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


Jeffrey Dvorkin

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

#Peegate: or a Dubious Case Of Media Espionage?

CBC TV's investigative program, "Marketplace" discovered that it had a major "leak" in Canada's election campaign.

In 2012, the show did an exposé of a service contractor named Jerry Bance, caught using a coffee mug in the kitchen where he was working. He wasn't drinking from it. He was caught on camera peeing into it. After rising it out, he put in back in the cupboard.

Nice job, Marketplace.

But an astute producer noticed that the Conservatives are running a candidate with the same name in a Toronto constituency. And of course, hilarity ensued. 

The Conservatives (who should have done a better job at vetting Bance) quickly disowned him and the search is on for a new candidate. Will they find one a month away from the vote? Depends!

Ok. Enough with the snide jokes.

I think that kudos are deserved over at CBC TV for showing this. After all, who wants a Member of Parliament who doesn't know where his member should go.

(Sorry...couldn't resist).

But aside from showing what sorts of candidates the Tories are proposing, there are serious issues at stake.

I worry that when many are concerned about the numerous digital intrusions into our lives, that there seems to be no restriction on news organizations when they decide to snoop "in the public interest."

Governments and corporations know more about us than ever. Yet when privacy concerns are raised, we are told by our economic and political elites, just to trust their good judgments and intentions. That's not good enough.

The same should apply to news operations. Media organizations also need to have some sense of limits and public accountability. I think the CBC was right to expose now ex-candidate Jerry Bance and his dubious hygiene practices. But as I recall, there used to be a severe restriction at the CBC against doing this sort of hidden camera reporting.

This could only be done with the approval of a Vice President or a President. More importantly, there had to be a demonstrated, overwhelming public interest to engage in this practice. I question whether showing a repairman behaving in an unseemly way was quite up there with Watergate.

It would be better if the CBC reminded us under what circumstances are these sorts of journalistic practices allowed and who must approve them.

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