Conflict of Interest

Some business is very private

The eastern media had much to say recently about conflicted journalists. On the west coast, even CKNW’s Sean Leslie, a newsman who knows the subject, weighed in on Evan Solomon’s difficulties at the CBC. Vancouver Sun columnist Pete McMartin, with blithe hypocrisy, wrote that in view of the controversy arising from Mansbridge’s and Murphy’s:

“speaking fees from oil and gas organizations, and Amanda Lang’s speaking fees from the Royal Bank of Canada — wouldn’t you think the CBC would have dug a little deeper into Solomon’s business dealings, if only to avoid yet another public relations disaster?”

Meanwhile, for the stars in the lesser constellation of British Columbia, pro-media life carried on as normal:

// polite thank you led to a question from a vigilant observer and new blogger:


// course, BC journalists who’ve come to rely on non-journalistic income won’t be asked difficult questions by colleagues. Since the publishers sold themselves to corporate paymasters, they’re not likely to complain about individual staffers doing the same. In fact, employers depend upon it because the result is that journalists don’t rely solely upon salaries for income.

The tacit approval of management and precarious job security means that no pro-media associates in British Columbia dare to speak about conflicts of interest, unless they involve CBC staff working 3,400 km from Vancouver. Situations here might involve receipt of undisclosed payments from business groups or enjoyment of salaries paid to family members by government or organizations affected by news coverage. By the way, the BC Business Council referenced above is partly funded by government.

The difficulty goes beyond protecting colleagues, friends and family. When a real or potential conflict of interest exists in BC, it goes unreported. By example, when lawyer Marcia McNeil was hired by the BC Liberal Government to “examine” the Health Ministry firings, no pro-media pundit disclosed that her husband, Scott Sutherland, was another of those ubiquitous spin doctors hired by Liberals to spread good words about government.

McNeil’s immediate family has a financial relationship with the government that hired her for a sensitive task. Was it appropriate for McNeil to take the assignment? To me, that is unclear because the BC Law Society says:

…a lawyer must not perform any legal services for a client if:

(a) the lawyer has a direct or indirect financial interest in the subject matter of the legal services…

I’ve written extensively about conflicts of interest in public affairs and I invite readers to scan through past articles by clicking here.

Tom Stoppard:
“Words are sacred. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.”

9 replies »

  1. It is sad that BC's news media has become the “lord Ha Ha's” or “Tokyo Roses” of the corporate elites in BC.

    We have news media and so called journalist who are in the pocket of big business and the do all they can to mitigate 'bad press'.

    The public at large know this and shun the mainstream media as dead dog 98 and the Vancouver Sun spiral down to oblivion.

    News is now so well managed, on wonders if it is not the media themselves that both make and report the news and why the millennials are shunning the main stream media in vast numbers.


  2. What bothers me the most in the MSM is having family members or close friends working for the government. How in the world does this not sound like CONFLICT OF INTEREST or at least, perceived. How can anyone expect an unbiased report or at least fair assessment. This stuns me………..


  3. I have it on good authority that both Baldrey and Palmer DO NOT get paid….but they do receive a thousand dollars of hair products each month.


  4. McMartin writes, “And if you are going to take speaking fees from those you report on, then you should decide beforehand how you wish to earn your living, journalism or oratory, because it shouldn’t be both.”

    Les Leyne tweets the BC Business Council, Wendy Cox, Harold Munro, and Keef, “Nice to talk big ideas with all involved. Thanks.”

    Look for Leyne to reveal his decision in his next column. The one where he shares the big ideas.


  5. Oh God! Now I'm gonna envision a backpocket tub of “Filthy-Lucre” hair-gel every time I see one of these fashionistas!


  6. The Law Society of BC ought to initiate an examination of professional misconduct. Lawyer McNeil named no one in her report yet it is not conceivable that she didn't know the real story.

    Did she pull punches? Pretty obvious she did.

    Did she have a financial incentive to avoid full and complete disclosure and avoid embarrassing her husband's employer? That seems obvious.

    Anyone care to initiate the Law Society complaint?


  7. Go for it and let us know what happens.

    My guess is her argument would be she wasn’t providing legal services. That’s if the Society even took your complaint through a gap in the circled wagons.


  8. I talked with lawyers about whether or not McNeil was in conflict of law society rules. The consensus was that the professional body would be unlikely to uphold a complaint. However, that might be, as Lew suggests, the circled wagons syndrome. Doesn't mean it shouldn't be raised though. If they don't want to hold their members to account, that should be demonstrated.


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