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The Globe and Mail

CBC defends hiring Conservative spin doctor

Kory Teneycke, director of communications for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaks to reporters at the Conservative Paty national caucus retreat in in Levis, Que., on July 30, 2008.

MATHIEU BELANGER/Mathieu Belanger/Reuters

Kory Teneycke is a highly partisan political commentator but so what. His occasional paid appearances on CBC news programs do not break the public broadcaster's rules around journalistic standards and practices, it argues.

"He does not appear in any journalistic capacity … [which]brings with it the onus of fairness and impartiality," CBC editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire writes, dismissing a complaint from NDP heritage critic Charlie Angus about the former Harper spin doctor's employment. "Rather, he speaks … as a sometimes highly partisan political commentator."

Ms. McGuire notes that Mr. Teneycke also declares his biases on air and that he is not a full-time employee - he is compensated "as per our normal terms … commensurate with the appearances he makes."

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In a letter to CBC ombudsman Vince Carlin this week, Mr. Angus asserted the CBC's employment of the Prime Minister's former director of communications is a " flagrant violation" of the broadcaster's hiring practices that state there is to be a two-year cooling off period between a partisan's departure from his or her political party or pressure group and their employment by the broadcaster.

Mr. Teneycke left the PMO about nine months ago. He is being paid for making between eight and 10 appearances a month on several high-profile CBC political programs, including The National, Power & Politics and CBC Radio's The House.

But since he is not a journalist and not reporting for the network, the CBC says he is good to go. "We have been completely transparent with our audiences about his affiliations and employment background," Ms. McGuire writes, "including his recent position as spokesperson within the Prime Minister's Office."

Mr. Teneycke has been caught up in Ottawa's so-called culture wars ever since he and EKOS pollster Frank Graves appeared together on Power & Politics. During a testy exchange, Mr. Teneycke accused Mr. Graves of being a Liberal partisan, demanding the pollster declare his bias.

Mr. Graves came under intense fire - with Mr. Teneycke among those leading the charge - from the Conservatives after he was quoted in a Globe and Mail column suggesting the Liberals mount a culture war against the Tories. It appeared he had given this advice directly to the party. The pollster, however, has never done paid work for the Liberals - but he has received several contracts from the Harper government.

Ms. McGuire says CBC News "is and will remain politically neutral and scrupulously fair" in its news coverage.

The Teneycke/Graves imbroglio, meanwhile, has been keeping her very busy. Last week, she dismissed a complaint from Conservative Party president John Walsh that the broadcaster had a decidedly Grit bias because it used Mr. Graves as one of its pollsters.

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"We have reviewed this important point with Mr. Graves and confirmed that no client relationship with the Liberal Party of Canada exists," she wrote. "While we assume that individuals do cast ballots in elections, we do not require firms or individuals to report on their voting history or donations to political organizations."

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