CBC denies accepting money from Parks Canada in exchange for positive stories

By Jennifer McGuire, general manager and editor-in-chief of CBC

By Jennifer McGuire, general manager and editor-in-chief of CBC

As the public broadcaster, we're accustomed to being scrutinized very closely. We understand it. In fact, we welcome it. Occasionally, though, people look at us so closely that their view is a just a tad blurry. 

A little over a year ago, we were fascinated by a search in the Arctic for the remains of the lost Franklin Expedition. It is one of the great enduring Canadian mysteries. And we thought covering the search would be a chance to illustrate the majesty and history of the North, which we aren't able to do as often as we'd like. 

We debated what approach to take in covering the story, and how to make sure it had impact. We decided the best way to showcase this event was to bring in our Chief Correspondent, Peter Mansbridge. Sending the host of The National on the road is a big deal for us. It highlighted how important we thought this story was, and Peter has demonstrated repeatedly his deep and abiding passion for that part of the country and its history. 

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Covering stories in this part of the Arctic requires a huge dedication of time and money, and it's a big logistical challenge, too. Other broadcasters rarely, if ever, venture there. Parks Canada was behind the Franklin search. And when we started talking to them about how we could gain access to their ships as they went about their business, we found we shared some of the same concerns around cost and logistics. 

We decided to strike an agreement with two key provisions. The first was to share the costs of chartering a single plane together along with communications costs for phone, email, etc. That was smarter and more fiscally responsible than paying separately. The second was to create a joint website. For Parks Canada, the motivation was the presence of a single, visible destination with information about the project. For us, the motivation was to create a stand-alone website that would showcase our digital coverage. Creating such a website would have been too expensive for us to do on our own. 

So for those wondering, here's what Parks Canada paid out when it reimbursed the CBC for its costs: 

  • $65,000 for its share of the website development costs. Add in federal and provincial taxes, and the total was $74,733.75
  • $20,000 for its share of the charter plane and communications technology costs. Add in federal and provincial taxes, and the total was $22,995
The one thing that was sacrosanct to us was to make sure CBC retained complete editorial and creative control of the content. We even made a point to write it explicitly into the contract:

Nonetheless, we find ourselves being asked if we were being paid to do news stories that flattered Parks Canada.

The answer to that is an emphatic NO. 

We do not get paid to provide coverage. Ever. 

We paid for all CBC costs to cover this story, including the travel. 

Nobody other than CBC journalists produced, edited or shaped the content we delivered to you. 

CBC News is determined to uphold the highest possible standards of journalism in every way. We have a very thorough, very public manual on our Journalistic Standards and Practices that includes conflict of interest guidelines. We followed them all in both letter and spirit. 

And there's another measure of accountability as well. If anyone thinks there was something about our coverage that was improper, they can ask the CBC Ombudsman to conduct a full, independent review.

This column was originally published on CBC Editor's Blog and reprinted here with the CBC's permission.