Two senior editors at the Moncton Times & Transcript are no longer with the newspaper, after an internal ethics probe by Brunswick News Inc. into one editor's acceptance of a trip to Larry's Gulch, according to the company’s ombudsman.
Meanwhile, the provincial government will conduct an internal review to expedite the disclosure of as much information as possible about the guest list at the government's fishing lodge and to make recommendations regarding whether further action is required, according to a statement from the Office of the Premier late Monday afternoon.
Al Hogan, the managing editor of the Moncton Times & Transcript, “is no longer employed by Brunswick News” and Murray Guy, the newspaper’s assistant managing editor, has resigned.
John Wishart has been demoted from his position as editor of the Telegraph-Journal to the editor of its editorial and opinion pages.
Patricia Graham, the BNI ombudsman, posted a column on the newspapers’ website Monday that detailed the results of an ethical investigation launched after it was learned that Guy was the guest of Danny Allain, the former chief executive officer of NB Liquor, at Larry’s Gulch, in 2013. Graham's column was also published on the front page of BNI's dailies in Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton on Monday.
The investigation found that Guy tried to have Darell Fowlie, who served as the deputy minister of communications for former premier David Alward, alter the guest list before it was released to the media.
Graham’s column said Hogan had not been forthcoming to BNI’s senior managers in 2013 or during the recent investigation, which was led by Patrick Brethour, the editor-in-chief of Brunswick News.
The problems started in October 2013, when Telegraph-Journal reporter Shawn Berry obtained a copy of the Larry’s Gulch guest list and discovered Guy had been at the exclusive government-owned fishing lodge in northwestern New Brunswick.
Berry emailed Wishart, who would have been his editor at the Telegraph-Journal, to let him know that Guy’s name was on the list and Wishart then emailed Hogan to see if his assistant managing editor had made the trip.
Wishart had worked with Guy and Hogan at the Moncton Times & Transcript in the past.
“Mr. Hogan told Mr. Wishart that Mr. Guy’s inclusion on the list was a mistake and he had not in fact gone to the lodge,” the column said.
“Mr. Berry subsequently went back to government to ascertain whether the list contained the names of invitees or attendees. As a result, he learned that Mr. Guy had indeed gone to the lodge: he had signed a waiver consenting to the release of information saying so.”
In December 2012, the provincial government instituted a policy that required all Larry's Gulch visitors to sign a consent form so their names would be released to the public.
Guy’s trip to the fishing lodge was raised with Jamie Irving, the publisher of Brunswick News, by Wishart on Nov. 13, 2013. The two decided that Hogan would verbally reprimand Guy over the trip to the provincial government's fishing lodge.
Hogan says he never received the order to reprimand Guy, and Guy said he was never reprimanded, according to Graham’s column.
When it came to the story that Berry was working on for the newspapers, Irving and Wishart decided that they would publish a story if it was deemed newsworthy based on all of the visitors to the lodge that year.
Graham said Irving left it to Wishart's judgment to decide whether a news story about the lodge's guest list that year was warranted. No story was published.
Earlier this month, Brunswick News Inc. learned that Canadaland, an independent media site, was investigating whether Guy had been to the fishing lodge and whether the story was covered up by the Telegraph-Journal.
Graham’s column says that is when Brethour and Irving started an investigation.
Canadaland story broke on Sunday
Canadaland reported the story on Sunday.
The BNI investigation was critical of Guy and Hogan and indicated both editors had not been forthcoming about their involvement and had tried to keep Guy’s name from getting out to the media.
“What we do know is that Mr. Guy and Mr. Hogan knew that Telegraph-Journal reporter Shawn Berry already had a list with Mr. Guy’s name on it, yet they contrived to have a list without Mr. Guy’s name on it given to other media," Graham's column said.
"They sought to have an official government document altered and to manipulate the public record. They did so knowing that their employer had fought to make this type of record public."
Graham said BNI’s investigation is continuing.
Berry is no longer an employee with Brunswick News. He is now the press secretary for Premier Brian Gallant.
New Brunswick's Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act makes it an offence to "alter, falsify, conceal or destroy any record or part of any record, or direct another person to do so, with an intent to evade a request for access to the record."
According to the Provincial Offences Procedure Act, a judge can order anyone violating the information law's provision not to alter documents to pay "a fine of not less than $240 and not more than $10,200."
Guest lists may be subject to privacy claims
The provincial government has received requests for documents and guest lists pertaining to Larry's Gulch, Guy Gallant, director of communications for the Office of the Premier said in an emailed statement.
"Our goal is to provide these lists in a timely fashion to respect the spirit of openness and transparency. In this instance, however, we must be mindful of privacy legislation and other complications that our government has inherited such as questions surrounding the accuracy of lists that have been provided by the previous government," said Gallant.
Lists for the years prior to 2012 may be subject to privacy claims and therefore "require an analysis of how they can be disclosed," he said.
"Further complicating this matter are accusations that some of these documents might have been altered prior to their release in 2013. Given this, our government needs to ensure that any documents released are accurate and comprehensive."
'Alarm bells going off'
Michael Camp, a journalism instructor at St. Thomas University, said Guy’s decision to go fishing at the lodge is a clear case of a conflict of interest.
The journalism instructor, who is a former BNI and CBC reporter, said there should have been “alarm bells going off” in the mind of the editor when the offer for the fishing trip was made.
“On the journalistic side, it was definitely an ethical breach for a reporter to go on an undisclosed fishing trip with an official with the government and for that to be covered up later on,” Camp said.
“The public must know all of the influences that are acting on the journalist and if anything needs to be disclosed it should be disclosed. Otherwise people cannot evaluate whether the news they are reading is the pure truth or whether something else has influenced the judgment of the reporter.”