The complainant complained that the fact a writer of an Opinion piece was working for a Liberal politician should have been disclosed when it was published.
By Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman
The complainant, Mark O’Henly, complained that the fact a writer of an Opinion piece was working for a Liberal politician should have been disclosed when it was published. I agree the information should have been there. He was also concerned there was a deliberate cover-up. That was not the case, and the tag line now has full disclosure.
You complained that an Opinion piece published by CBC Manitoba did not properly and fully disclose the affiliation of the author. The article, entitled: “Canadian Taxpayers Federation has 5 members – why should we care what they think”, was authored by Dougald Lamont. You said that he was described as “a lecturer in government and business relations at the University of Winnipeg and a long-time Liberal working in policy and communications.” However, he is employed by the Liberal Party of Canada, and you “found it hard to believe” that CBC staff were unaware of this fact until it was made public on Twitter and pointed out in your email. You added this was a violation of CBC policy to omit that fact, and explained why you thought it critical for it to be included:
The CTF has been highly critical of waste at CBC. While they have been critical of waste by parties of all stripe, they have recently been critical of the Liberals for running huge deficits and hinting they will provide huge corporate welfare payments to Bombardier. This article and the incomplete disclosure about the author would make it appear that the CBC is being impartial and using the article to beat up a critic of the CBC and a government which recently gave them a huge increase in operating budget.
You said it was “inadequate” to describe the writer as a “long time Liberal” because it was too vague and not accurate:
The original disclosure notes that the author is a long-time Liberal. Well I am a long time Conservative. However, I have not recently, or ever for that matter, been employed by the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC). I have not recently worked for a Conservative MP. I am not a policy advisor to a sitting Conservative MP. I am not under any direct influence from the CPC. I believe the same would apply to the vast majority of Canadians who would describe themselves as long-time Liberals or Conservatives. Clearly the description was inadequate and misleading.
You asked me to determine if CBC did in fact know about Mr. Lamont’s employment. You also wanted to know whether he was paid for the article, and what the vetting process is, especially now that CBCNews.ca has a designated opinion section.
Cecil Rosner, the Managing Editor for CBC News in Manitoba, responded to your concerns. He told you that when the article was published he considered it important to mention Mr. Lamont’s long-time affiliation with the Liberal Party of Canada. He added that he and his staff were not aware that he was doing “part-time policy advising work for a Liberal MP” when the piece was commissioned and published. When it came to his attention, a clarification and a new tagline were added to the story. He provided you the wording:
Dougald Lamont, a long time Liberal working in policy and communications, is a lecturer in Government-Business Relations at the University of Winnipeg and a policy adviser to Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette. These are his own views, not those of his employers.
CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices does require that relevant information about commentators is shared with the public. This is important information so that people can, as the policy says, “fully understand that person’s perspective.” In the initial publication of Mr. Lamont’s opinion piece that was partially fulfilled. You thought it too broad and vague that he was called a “long-time Liberal”. It does, however, position his perspective. I agree with you, though, that the fact that he was working for a sitting MP is information that should have been included. In the first iteration, the piece did not meet policy requirements. When CBC News staff became aware of Mr. Lamont’s part-time position with a Liberal member of parliament, the information was added and the correction noted, as is required by policy.