Journalism

Unreliable narrators

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.

rates 140

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.

NDP-preelection-msg-Hansard

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Categories: Journalism, Site C

19 replies »

  1. We should have a rating system for the journalists, and give a surpise to the worst one fudging the truth so as the feeling of social truth for them is an eternal one and unchanging no matter what in corruption’s name happens. Something like the Darwin award, or the Flat Earth prize article of the year.
    How about the “Fibber Prize”
    At least its then a social accomplishment we can see.
    Who wants to join in living in a closet with these people?
    Any suggestions?
    Hugh

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  2. I figured out long before my children were born what “Freedom of the Press” really means. There are sayings by various people that allude this. Like; “We can’t have facts get in the way of a good story” or by Samual Clements “If one doesn’t read newspapers they are uniformed and if one reads newspapers they are misinformed”. I go along with Hugh and have a fibber prize with a Pinochio puppet (with strings attached) as the trophy.

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  3. I have sent many emails to reporters about Site C. My main complaint was that they never mentioned Muskrat Falls or Keeyask projects. Both were politically driven and both are financial disasters. Both were well the way before Christy started Site C. A disservice to BC.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Accountability has been sidelined by the idea of “snippets” or “sound bytes”. Politics have been dumbed down to flashes of possible promises of something in the future. We do not elect people but the possibility of an idea. And we must remember that the ideas are just that, ideas to get votes and then dispensed with the next sound byte. And if that sounds critical and depressing, it is meant to be.

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  5. The last section of this CBC article about Christy Clark and records deletion http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/christy-clark-deleted-emails-1.3286209 reads:

    **”I don’t govern through emails, I govern through the meetings we have,” she said.
    She said that most decisions are made in cabinet, and those records are publicly available.
    With files from Richard Zussman**

    So Christy says records of cabinet deliberations are publicly available, and Richard Zussman and the CBC print that statement without challenge, especially with regard to how her government used sections 12 and 13 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. I’m not surprised a book authored by Zussman and Rob Shaw would be criticized for factual problems. Here is an example of Mr. Shaw’s work, which in my view should have immediately disqualified him as either a credible or unbiased journalist:
    http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Finance+minister+learned+frugality+Fraser+Valley+farm/11076449/story.html

    The fourth estate has long been recognized as a key pillar of democracy, and has almost as long been the target of those with the means and the motive to diminish it. What’s particularly worrisome is that the danger is increasingly coming from within, including the estate’s ownership. It’s long been my view that some journalists are a danger to the fourth estate and therefore our democracy because they know exactly what they are doing, while others are dangerous because they don’t. RossK has a useful compendium of reports at https://pacificgazette.blogspot.ca/search?q=keef+report&max-results=20&by-date=true to assist in determining where Mr. Baldrey fits in this regard.

    Either way, the employers of these (un)witting Trojans are using them against the public interest.

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    • Bet you really love this paragraph from the Liberal Party publicist writing for Vancouver Sun:

      “De Jong was roundly criticized for letting civil servants cut a deal that had taxpayers pay $6 million in legal bills to former ministerial aides Dave Basi and Bobby Virk, after they pleaded guilty to four charges of breach of trust and accepting benefits in the BC Rail scandal.”

      Sure, it was all the work of civil servants who spent millions and gave up government security wihout so much as a nod from cabinet ministers, even though the savvy senior civil servants were prohibited by statute and regulation from doing that very thing.

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      • That one paragraph alone has so many angles revealing shoddy journalism it makes one’s head hurt.

        De Jong was “roundly criticized” for the deal by some of Shaw’s workmates all right. Roundly around the circumference without travelling anywhere near the centre or getting their hands dirty. Citizen bloggers did the heavy work on the questions, but they cannot go into corners where the puffed-up accredited journalists have access, so the questions remain unanswered. I recall a January 04, 2011 CKNW radio interview wherein de Jong challenged Mike Smyth during one of his contradictory explanations (which itself was false), and Smyth folded like an origami napkin. He hadn’t (and still hasn’t) done his homework so couldn’t confront the falsehood. Poor journalism. Jas Johal published leaked documents proving illegality and then ran from the case entirely with nary a disparaging word before joining the perpetrators’ team. No one at Global picked up the ball. Poor journalism. Not one local journalist has the courage to publicly question the legality of the government’s actions in the face of a very strong prima facie case of illegality. Jon McComb at CKNW won’t even acknowledge receipt of my questions, despite being politely requested to at least do that. Poor journalism.

        Even in normal times it can take six months or more in a government bureaucracy to get consensus and approval to move the damn photocopier from one side of the office floor to the other. At the time the deal was made Gordon Campbell was micro managing and bullying his government to the extent Bill Bennett claimed cabinet was almost suffering from “battered wife syndrome”. We’re supposed to believe that in that climate a couple of deputies would decide in four days to blow off $6.4 million to illegally induce the plea of two defendants in a very high profile criminal trial with huge political ramifications without thinking their asses were covered? Not bloody likely.

        Mr. Shaw says a deal was cut with the defendants involving the exchange of $6 million and guilty pleas. It certainly was. And it followed to a “T” the model that former Attorney General Geoff Plant (and much jurisprudence) says would be illegal. Maybe Mr. Shaw can tell us what his journalistic duty is in that regard. When he’s finished scraping farmer de Jong’s manure off his boots, of course. I’d ask him, but he has me blocked on Twitter, and just like his editor doesn’t answer my e-mails.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Update on one of our local journalists tonight. Bill Good told me on Twitter when I asked for his view on whether the deal to end the BC Rail trial was legal, “Actually I don’t have to have one. You obviously do. I believe two people pleaded guilty. I never covered the trial. I haven’t thought about the case for years.”

          There you have it from the man himself. Bill Good never covered the BC Rail trial. So don’t bother asking him about it.

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  6. Journalists have LOST their moral compass. Report FACTS period. I neither want nor deserve you warped political propaganda opinion. If you reoport fACTS period, you are a Journalist. If you report opinion you are no more than a propagandist and I don’t want to hear it EVER,.

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  7. I wouldn’t be able to look at myself in the mirror everyday if i knew i had no professional integrity. 38% of BC voters thinks that the BC “Liberals” are financially competent. We heard fast ferries repeated ad nauseam for over a decade but finding out ICBC was bankrupt 7 days after the election was basically blown off by the media and now its just “the NDP is raising rates to take your money from you”. I used to listen to CKNW from Frosty to the old radio dramas that would come on at night, now it’s transparently biased Fraser Institute talking points or cat video fluff. I had hopes that Jon Mccomb would speak truth to power but he seems to have fallen in line pretty quick after the election. When Keith or Vaughn or Smyth or even Gord McDonald says something demonstrably biased or false Rafe would have torn them apart, but would someone like him even get hired by Corus now?

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  8. I wonder what Messrs. Palmer and Baldrey think when they see stories such as the one about a Hutterite colony in Alberta that has set up a 2 MegaWatt solar farm. (Link below.)

    Let’s do the math. They’d need 550 such solar farms to equal the proposed 1,100 MW output of Site C. The Hutterites saved some coin by supplying the labour on their small solar farm, spending a total of $4.8 million.

    $4.8 million X 550 would SURELY be way more than BC Hydro would spend on Site C, right?

    Wrong.

    $2.64 billion in Hutterite solar would equal Site C’s hydro output.

    In other words: what has already been spent at Site C could have had a 1,100 MW in solar farms up and running. Of course, it would be ridiculous to build large solar farms all at once, since there is no need for new power, currently — but look at what we could have, for far less money than Site C or private run-of-river.

    http://www.greenenergyfutures.ca/episode/hutterite-solar-western-canada-biggest

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  9. Further, the Upper Nicola Band is partnering with Fortis to build a 15 MW solar farm near Merritt — pending approval by band members.

    Doing the math again: 15 MW X 73 Merritt solar farms would equal Site C’s output.

    $30 million X 73 = $2.2 billion. Yes, the solar farms don’t work at night… but they could do the heavy lifting during the day and let the dams work at night.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/solar-farm-merritt-upper-nicola-1.4583370

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