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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Looting of the CBC

Much has been written about the latest scandal to roil the public broadcaster. This time, a respected radio and TV journalist, Evan Solomon, was fired after it was revealed he used his high-profile position to act as an agent for an art dealer.

This comes after a more serious charge involving Jian Ghomeshi and allegations of violent behaviour against women. He too was fired. His case is now before the courts.

Others accused of breach of trust have fared somewhat better: Rex Murphy, Amanda Lang and Peter Mansbridge (among other high profile CBC-ers) took speaking fees from lobby groups. After an alleged management wrist-slap, they resumed their roles. And their salaries. The practice of taking fees for speeches has (mostly) been stopped.

The question remains as to why CBC management keeps allowing these to happen. Is management intimidated by their own employees? Or more precisely, what is there about at the CBC where people feel they can do these things with impunity?

Insiders say the management presence is increasingly M.I.A. Certainly, there are managers. Lots of them. But the level of interaction with the shop floor seems to have diminished. Working journalists say they don't know to whom they should report. At the same time, the growing ranks of middle management are kept busy with administration tasks (frequently undefined and once described as "adminis-trivia").

Where there is a managerial vacuum, odd behaviours can occur.

I don't mean the usual petty pilfering of ballpoint pens. But more ominously, the notion that one's loyalty may not be to the organization that pays your salary.

Most journalists I have worked with, have a sense of loyalty. Sure, they complain about everything from working conditions and lousy coffee to incompetent bosses. It's part of the culture of skepticism, crankiness and gossip that makes the journalistic working life so damn interesting.

But when high-profile (and highly paid) journalists start to engage in a form of looting by trying to game the job by squeezing the system for more, that's when management should admit it is no longer in control. To do anything less is a form of managerial collusion.

The level of trust among CBC employees toward their employer has now declined to such an extent, that even highly paid staffers feel they need to rake it in while they can, or before the CBC is shut down.

Warnings by the government that is is "displeased" with the CBC don't help. Neither is the stacking of the CBC board with Conservative Party hacks who openly vent their distrust of the organization they are supposed to support. 

Shutting the place may not happen, but the constant sense of impending doom that has beset the public broadcaster has created an atmosphere of "every man (and woman) for themselves."

It is starting to feel like end times for the public broadcaster. It is still possible for the CBC to correct its direction. But it's getting late.

And it feels like the ship is getting perilously close to the rocks.


  1. Jeffrey: Please excuse this posting from Anonymous. I am an employee of CBC, so I would prefer to remain "anonymous" in this instance.
    You've made some interesting observations regarding the role of management in all this who seem to be issuing a double-standard when it comes to "conflict of interest" and "looting" as you characterize it. Many of us on the shop floor are questioning the Lang vs Solomon cases and why Ms. Lang is still working here. I've been in this business for over 30 years and I don't believe Ms Lang knows what a conflict of interest is, in the first place.

    With the serious and continuous cutbacks and job losses over the last couple of years, a survival attitude has kicked in. Whenever I ask a colleague how they're doing, the reply is usually "still here", as if we're all waiting our turn to go. It's sad. But in spite of that some great programming still comes out of the box.

    The Ghomeshi affair was just the tip of the iceberg as managers and directors look after one another with an "I'll watch your back if you watch mine" silent promise. Nobody calls anybody on it because they live in a corporate bubble fuelled by the culture whose standards are based on mutual admiration and deception.

    Is the ship getting close to the rock? No it's in dry-dock, slowly eroding under a weather beaten attitude from the government and senior management team who does not have the backing of its staff. A mutiny is in order, but nobody is stepping up to lead us from the wilderness, hence the digital strategy known as the 2020 plan.

    The staff here is resilient. We continue to bring our very best to the programming Canadians enjoy. But the morale has bottomed out which means, with the proper, inspired leadership we desperately need, things can only get better.


    1. Hang in there Anonymous. CBC management reminds me of FIFA without the financial corruption: great players on the field; empty suits running the show.