The complainant, Matt Whitman, is a Halifax city councillor. He did a phone interview in which he said he was never told he was being recorded, nor that the interview was on the record. The reporter said that she had informed Mr. Whitman that she had turned on her recorder. Since the tape was deleted, there is no way to know what really happened. It is essential an interviewee is aware of recording, but calling a public figure about a matter in the public interest does not require explicit mention of how it is to be used, as it is understood to be on the record. Being upfront with as much information as possible is best practice.
You are a city councillor in Halifax. At the beginning of February, you had retweeted a letter to Halifax city council from a group called ID Canada, criticizing it for removing a statue of General Edward Cornwallis. The group is identified as white supremacists. You received tweets pointing this out, and you were called by a CBC reporter for comment about the incident. You were shocked to hear parts of your phone conversation broadcast on the evening television newscast. You said you did not know you were being recorded, and you did not give permission to have the conversation recorded. You considered this unprofessional:
I cannot begin to explain to you how shocked I was to hear my voice on the TV broadcast without my permission… I had no notification that I was being recorded… I’m used to doing interviews… But not with this level of professionalism.
In a follow-up phone call with me, you said at no time were you aware you were being recorded and you are not sure if the reporter, Emma Davie, identified herself as a reporter – and she certainly never stated that the conversation was on the record.
Nancy Waugh, the Managing Editor for CBC News in Atlantic Canada, replied to your concern.
She agreed with you that the reporter should have been clearer about the circumstances of the call. She acknowledged that she never explicitly stated the interview was for broadcast, but she added she considered that it would be “entirely obvious” that this was a “professional interview.” There were two phone calls. In the first one she said Ms. Davie called you and stated she was turning on her recorder. It was a brief call in which she asked you about the retweet and the criticism that you had passed on material from a white supremacist group. You told her you would be deleting the tweet. The second interview was for some follow-up questions. Ms. Waugh did not mention it in her response, but there was also a technical difficulty with the first recording, and so she had to speak to you again.
She said that you are an experienced politician who has been frequently interviewed by reporters:
I note that you have served as a member of Halifax Regional Council since 2012 and have been an outspoken representative of your district over the past six years. You have appeared often in the media and maintain a lively social media presence, engaging frequently with members of the public and the media…An experienced politician might well assume that his response to any reporter is on the record and likely to be used publicly.
She also noted that you did not state in your complaint that you would have declined to speak if you knew your remarks were to be used for broadcast. She saw it as a legitimate exchange between reporter and politician, and that is not surprising it was used:
Your email does not suggest that you would have declined Ms. Davie’s request for comment if she had been more precise about the likelihood of broadcast. Nor do you suggest your responses would have been different. I’m left to conclude that you were speaking to her honestly and that she accurately and honestly related your position to the audience.
She explained that CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices require journalists to be open about who they are when they approach sources, and endeavour to give a balanced range of views.
Your complaint raised two related but separate issues. One was whether you were informed that the interview was being taped, and the other was whether you were aware you were on the record. As Ms. Waugh mentioned, there were two recordings. There was a brief conversation and shortly thereafter the reporter called you back. I am told the second call was necessary because there was a technical problem with the first. Because of the glitch, that tape was not kept.