CBC ombudsman looks at speaking fees

The CBC's ombudsman says anchor Peter Mansbridge did nothing wrong by accepting fees for speaking engagements but questions whether the public broadcaster's staff should accept such fees in future.

Esther Enkin posted a response this week to a complaint from a member of the public against CBC commentator Rex Murphy for accepting fees for speaking to an oil industry gathering.

Mansbridge wasn't part of the complaint, but Enkin noted her office has received concerns from viewers about a paid speech he gave to Canadian petroleum producers.

She writes viewers expressed concerns about possible bias and questioned if CBC employees should get extra income through speaking engagements.

Enkin writes Mansbridge's speech focused on what it means to be a Canadian and noted most of the money he gets from speaking goes to charity and scholarships.

However, Enkin says accepting fees for speaking leads to a perception of a conflict of interest, and CBC management should consider whether its appropriate for its employees to accept such payments.

"At the least, management should think about the appearance of getting paid by interest groups who are likely to feature prominently in the news, or who are involved in public policy debates," Enkin writes in her response.

CBC management is reviewing its practices and processes around outside activities of freelancers and CBC staff, Enkin wrote.

In Murphy's case, Enkin noted he is a commentator and works for the CBC on a freelance basis and is not a spokesman for anyone.

"Throughout his career, he has been outspoken and frequently iconoclastic in his views on a range of issues, the fact that he is a supporter of resource development is not the issue here," she writes.

"He wrote in his own column and repeated to me that he has spoken to a wide range of groups, many for no fee. And no matter what the organization, the fee is the same."

Mansbridge said earlier this month that he has never publicly promoted or opposed oilsands development and said there was no hint of any leaning in his remarks.

He also said the network's senior management has always approved his speaking engagements and known when he is paid for them.

Some media watchers have suggested it's not appropriate for journalists to accept money from groups or industries that are the subject of their reports.

The CBC defended Murphy's speaking engagements, noting he is a freelance commentator paid to take a "provocative stand" on issues.


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