The Current

Debating the ethics of journalists & paid speaking engagements

Journalists are paid to be articulate, but some speeches by prominent CBC journalists have been criticized recently as conflicts of interest. We ask why and when it may be appropriate to button up.
CBC commentator Rex Murphy is known for his strong opinions. But when it was revealed he's been paid to speak at oil industry gatherings, critics cried 'conflict of interest.' Now CBC chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge is under fire for getting paid for a speech to the same industry. We ask when it's appropriate for members of the media to speak ... and when it's not.

Peter Mansbridge is one of the most well-regarded figures in Canadian broadcast news. But this week, Mr. Mansbridge is under fire for a paid speaking engagement at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers - or CAPP.

Fort Mac has become the symbol of a campaign, the symbol of the war against oil ... a convenient target to be vilified and condemned.CBC commentator Rex Murphy

A few weeks ago, it was revealed Rex Murphy -- a commentator for The National and the host of CBC Radio's Cross-Country Check-up -- was also paid to speak to the oil industry. Both have faced allegations of journalistic conflict.

Mr. Mansbridge says he does about 20 speaking engagements a year -- about half of them paid -- and does so only with the blessing of senior CBC management, in accordance with CBC journalistic policy. Mr. Mansbridge is, in fact, among many in the media who do paid speaking engagements outside of work. The speaking agency that represents him lists several other high-profile journalists.

And in the interest of full disclosure, our guest host Jeffrey Kofman has been paid to give speeches. As a correspondent for ABC News, he was required to get pre-clearance for all paid -- and unpaid -- speeches. They were never allowed to accept money from groups in any way connected with our work as journalists.

So just what are the ethical issues at play when journalists do these speaking gigs?

We're discussing today, as part of our occasional series, Eye on The Media.

We did ask CBC's General manager and Editor in chief, Jennifer McGuire, to participate in this conversation. Ms. McGuire declined, and no one else from CBC management was made available. Ms. McGuire said CBC is now reviewing its policies and she would be happy to comment once that process is complete. In the meantime, here is a link to her blog addressing some of the issues raised regarding the CBC.

To hash out the ethics of journalists and speaking engagements:

  • Romayne Smith Fullerton teaches in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western University. She is also the ethics editor at J-Source. She was in St. Mary's, Ontario.

  • Paul Starobin is a former Moscow-based journalist for Business Week and former contributing editor to the Columbia Review of Journalism. He was in Orleans, Massachusetts.

So, what do you think? Is it ok for journalists to be paid for speaking engagements? Under what circumstances?

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This segment was produced by The Current's Shannon Higgins, Josh Bloch and Gord Westmacott.

Other segments from our Eye on the Media series:

National security vs. press freedom:
How to strike the right balance?

The dangers journalists face in Egypt


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