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.