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CBC Management bungling of conflict issues making matters worse

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At the risk of appearing to be obsessed with the CBC’s ethical breaches, this is another blog on that whole issue, but this time from a crisis communications perspective.

Because of bungling of this issue by CBC management, it has become somewhat of a crisis for them. You may not have heard much about it, especially if you rely on CBC as your main source of news, but it has gotten traction elsewhere, in various newspapers and online publications, and it is a considerable buzz all over the internet.

I blogged about it first a couple of weeks ago, arguing that viewers have a right to know that when Rex Murphy rails against critics of the oil sands, that he is paid by that same oil industry to give speeches.  No problem with his comments, but he is in conflict and it should be declared, and if he wasn’t declaring it, the CBC should.

CBC’s extremely lame response was that CBC’s ethical standards don’t apply to him because he’s a freelancer.

Then the other shoe dropped when it came out that Peter Mansbridge as well, accepted oil sands money to speak. That could explain the CBC’s reluctance to force Murphy to declare his conflict, but it creates quite the problem for CBC management, because the freelancer excuse certainly wouldn’t apply to their Chief Correspondent.

So what is the explanation?

Well, so far there isn’t one. The closest we get is a blog from Mansbridge in which he says that management gave him permission, and that that spoke only about journalism, as if this was about the content. He avoided the real issue – the fact that money changed hands. And from CBC Editor in Chief Janet McGuire, the same person who said Murphy doesn’t have to declare his conflict because he’s not on staff, comes only a comment that their policies are being reviewed.

But that’s as inadequate as her freelancer excuse, because the CBC Code of Ethics already states that what Mansbridge did was a no-no. No review is necessary, just an enforcement of the rules that already exist.

What makes it a crisis issue is that it hits directly at the issue of the CBC’s credibility. For any news organization, credibility is its currency. Without it, you have nothing of value to offer. The CBC I remember got that and took it seriously.

But what’s going on now has diminished CBC’s credibility and the fact CBC management is continuing to bungle the handling of it only makes it worse.  Hoping an issue goes away is not a good crisis communications strategy.

This is not rocket science. Peter Mansbridge simply has to tell us it was a lapse in judgment and apologize.  And CBC management has to tell us it values its credibility and will be more vigilant from here on.

Until it is dealt with Mansbridge will continue to be the elephant in the room whenever ethical issues arise.  If they continue to ignore it, it sends the message that the CBC’s credibility is not that important to them.

Does it matter? I just watched the Sunday night edition of The National, which included excellent coverage on Ukraine from Susan Ormiston, one of many outstanding CBC journalists. There is nothing to suggest her reports aren’t professional in every respect, and the same with those of her counterparts. But it reflects on them that they work for an organization where ethical standards, at least at the moment, aren’t what they used to be, or should be. It opens the door for viewers to wonder, and that’s unfair to them. So yes, it matters.   

So why the unconvincing response? Why is nobody at CBC standing up and addressing this – saying they value the public trust and will do what they need to do to restore it? Instead, lame excuses and silence.

I should add that while CBC management is twiddling its collection thumbs, the issue has been discussed in panels and interviews on CBC’s The Current, As It Happens, and Q. And good on them. Might not be the best career move, but it shows some producers get it even if their masters don’t.

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