council of Forest Industries, and the B.C. Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association.

National Speakers Bureau, which has arranged Palmer’s speaking engagements, used to advertise on its Web site that he could be booked for $3,000 to $5,000 per appearance. I don’t know how much, if anything, he charged to speak to these particular groups…


Of course, the obvious point was that Palmer was receiving fees for appearing before organizations that were fervent admirers of Gordon Campbell and the Premier’s plans for HST. During that time, Palmer was an impartial commentator, appearing in print and on radio and cable TV to report frequently on Gordon Campbell and HST.

Charlie Smith put this issue up for debate during both 2009 and 2010, about Palmer, but also Palmer’s press gallery colleagues. Smith gained little traction, none in the corporate media, of course Yet, today the issue remains vital. Canada is travelling on a dangerous trail blazed by self-interest brigades in the USA.

With falling advertising and circulation revenues, newsrooms everywhere are cutting staff and budgets. Strict economies are eased by turning to outsiders offering free content that of course serves objectives of the providers. Celebrity reporters supplement sagging salaries through freelancing and paid public appearances.

In the U.S., wealthy think tanks and brigades of right wing agents circulate free media-ready copy that is happily received and published uncritically. One example is the the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. According to PR Watch,

The group has 43 state news websites, with writers in over 40 states. Its reporters have been given state house press credentials and its news articles are starting to appear in mainstream print newspapers in each state.

Who funds Franklin and what is its agenda? The Funding Trail Leads to Bradley, Koch, and Other Right-Wing Groups.

Canada is not immune from similar pressures and responses. As strong regional journalism disappears, space is quickly filled with syndicated copy or material from agenda driven sources such as industry groups and political think tanks.

The intermediate step for propagandists seeking to influence public opinion is to promote the loyalty of media people through direct and indirect inducements. Ethical journalists exercise caution but, unfortunately, ethical does not equate with influential.

18 replies »

  1. Would you pay someone, anyone to come to your meeting to tell you that your position on anything was wrong?
    If you can't make a decent living plying your regular trade then you have a right to seek added income.


  2. I quit the media long ago.

    All I feel is outrage when I read newspapers, or watch the TV news channels. Omission, is no different than deceit and lies. The media willingly spreads the lies of the Campbell/Clark BC Liberals, far and wide.

    If the media can't make a decent living plying their regular trade, and choose to be paid for bias…That's the reason they are no longer trusted, nor believed.


  3. Shades of Gillian Shaw and her coaching at the IPP conference…..the Vancouver Sun phoned me on the weekend asking if I wanted a subscription….the lady was very polite and allowed me to speak my mind, though she did remind me a couple of times that the conversation was being recorded…I thanked her after the second reminder because I forgot to mention the fireplace insert and the hot water tank that I did not buy from one of their big advertisers.

    The corollary might be if their readership (and subsequently their advertising dollars) increased due to a larger audience finding value in the commentary, would there be more money to pay journalists enough such that they wouldn't have to seek “other employment”?

    Or would the “more money” just be more money?

    This isn't a regular trade, professional journalism comes with a standard of integrity attached. If one wishes to seek added income, that trade should have a different name.


  4. Motorcycleguy, you get the central issue. This is not only about Vaughn Palmer, although he might be the reporter with highest profile. The industry allows itself to be vulnerable to influences of the rich and powerful. How many people of the press have taken “research” contracts from the Fraser Institute or taken their media “training” courses. These contacts with partisans of the right not only look bad, they are bad.

    Gillian Shaw would have understood the implications but she was merely doing what other, more senior, journalists were doing too.


  5. Re Vaughn Palmer

    He is very much like the product for sale in the supermarket – he is on sale (For sale) because he is beyond his due date and is no longer wanted !

    I think it a very fitting comparison.



  6. here is an email i sent to johnnymichel@cbc.ca
    I was shocked and dismayed with your comment regarding the cbc ombudsman’s report on stephen smart’s situation.
    You are quoted as saying that “Without a shred of evidence that Stephen is offside in his reporting, we feel this is now just a personal matter and a corporate matter.”
    But just because there is no impropriety does not mean there is no conflict,” LaPointe wrote. “Whether a real or perceived conflict of interest, no amount of managing it can do more than mitigate the impact of an impartial fulfilment of duties.”
    “As it stands there is a violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.”
    Do you not consider a violation of cbc journalistic standards and practices to be offside?
    o “ Employees are required to perform their duties and arrange their private affairs in a manner that will prevent actual, apparent or potential conflicts of interest from arising.
    o Employees are expected to act in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny in all dealings related to the Corporation or their responsibilities as employees”
    Anyone with common sense can see an apparent or potential conflict of interest with a legislative reporter married to a senior political press relations officer in the premier’s office.
    What protocols have you put in place that demonstrate there is no apparent or potential conflict of interest and can withstand the closest public scrutiny?


  7. If you bother to listen to Bill Good in the Jan 23 NW audio vault at 8:35am, you'll hear him attack Charlie Smith at the Georgia Straight, make blanket denials that reporters or news presenters could ever be in conflict but ignore the central issue that Smith raised.

    Bill Good, to make his defence, has to use his own distorted sense of ethics. The effort would earn him a failing grade at every respected school of journalism in the civilized world.


  8. Bill Good ethical?

    Ha, ha, ha, ha………..ya right, tell me another one. Boring anti-NDP blather is all you get from 8:30 to noon. Who listens? I don't and apparently the audio vault doesn't want me to listen either.

    Bill Boring, everyones “dollar a holler” radio guy.


  9. When Rafe was removed from brand X, I tried Good once and that was enough. Never returned, as Good has nothing important to state unless it is about him and his favourite things….
    He has a very blinkered view of the realities of the world. But all three of them, Good, Baldrey, Palmer by remaining at their positions too long they have made themselves obsolete.
    In the responses they give, it can be noted that what they think is apparently the only thing to think for the rest of us.
    Identical to the politicians they support, no?


  10. I have been in BC too long. I have forgotten what an honest government is, because of the Campbell/Clark BC Liberal/Conservatives? Which ever is which, I don't really know. Campbell works for Harper. Christy hired a Conservative who lobbied for the Enbridge pipeline and, dotes on Harper. I have never seen, two of the same party's in one province before. Harper is the Reformer Conservative or what? Is there a difference, it's all too confusing to me. Is Christy's hired Conservative gun, going to lie to us too, like the dirty oil is ethical oil? Which the entire world knows it isn't.

    I have to buy out of province newspapers, or out of country, to learn any remnants of the truth. TV news is really like, the old laugh in program. Even re-runs on yesterdays news, is what you get.

    I had better quit, my contempt is showing.


  11. I guess discrediting is the standard procedure for these type of ne'er-do-wells' and their friends? Also the words they use to describe the issue are designed to scare, inflame, and cause revulsion. This labeling technique is another standard procedure.

    They are very good at it excellent at it really and their machine overall is far superior to ours. They are extremely well organized and interconnected and diligently carry out the bidding required of them.

    I doubt if it will change.


  12. Hi Norm, I just listened to Carol Off on CBC Radio's As It Happens tonight (Jan 23), and was astonished to hear her interview with a UK blogger who has devised journalism warning stickers (I think you did a story on this guy a year or so ago?).

    It's worth a listen to hear Carol Off denigrate and treat lightly the criticisms of journalism. I especially laughed when she kept referring to the lack of credibility being with “newspaper journalism”.

    Of course, there was no reference to CBC's own lack of moral and professional standards.

    You can listen to Carol Off's interview with Tom Scott of Gadget Geeks on their podcast at:


    It starts at 17:15 of the program podcast, which is 28:59 minutes in length. Click on “Latest Audio” on the right hand side.

    Also, here's the link for the website of the UK fellow she interviewed. Maybe someone should clue him in to the fact that the CBC is hardly a beacon of professional integrity here in BC.



  13. Seems to me that Canada and the USA are 'mired in bullshit' 24 hours a day. We cannot get to the truth easily anymore and so we end up fighting over mistruths and obfuscation.

    It amazes me that people in the USA end up disagreeing on the Republican primaries on which idiot to support. There is no one there suitable for the job, but no one wants to come out and actually say it. Their saviour seems to be a multi-multi millionaire who never will be able to connect with the voter. Electing someone so rich is like electing Wal-Mart, or General Electric to run your life. These rich assholes only know how to take from the system, not give back. Even Obama who was supposed to support those who slog through every day to just do the right thing just sits on the fence or supports right wing policies.

    The loss of ethical morality in the news has brought us all to this point. We don't even know where the argument lies anymore.


  14. Kudos to the three bullshiteers on CKNW.

    In the space of that 5 minute clip, they have evapoprated any worth in their life's work and acknowledged that they are not to be trusted in seeking, recognizing or reporting the truth.


  15. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

    (a) freedom of conscience and religion;
    (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and
    other media of communication;
    (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
    (d) freedom of association.

    Freedom of the press…. “Freedom of the press is an important and essential attribute of a free and democratic society, and measures which prohibit the media from publishing information deemed of interest obviously restrict that freedom.” http://scc.lexum.org/en/1988/1988scr2-122/1988scr2-122.html

    But if there is a perceived Conflict of Interest by the press How can there possibly be Freedom of the Press?


  16. The material at Northern Insights shows that conflicts of interest for journalists are nothing new in British Columbia. They're not new 3,400 km east of here but the rising importance of alternative media brings the subject to prominence. Ontario Global TV parted with Leslie Roberts but I suspect there were other issues too. It could not be a matter of principle involving service to private interests because that has been tolerated by Global routinely.

    Charlie Smith called for the Press Gallery to issue a transparent ethics policy but that is only part of the issue. Getting journalists to follow the codes is the real test. CBC, for example, routinely waived, ignored or amended its policies instead of following them.


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