Accountable Journalism, an international collaboration, published Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Journalists. The preamble begins with:
- The right to information, to freedom of expression and criticism is one of the fundamental rights of man.
- All rights and duties of a journalist originate from this right of the public to be informed on events and opinions.
- The journalist’s responsibility towards the public excels any other responsibility, particularly towards employers and public authorities.
The organization list a number of duties for journalists, including:
- To respect truth whatever be the consequence to himself, because of the right of the public to know the truth;
- To defend freedom of information, comment and criticism;
- To rectify any published information which is found to be inaccurate;
- Never to confuse the profession of a journalist with that of advertisements salesman or a propagandist and to refuse any direct or indirect orders from advertisers.
In British Columbia, ethical rules of news gathering are not always followed. Some offences are minor, others are significant.
This item from 2016 is still on the websites of Global News and other publications that circulated the article. In it, long-time political reporter Keith Baldrey soft-pedals financial problems at BC Hydro and misinforms readers. He reports “B.C.’s electricity costs amongst the lowest in North America.”
In fact, BC Hydro’s residential consumers paid an average of $ 0.111 in 2016, a rate that would not please other consumers in western North America, according to a survey of rates published by the US Energy Information Agency.
Baldrey was plain wrong in reporting on maintenance and payments to the province. He was repeating Liberal talking points when he wrote:
The NDP government of the 1990s also used B.C. Hydro for political purposes, and became the first one to extract an annual financial dividend from the Crown corporation. It also deferred much of the spending required for maintenance and refurbishment of B.C. Hydro’s various assets, which is part of the reason so much is being spent in that area now.
Fact checking is relatively simple. I can find no evidence the NDP government reduced operating budgets or deferred necessary maintenance at the province’s utility. I can though find that in 2011, Liberal Energy Minister Rich Coleman required $800-million in spending cuts, a move that reduced the company’s maintenance capabilities. As to who began taking dividends, we can consult BC Hydro’s Annual Report for 1990, a time when Social Credit and Premier Bill Vander Zalm were in power. The utility said this:
Under an Order-in-Council dated October 5, 1989, we are required to make an annual general distribution to the Province from our distributable surplus. For the year ended March 31, 1990, the Order required B.C. Hydro to make a payment of $130 million. This payment is comprised of the distribution declared on the preferred funding of $29 million and a general distribution of $101 million. For fiscal years subsequent to 1990 the distribution will be based on a percentage of net income for the year which will vary depending on our debt to equity ratio.
Lindsay Brown, an engaged and articulate citizen had much to say in Twitter about a book by a writer who works for a partner of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) and another, like Baldrey, employed by the Global News:
#1 – A few thoughts about the treatment of Site C in the otherwise well-crafted book by Rob Shaw & Richard Zussman, “A Matter of Confidence – The Inside Story of the Political Battle for BC.” Multiple sections on the Site C dam are factually inaccurate. It’s a problem.
#2 – If these journalists were less influential, & their book were not a BC bestseller, & they weren’t key members of the BC press gallery many of whose members have stubbornly repeated the same Site C errors, I’d leave it alone. But given their reach, the record must be corrected.
#3 – Eg p.112. They describe Christy appraising Site C: “The allure was simple: clean, environmentally friendly, sustainable, cheap, reliable hydroelectric power that, while maybe not needed right at this moment, would almost certainly be needed sometime in the province’s future.”
#4 – Where to start? Is this the voice of Christy & co or the authors? All sections on Site C suffer this historiographic problem. If these views belong to Clark/Horgan/MLAs/staff et al that’s one thing, but it’s never clear. The reader’s left to assume these are facts. They’re not.
#5 – For instance, the Joint Federal Provincial Review Panel on Site C showed that the project had more adverse environmental effects than any project in Canadian history. Dams are *not* environmentally friendly – due to methylmercury, methane & extensive enviro damage and more…
#6 – Furthermore if a dam destroys scarce farmland or habitat it’s not “sustainable.” Site C is *not* cheap, & BC Hydro is famous across the continent for consistently & wildly misjudging future demand. Why are the authors fudging this?
#7 – On p. 333, the section on BC Utilities Commission choosing not to issue a Site C recommendations? Incorrect. BCUC wasn’t tasked with that; Horgan said all along cabinet would make the decision. And, the BCUC’s conclusion re wind and geothermal power was compared to $8.8 bn price tag, not $10.7 bn.
#8 – Nor did the BCUC claim the project’s sunk costs were $4 bn. The BCUC said sunk costs were $2 bn. BC Hydro dubiously said remediation costs were $1.8 bn. Inflated cancellation/sunk/remediation costs for Site C are repeated over and over again by members of the BC press gallery.
#9 – Remediation would cost little; best estimates by most experts were far lower. Nothing has been built on the site other than a portable $500m work camp that can be moved, and the site can mostly remediate itself if left alone. Local First Nations agree.
#10 – Furthermore as financial experts like Eoin Finn pointed out, there’d be no loss of credit rating. BC Hydro can amortize cancellation costs to prevent sudden saddling of cost on govt. Govt’s promised programs were safe. The authors shouldn’t have repeated this canard as fact.
#11 – These mistakes/inaccuracies are thrown into sharp relief by 2 recently launched books on Site C: Sarah Cox’s riveting bestseller “Breaching the Peace” (UBC Press) & “Damming the Peace” (Lorimer) by some star experts, edited by agrologist Wendy Holm.
#12 – If you want to read painstakingly accurate reporting on Site C, buy/borrow the two aforementioned books by Sarah Cox and Wendy Holm. They are required reading for any British Columbian because they correct widespread misperceptions, & this boondoggle is going to affect all of us.
#13 – Final note: the BC Legislative press gallery’s lack of Site C research is also thrown into relief by regular diligent citizens. Bill Horne of Wells BC was able to compile this invaluable compendium of Site C info that’s has been absent from most BC media.
#14 – Friend just now: “how is it reporters from the New York Times were able to visit more places & people than BC Hydro’s officially sanctioned Site C tours would ever offer, ask more questions, & write far more comprehensive and substantial articles than Vaughn Palmer ever did?”
#15 – Not that it would necessarily yield results but we could still be demanding far more from mainstream media journalists in the BC press gallery on issues like Site C than we are currently getting.
Jeff Melland, a former Liberal caucus communications officer added a response:
A Matter of Confidence is not well crafted. As you show, the section on Site C is garbage. The section about me blowing the whistle on Quick Wins is bullshit. I wasn’t interviewed, but that isn’t mentioned. Christy Clark Crew spin presented as gospel truth.
Of course, I’ve yet to see a comprehensive report in corporate media about the $7.6 billion in tax expenditure subsidies granted natural gas producers in BC since 2007. Nor have we seen analysis by the Press Gallery gang explaining how $9.5 billion paid to independent power producers since 2007 involved BC Hydro paying IPPs about 3x market price.
Have a look at those responsibilities of journalism at the top and judge if we’ve been properly served.
From Bill Horne’s review of the NDP’s Site C messaging before the 2017 election. Click to download a PDF version with live links.