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Following conflict-of-interest allegations, CBC bans on-air journalists from making paid appearances

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. is banning all outside paid appearances by its on-air journalists, after almost a year of controversy over allegations of potential conflicts-of-interest.

In a memo issued Thursday afternoon, the heads of news for the broadcaster's separate English and French-language services told staff: "Given that paid appearances can create an adverse impact on the Corporation, CBC/Radio-Canada will no longer approve paid appearances by its on-air journalistic employees." The memo explained that, "a changing environment in which the public expects more transparency from institutions and the media is making the practice of paid outside activities for our journalists less acceptable to audiences."

Journalists will now be barred from accepting any form of payment from third parties, including reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses.

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The memo was signed by Jennifer McGuire, the general manager and editor-in-chief of CBC News and Centres, and Michel Cormier, the executive director of Radio-Canada's news and current affairs operations.

The CBC's union blasted the move, saying in a communique to Canadian Media Guild members that the new policy is "a clear violation of our collective agreement, an infringement on our members' rights and a dangerous precedent. The CBC took this unilateral decision without input and agreement from your union."

The move comes one month after reports that Amanda Lang, the CBC's senior business correspondent, accepted money last summer from the insurer Manulife for moderating a pair of seminars, and from Sun Life for giving a speech. This week, the former CBC journalist Frank Koller noted on his blog that, in addition to Ms. Lang, the broadcaster's chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge has taken appearance fees from outside organizations in the past few months, as has Dianne Buckner, Diana Swain and Evan Solomon.

The new policy does not cover freelance talent, such as Rex Murphy, who has been criticized for accepting money from oil-industry lobby groups. Nor does it cover behind-the-scenes journalists.

Last winter, after reports that Mr. Mansbridge had accepted speaking fees from outside organizations, including the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, he defended himself by saying that he gives perhaps 20 speeches a year, about half of which are paid. "In some of those cases I donate part of the fee to a local charity; in some others I donate all the fee," he wrote in a blog post on the CBC website. "Giving speeches involves preparation and in many cases, because of travel back and forth across the country, it also means giving up substantial family time."

Nevertheless, critics felt it was inappropriate for Mr. Mansbridge to accept money from companies or organizations engaged in industries that might be covered by CBC-TV's flagship news program, The National, which he anchors.

In response, last April CBC changed its policies around appearances, pledging to be more transparent by listing on its website all of the paid and unpaid appearances made by reporters and hosts. Ms. McGuire pledged then that CBC would "reject requests from companies, political parties or other groups which make a significant effort to lobby or otherwise influence public policy, even if the speech or event seems innocuous."

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But inside CBC, some executives continued to agitate for more change.

Some questioned why the new policy applies to only on-air journalists. "I'm not sure I understand the logic of it," said Ivor Shapiro, the chair of the ethics advisory committee of the Canadian Association of Journalists. "Would it not be a problem for the executive producer of As It Happens or Sunday Edition to accept a paid appearance, or to speak to a lobby group?"

The move brings the public broadcaster into line with a number of other news organizations across the country.

The Globe and Mail's editorial code of conduct permits staff to make paid speeches and other paid appearances, subject to conditions. Permission for such appearances "will generally be denied to any writer or editor routinely involved in coverage affecting the organization making the payment." Columnists "with wide-ranging mandates are not automatically barred from accepting paid engagements from every organization about which they may have occasion to write, but careful judgment is required. When it is relevant, columnists may be required to disclose in their columns that they have received payment from specific organizations."

Some CBC workers responded to the announcement with aplomb and good humour. Radio host Piya Chattopadhyay tweeted: "Guess I won't be able to afford the yacht or country home now."

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About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More

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