If you wrote to the CBC ombudsman to complain about Amanda Lang's apparent conflict-of- interest antics after she accepted money from the insurer Manulife for moderating a pair of seminars, and from Sun Life for giving a speech, and many of you did, you've probably had a reply by now.
You probably got this: "Thank you for your letter to the CBC Ombudsman expressing concerns about the published reports which raised questions about the ethics of our Senior Business Correspondent Amanda Lang. This brief note is simply to apologize for the fact that we have not yet replied to you. CBC is conducting a journalistic review into this matter. After it is complete, we will be able to offer you a proper response. Thank you for your patience."
Patience, indeed. As usual, CBC moves slowly. So slowly that, in truth, while CBC has entered the digital age, it has yet to enter the ethical age.
That is where we are now. Brian Williams's embellishments exposed and admitted, and a six-months suspension by NBC. As I write this, Bill O'Reilly, the chief ranter on Fox News, is trying to deflect suggestions that he embellishes when he asserts he's reported from active war zones. He's livid. He went all Tony Soprano with The New York Times. If he decided the reporter's coverage was "inappropriate," he declared, "I am coming after you with everything I have. You can take it as a threat."
In New Brunswick, two senior editors at the Moncton Times & Transcript are gone, after an investigation into one editor's acceptance of a trip to "Larry's Gulch," the provincial government's fishing lodge. Global News anchor Leslie Roberts resigned after an internal investigation following the revelation that he was part-owner of a PR company; the company's clients had appeared on Global and he had not disclosed his involvement to his employer.
For better or worse, this ethical age is under way and judgments are swift. What matters is the embellishment of reporting experience and taking money and free trips from groups or organizations that might come under your purview as a journalist. Right now, those are the crucial factors.
In the newspaper racket, rules have been clear and explicit for a long time. For instance, I cannot take a fee from any broadcaster. I cannot do junkets wherein costs of travel and accommodation are covered by broadcasters or studios I might write about. (Though the rules are different in one part of our operation, the Travel section, where writers can accept trips, though all such arrangements are disclosed and no organization or tourist board is allowed to review or approve articles before publication.)
In the TV racket, it seems, the issues of ethics, integrity and transparency are allowed to become fuzzy. Partly, it's the theatrical aspect of TV that allows this to happen. A good deal of what unfolds on TV under the guise of "news" or "reporting" is no such thing. It's theatre. It's unreal. Thus, the normal rules don't seem real.
It's the rules that are, presumably, causing the "journalistic review" to move at a glacial pace. The CBC rules, you see. One has the feeling that in the end, the Lang situation will be about adherence to CBC's internal, complicated rules. Rules that have shifted as CBC bosses attempt to halt, too late, the appearance of conflicts. And so it will likely be a matter of this-rule-then and that-rule-now and, well, who can keep up with all the changes.
There is clearly a can of worms inside CBC's news division. The ombudsman asks for patience. Patience, my posterior. The world has moved swiftly into the ethical age, while CBC lags behind.
Transforming Gender (CBC, 9 p.m. on Doc Zone) opens with a young person saying "I just didn't feel right. I thought, 'Am I in the right body?'" It's a touching, forthright study of 11 transgendered Canadians (born one sex, but identifying as another) who speak about their lives and their change in identity. In its promotional material CBC says, "The battle over the rights and freedoms of transgender individuals is the first great civil rights struggle of the 21st century." That might be a stretch but without doubt the issue is disruptive for many people. On the program, which never veers into sensationalism, a psychotherapist says, "It's perfectly natural to be trans. It's just one of the ways life works on this planet." An illuminating aspect of the doc – directed by Marc de Guerre – is that while "perfectly natural" can be asserted, pain and confusion are part of the journey for so many trans people.
How to Get Away with Murder (ABC, CTV, 9 p.m.) has its two-hour finale tonight. What a great thrill ride it has been – all sumptuous plotting and delicious twists. Tonight, the summary says, "The shocking truth is revealed." Well, we bloody well hope so. Who murdered that poor girl Lila and why? Viola Davis has been brilliant as the mind-numbingly complex lawyer Annalise Keating. More of that, please.