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Television CBC reverses ban on journalist over Ghomeshi-Mansbridge remark

Retired CBC journalist Linden MacIntyre  stands outside the offices of his book publisher Random House in downtown Toronto on Nov. 17, 2014.

John Hryniuk/The Globe and Mail

A senior CBC manager who sought to punish Linden MacIntyre for indelicate comments he made comparing Peter Mansbridge to disgraced radio host Jian Ghomeshi was forced to back down Thursday after her bosses reversed an unusual directive she had issued barring the fifth estate journalist from appearing on the network's cable news channel.

In a memo issued late Wednesday night, Jennifer Harwood, the managing editor of CBC News Network, told on-air staff "we are cancelling any interviews with Linden MacIntyre … ahead of this Friday's scheduled episode of The Fifth Estate."

She said the move was in response to "a disgraceful comment that is unfair and untrue.

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"It's time to stand up for Peter. And stand up for what's good and right at the CBC."

She added: "NN [News Network] Execs and The Fifth Estate are aware that we are cancelling all Linden MacIntyre interviews on NN."

Hours earlier, The Globe and Mail had published an interview with Mr. MacIntyre in which he seemed to hint at bullying behaviour by Mr. Mansbridge as well as the late CBC Radio host Peter Gzowski.

The comments set off a wave of anger among staff and managers who have been left reeling in recent weeks by revelations of alleged workplace abuse, and worse, by Mr. Ghomeshi.

But the head of CBC's news operations declared that Ms. Harwood's drastic prescription contravened the network's "rigorous" standards, and said she had not cleared her plan with network executives.

"Our airwaves are not for personal use," said Jennifer McGuire, the general manager and editor-in-chief of CBC News and Centres. "It's a public trust, and we do not make editorial decisions based on bad press or relationships or anything. That's not the editorial filter we use."

Ms. McGuire added that Ms. Harwood did not have the power to ban guests, anyway.

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"The idea that Linden MacIntyre would be barred from the News Network is not true and is not what is going to happen."

In The Globe interview, Mr. MacIntyre cited Mr. Ghomeshi's "tantrums," and said "he is allowed to bully and abuse people. You know, that's the way it works, that's what you put up with, whether it's Mansbridge, [Peter] Gzowski, whatever. They were not like shrinking violets, either. So along comes Ghomeshi: 'Oh, yea, he's in the tradition of that.' But somewhere along the way, it crosses a line. It does cross a line."

On Thursday morning, Mr. MacIntyre, who is leaving the CBC after 38 years at the broadcaster, including 24 years at the fifth estate, said he regretted his choice of words but stood by the essence of his comment.

"I can understand people may have been provoked by an unfortunate juxtaposition in which I allowed the names of people like Peter Mansbridge and Peter Gzowski to enter into the same thought [as Jian Ghomeshi], in which I was trying to explain the phenomenon of abusive stardom," he said.

"I've already apologized to Peter [Mansbridge], because I had absolutely no intention of including him or Peter Gzowski in the same frame as someone who is being investigated by the police for such extraordinary abuse that it is, certainly in my experience, unusual.

"[I was] trying to make a larger point in a spontaneous conversation, and I was careless and maybe even thoughtless. But I'm really bothered that the focus on what I believe to be a small detail seems to be obscuring the larger point I'm trying to make, which is that institutions like the CBC really have to be more careful about looking after vulnerable employees."

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On Thursday afternoon, Ms. Harwood issued a second memo, saying the ban was shortsighted. "I recognize that cancelling promotion of an important piece of journalism only hurts CBC News. That was never my goal, and our intention is to have Linden on CBC News Network tomorrow," she wrote. "My note was written in the heat of the moment. Linden has now apologized. I think it is time to move on."

She did not offer an apology.

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