Thursday, February 27, 2014

The CBC Responds To My Complaint About Rex Murphy



I received the following email yesterday from Jack Nagler, Director of Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement at the CBC, regarding my conflict of interest complaint about Rex Murphy. Because the review is ongoing, I am treating this only as an interim response. I therefore present the letter with no commentary on my part, but please feel free, as always, to express your own views here.

Thank you for your Feb. 5th email to the CBC Ombudsman about Rex Murphy. There have been suggestions he is in a conflict of interest because he has given paid speeches to groups supportive of the oil industry, and suggestions that the CBC should have disclosed this fact when he addressed the subject of Neil Young’s anti-oilsands initiative on The National last month.

While I don’t believe there is a conflict of interest, there is a serious issue about transparency, one that we are reviewing at the moment.

But let me address both concerns.

On the question of Mr. Murphy and the alleged conflict of interest:

First, Mr. Murphy is not a full-time employee of CBC News He is a self-employeed freelance. He does some work for CBC. He also does outside work, including speaking engagements.

Second, -- and I want to emphasize this -- the very reason Mr. Murphy appears on The National is to do analysis and express his point of view – he is not a regular reporter. We even call his segment on the program “Rex Murphy’s Point of View" to distinguish it from regular reports. His perspective on the oilsands, whether viewers agree with it or not, is an analytical argument based on facts, and is perfectly valid commentary.

He has been utterly consistent in expressing those views for a long time, and he makes the same broad points whether he is talking on The National, in a newspaper, or in a speech at a public event. We have no reason to question the independence and integrity of those views. That is important. Yes, Mr. Murphy holds an opinion that people in the oilpatch may like and agree with. But it is a considerable leap in logic to suggest that he is therefore in the pocket of this industry.

There is much more detail on all this included in a recent blog post by CBC News General Manager and Editor-in-Chief Jennifer McGuire, which I encourage you to read at: http://www.cbc.ca/newsblogs/community/editorsblog/2014/02/a-question-of-conflict.html

You might also be interested in what Mr. Murphy himself had to say in response to the critique of his ethics. He wrote an op-ed piece this past weekend in The National Post that you can find at: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2014/02/22/rex-murphy-speaking-my-mind-no-matter-the-issue/

Third, the most important consideration for us is whether we are providing our audience with a varied and balanced perspective on an issue as important as oilsands development – and I believe we are. You may note that Mr. Murphy’s “Point of View” segment criticizing Neil Young was a response to a feature interview The National aired with Mr. Young two days earlier. There’s no other national newscast that gave Mr. Young and his views that kind of platform. It’s all part of us fulfilling our mandate as the public broadcaster to reflect diverse opinions and to offer Canadians the opportunity and the information they need to make up their own minds.

The other question, as I noted at the beginning, is that of disclosure: what information can and should we share with the audience about the outside activities of freelance contributors to on CBC News?

In policy and practice we support the idea of transparency, not just for Rex Murphy but for all of our contributors. But implementing this is not always as simple as it sounds.

There are a set of complicating factors, ranging from how much we can legally demand of our freelancers, to privacy rights of our employees, to what constitutes “full disclosure”. Is it only paid speeches we should disclose? Or do we need to be concerned about journalists who attend charity events, or moderate a public forum? Does the content of a speech matter, or does the mere act of getting in front of a lectern make it a question of public concern? And finally, how do we share the disclosure so the audience can properly judge for themselves what’s appropriate?

All are good questions. In light of your concerns and those of others about Mr. Murphy, our senior editors are reviewing the way we deal with the issue to ensure we are appropriately transparent with our viewers. I expect that review will be completed in the next few weeks. When it is we’ll be sure to post it. In the meantime, we thank you for your patience.

You should also be aware that the CBC Ombudsman has already launched a separate review of this subject. The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent and impartial body reporting directly to the President, is responsible for evaluating program compliance with the CBC's journalistic policies. When that review is complete, it will be posted on the Ombudsman's website at www.cbc.ca/ombudsman.

I hope this response has reassured you of the integrity of our news service, as well as our willingness and desire to serve Canadians properly.

Sincerely,

Jack Nagler

Director of Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement,

CBC News

27 comments:

  1. Lorne, Rex Murphy also scares kids.

    He is a fellow Atlantic Canadian so I won't say too much about him.

    I get the feeling from the response that nothing more will be done. It looks ombudsman will exonerate him. Main excuse seems to be that he is not a journalist. It is like anyone involved in Oil Sands has a right to express their opinion seems to be the jist of the response.

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    1. That may well be, LD. However, I am a reasonably patient man, and will give the CBC as much time as they need before I consider any further moves.

      P.S. It is not just children he scares. ;)

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    2. CBC should still indicate in a super that he is a proponent of, for instance, oil sands, if his The National commentary touches that. Or he should state it. People have gotten the impression he reports and analyzes from a point of view of objectivity. The CBC let that occur over the years regardless of what they call His Point of View. The second matter that is NOT addressed is that he hosts Cross Country CheckUP. Hosts of the show actually perform a journalistic function (it can be argued) and should not be out making speakings. At the very least, there should be a disclaimer. People associate the CBC with journalistic ethics and so when they see someone, especially on CBC Radio, the assumption is that they are impartial.

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  2. I agree that Rex Murphy is a tool. But this response by the CBC was thorough, and pretty reasonable.

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    1. As an interim response, greencanada, I agree.

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  3. Lorne, I thought the tone of the response was reasonable for an interim response.

    However, the main point has always been that the CBC and Murphy should have disclosed the potential conflict of interest, regardless of whether he was a paid employee or freelancer. Just as CBC had disclosed the potential conflicts in the cases of Bruce Anderson and Goldhawk. The fact that this had not been done with Murphy clearly suggested a double standard for Murphy. Mitrovica had clearly explained this in his series of well written articles in iPolitics over the past month or so.

    Just because Murphy had consistently supported the development of the oilsands does not necessarily mean that his "opinion" had not been shaped by the fees/honorariums he had been taking from this industry. Murphy has so far steadfastly refused to reveal the extent of his involvement (how much, how often, how long he had been doing this). Money talks, big money talks even louder. It would be disingenuous on the part of CBC, if they are suggesting otherwise (it is not apparent currently that they are). It would also be disingenuous to try to deflect the seriousness of the charges that had been laid against both Murphy and CBC in regard to what looked to many like a failure in journalistic ethics.

    I await with interest your update on this. It will be interesting to see if anything substantial comes out of the review. However, I am not holding my breath. CBC in the past few years seems to be turning more and more into our second state broadcaster (its critics already call it the Conservative Broadcasting Corp.).

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful analysis, Anon. I shall post any updates as they become available.

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  4. greencanada, it is a lengthy response but 'thorough'? I don't know.Jack Nagler has kind of exonerated Murphy.

    Lorne, I doubt it that Ombudsman will give any different response. Then maybe he will find problems. You have to wait.

    Murphy is creating jobs for himself through his commentary.

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    1. We shall see, LD. I am heartened, however, by the number of people who pounced on this issue, as indicated by Nagler's reference to the concerns expressed by others in addition to me. CBC is perhaps aware that this issue is not something that can be simply ignored.

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  5. That was a very politically crafted response that echoes what has been set as the CBC's 'company line.' Rex, it seems, is possessed of guest worker 'get out of jail free' immunity which they would explain to you if they hadn't already concluded you were too dim to get it. And, besides, didn't you read T-Rex Murphy's brilliant absolution of Rex Murphy in the National Post? That's a newspaper, you know. They print stuff - on actual paper too. Paper comes from trees and Canada is all about trees, ya know - so there's your answer.

    But this is all interim, you know. We'll look into this a bit more and get back to you, sure. Just don't call us, we'll call you. And thanks for playing the home game.

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    1. When I was a teacher, Mound, I always advised my students to steer clear of the temptation to plagiarize. I warned them that I was something of a pitbull when I suspected it had occurred, never giving up until I had either confirmed or allayed my suspicions. In fact, I remember spending close to three hours one Sunday trying to find out the sources of a suspected case.

      While I realize this is a different situation, and that I lack the authority I had in the classroom, I bring the same approach to situations presented by people like Murphy and the CBC.

      We shall see if there is any satisfaction forthcoming; if there isn't, I shall pursue the matter as far as I can.

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  6. .. there's a submerged.. hidden principle working here.. and Rex Murphy is simply another clue. People, Canadian people .. are slowly but surely absorbing impressions.. of the tar sands, the pipelines, the fracking, the Chinese, the loud politicians, the lobbyists, the global warming deniers, premiers, political jackals, Environment Ministers.. and so on..

    How does Rex Murphy stack up versus Rick Mercer to the average Canadian ? How does Joe Oliver add up versus Franke James or David Schindler.. Harper vs a Supreme Court Judge .. or an eleven year old student? Every brick in the wall, closes Stephen Harper et al into their own legacy prison.. Malice, Greed, Deceit, Obstruction, Fraud.. Do we really think Canadians don't observe, measure and feel their way, with common sense & their personal and Canadian values?

    The recent classic was Brad Butt & the ludicrous attempt by Peter Van Loan to defend deceit, cowardice and idiocy over true democracy, truth and respect.. Does anyone think that choice example of The Harper Party won't be woven into the permanent history of The Harper Government 'values' ?? Or Harper, re Nigel Wright resigned or was fired by Harper.. and now Nigel and the Harper Party have the same lawyer ??

    Does anyone truly care about the convoluted and lame gymnastics performed by CBC ? In the big picture no .. its more likely we refer to see Rex Murphy act like an ethical buffoon.. and reinforce how we actually perceive the tar sands..

    In the long run.. Rex braying .. or Joe Oliver or S Harper shrugging and being 'perfectly clear' do not compare to an oil drenched duck, a starved caribou, a poisoned eagle or dying wolf & her cubs... in the minds and hearts of Canadians..

    Go ahead Rex, or Stevie or Joe.. rationalize killing all the beaver, caribou, bear, wolverine, crows... chase off the First Nations in the Alberta boreal.. and try to change our currency.. our coins to reflect what you think .. are Canadian Values.. Put a tailings pond on the loonie.. a pipeline to China on the dime & get rid of The Bluenose.. maybe Pierre Poilievre can help with that .. and Tony Clement could advise on a gazebo for the toonie

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    1. What you have outlined here, Salamander, is a series of vivid and powerful contrasts. In an earlier comment, you talked about a campaign to win the hearts and minds of Canadians. I think you have the basis for it here. Well done!

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  7. .. So .. CBC should be falling over themselves to book Franke James ?
    Certainly she'd blow jaded compromised Rex off the map ...
    Refreshing, bright, honest, sparkling, informed, contemporary, creative ..

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    1. An articulate and well-informed lady, she would be more than a match for old Rex, Salamander.

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  8. hi Lorne...Thanks to your excellent efforts we now know how the CBC cabal thinks, and no wonder their programming is tanking. I've never read such corporate bullshit in my life. I'll have to try to tackle that steaming heap as soon as I have the energy and a shovel. But all I can say is, never mind the shameless shilling for Big Oil. Do they not see a problem with an extreme right-wing kook climate change denier expounding his deranged views on their flagship news show, night after night, year after year, without having somebody challenge him? I'd like to think that they are all Cons, but I strongly suspect they're just incredibly dumb...

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    1. Hi Simon,
      As I have said before, I truly believe the powers-that-be at the CBC are involved in an ongoing and quite futile policy of appeasement of the Conservatives. Somehow, old Rex has become the chief mascot of that policy. I can't help but wonder had the Corporation received similar complaints about a regular progressive commentator, (if it had one), response would have been swift and decisive.

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  9. CBC should still indicate in a super that he is a proponent of, for instance, oil sands, if his The National commentary touches that. Or he should state it. People have gotten the impression he reports and analyzes from a point of view of objectivity. The CBC let that occur over the years regardless of what they call His Point of View. The second matter that is NOT addressed is that he hosts Cross Country CheckUP. Hosts of the show actually perform a journalistic function (it can be argued) and should not be out making speakings. At the very least, there should be a disclaimer. People associate the CBC with journalistic ethics and so when they see someone, especially on CBC Radio, the assumption is that they are impartial

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    1. Points well-taken, Anon. For many years I listened to Cross Country Checkup, and my assumption about its host was the same as you suggest. I rarely listen to it now, but when I do, I always listen carefully for the way Rex reacts to his callers and the kinds of counterarguments he might offer to see if I can detect his bias.

      Will CBC ever put in the provisos you suggest? I am doubtful, simply because it would be an admission of things the Corporation would rather not admit to.

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    1. Very interesting, Sandra. Let us make sure that his response doesn't become the final word on this issue.

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  11. Hi Lorne, first time reader. First, thank you for your discussion of this issue. Second, Nagler emails everyone with the same response. Third, Nagler attempts to evade the issue with the "it's complicated" route. There are certainly degrees of conflict of interest, but once payment for a speech by a special interest group occurs, this quite easily fits what is defined as a clear conflict of interest. If Mr Nagler seeks to redefine what amounts to COI, that's another issue.

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    1. Hi Sandra, I am still awaiting the CBC's final decisions on the issue, and you make a very good point here about redefining conflict of interest. If I have further communications with the Corporation on this matter, I hope you won't mind if I incorporate that point.

      There was a very interesting discussion about conflict of interest and journalists taking paid-speaking engagements this morning on the last part of the radio show The Current. If it is available as a podcast, I shall put a link to it on my blog later. Both the situation of Peter Mansbridge, with his paid speech to CAPP, and the now-infamous Rex Murphy figured prominently in the discussion.

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  12. You may find the last two posts on my blog of interest:
    http://mediatrends-research.blogspot.ca

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    1. Thank you, Barry. Your posts make for some very interesting reading on the topic of the CBC.

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  13. Why is Rex Murphy no longer seen on his usual Thursday night spot on CBC television?

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    1. I don't know, 10Nat34, but I consider it a blessing.

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