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.
I am glad to tell you that your concern that this information was deliberately withheld, although you didn’t provide any proof to assume it, is unfounded. I have seen correspondence between Managing Editor Cecil Rosner and Mr. Lamont, in which Mr. Lamont apologized for the problem caused. He said he had not mentioned his work with the MP because he wanted to ensure it was clear the opinion he expressed was his own, and not related to his work. He added “I take entire responsibility for the omission.” When I contacted him to verify the details he reiterated the same point:
I want to make it clear that if there is anyone to blame, it is me, and not the CBC, or Mr. Rosner, or for that matter my former employer Mr. Ouellette.
Mr. Lamont apparently started working for the MP in February 2016; he no longer does. He proposed the article to CBC News staff earlier in October. It was published October 16, 2016 and the biographical details were amended that same day. Mr. Lamont has been contributing material to the CBC News website since February 2014. In the earlier instances, his Liberal affiliation was also mentioned. Mr. Rosner shared this description from his first article in December 2014:
"Dougald Lamont is a writer in Winnipeg. He also made an unsuccessful bid for the leadership of the Manitoba Liberal Party in 2013.”
Given the pattern of mention of party affiliation, I cannot discern any attempt to cover it up.
Your insistence on openness and transparency is valid and important. You also asked if Mr. Lamont was paid. The answer is yes, as are all freelance contributors. That is pretty standard procedure, although practice varies from publication to publication. Most pay something to freelance writers for their work, including op-ed pieces.
Since CBCNews.ca launched its Opinion section, there is a set process for checking the background and affiliation of contributors. Even before that Mr. Rosner told me that he and his staff would examine backgrounds and “spoke to them about their other work, and tried to provide relevant context in the author tagline.” According to Steven Ladurantaye, Managing Editor @cbcnews, there is a standard process for getting relevant information from contributors to the Opinion section, which launched on November 7, after the Lamont article was posted. In order to have an article published, prospective authors must disclose any relevant activity for the last two years, including where they have worked full or part-time, consulting, volunteering and any organizations they belong to or anything else that might represent a conflict of interest. The editor informs them that any relevant information will be published in their biography.
You also expressed concern that this piece was in aid of attacking critics of the Liberal government as a matter of deliberate policy. The nature of an opinion section is that it captures a range of views and perspectives on a variety of topics. Its publication in and of itself does not violate CBC journalistic policy. The original author tagline did, but it was corrected.