Canada·Editor's Note

CBC Editor in Chief responds to Ombudsman decision

In most cases we agree with and take into account rulings by the CBC Ombudsman. The recent ruling on one of our reporters at the B.C. Legislature, however, is an exception where we will have to agree to disagree, Editor in Chief Jennifer McGuire states.

No conflict in B.C. legislature reporting, Jennifer McGuire states

Thanks to the dedication and excellence of our staff, CBC News is one of the most respected news organizations in the world. As I have said many times, we should always strive to be even better by continuously examining what we do and how we do it.

The CBC is the only broadcast organization in this country with an arm's length ombudsman process. 

The ombudsman is appointed by the CBC's board of directors and by the president. His mandate is to review complaints about our work and to judge them within the framework of the high standards outlined in our Journalistic Standards and Practices, by which our employees are bound.

In most cases we agree with and take into account the Ombudsman's rulings. The recent ruling on one of our reporters at the B.C. Legislature, however, is an exception where we will have to agree to disagree. 

Stephen Smart is a legislative reporter based in Victoria B.C. He is married to Rebecca Scott who recently took a job as a media adviser to Premier Christy Clark. 

Scott is one of six media advisers to the premier, and although she is not the senior adviser, when Stephen brought the situation to our attention we created a protocol to ensure an absence of conflict, whether real or perceived. 

This protocol is in line with our Journalistic Standards and Practices and corporate policies.

The protocol itself, which is shared with senior staff in Vancouver and Toronto, explicitly states that Stephen Smart will not cover:

1. Stories in which Rebecca Scott is the principal, or sole spokesperson. 2. Stories where she is the primary source where alternate documents or materials are not available.

If there is uncertainty about Stephen's assignments, they are reviewed by Vancouver's Executive Producer or News Director. In all our coverage, story choice, assignment and lineup rests with assignment editors, producers and senior news staff. If there is a perceived conflict, the story gets assigned elsewhere.

It is important to note that both the ruling and the original complaints with the Ombudsman's office have not raised any concerns with Stephen's reporting, which we believe is a confirmation that our protocols are working effectively.

None of the reports filed by Stephen Smart have ever been found to be in breach of our journalist standards.

The news business is a tight-knit community, especially in smaller environments like the B.C. Legislature. It's inevitable that from time to time journalists may form personal relationships with people who may, one day, intersect with their professional lives.

Although the current situation is obviously not ideal, we believe we have mitigated the risks and, despite the opinion of the Ombudsman, have fulfilled our obligations to our Journalistic Standards and Practices and corporate policies, which state:

"Independence is a core value of CBC. If a current affairs or news employee has a close relative, defined as spouse, parent, child or sibling who is a major actor in a story, that employee cannot be involved in the coverage. It is the responsibility of the employee to inform his/her supervisor of the potential conflict so that a protocol can be developed."

The protocols we have created strike a balance between the need to address potential conflicts of interest and the rights of individuals to their private lives. We believe we have struck an appropriate balance in this case and believe no further action is required. 

We will continue to monitor and assess what we do in BC, as is the case with all of our journalism.