CBC mandate bans paid speeches

Union objects to ‘arbitrary’ new policy

Following questions of potential conflict of interest, CBC recently enacted a new mandate prohibiting employees — but not freelance contributors — from making paid appearances for corporations and industry groups.

In addition, CBC pledged to continue with the full disclosure of all public appearances by its journalists online.

Jennifer McGuire, editor-in-chief and general manager of CBC News and its regional centres, along with Michel Cormier, executive director for news and current affairs at French services, made the announcement Jan. 22.

"CBC/Radio-Canada holds itself to the highest standards of journalistic integrity. Our standards and practices are among the most rigorous in Canadian media," McGuire and Cormier said in the statement.

"However, a changing environment in which the public expects more transparency from institutions and the media is making the practice of paid outside activities for our journalists less acceptable to audiences... Given that paid appearances can create an adverse impact on the corporation, CBC/Radio-Canada will no longer approve paid appearances by its on-air journalistic employees."

The mandate was implemented in response to several reports suggesting paid appearances by CBC employees presented a conflict of interest.

In 2014, reports surfaced that Peter Mansbridge — CBC’s chief correspondent and host of the National — gave a paid speech to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Rex Murphy — host of CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup — was also called into question for paid speeches to oil industry groups.

Growing controversy surrounding paid appearances made by CBC business correspondent Amanda Lang — and the possibility those appearances negatively influenced the story of another CBC reporter — eventually led the broadcaster to implement its new mandate.

Union unhappy with prohibition

The Canadian Media Guild (CMG), the union representing CBC’s editorial employees, publicly objected to the blanket prohibition on paid speeches and appearances.

The issue of "outside activities" is covered under the parties’ collective agreement, the union argued. According to the agreement, employees are free to engage in both voluntary and paid activities outside their hours of work provided those activities are not in competition with the corporation’s media services.

On-air employees are required to discuss their plans for outside activities with their supervisor and the corporation has a period of time to deliberate before either approving or rejecting the request.

Prior to the scrutiny surrounding Mansbridge and Murphy in 2014, employees were free to participate in paid activities outside of the corporation as long as those activities — such as speeches — were neutral.

In April 2014, however, CBC announced it would be tightening procedures around paid speeches. Requests from companies, political parties or other groups making significant efforts to lobby or influence public policy would be rejected.

The tracking system for all speeches — paid and unpaid — was centralized in order to more consistently apply the new rules. The corporation also began publicly posting a list of all appearances by employees in May.

But the latest mandate — which CMG calls an "arbitrary ban" — is a step too far, according to the union.

"We have a clause in the collective agreement with CBC," said CMG national president Carmel Smyth.

"So we would expect that the company would respect those rules and use them equally for everybody. If that were the case, we don’t think there’d be a problem. So to enact an overall ban, we don’t think that’s necessary."

Smyth said the union is being forced to speak out against this ban for fear of setting a dangerous precedent.

"If we don’t object to that process of dismissing something we’ve already agreed upon," Smyth said of the CBC’s essential dismissal of the relevant clause in the collective agreement, "what’s to stop them from dismissing something else we’ve already agreed on to govern workplace conduct? We can’t allow a legal precedent to be set where they dismiss particular clauses. So we’re being forced to object."

New policy 'totally improper,' says lawyer

According to Paul Cavalluzzo — senior partner at Cavalluzzo Shilton McIntyre Cornish in toronto, the firm representing the CMG — it is inappropriate for an employer to institute a new policy respecting an issue covered by the collective agreement.

"That’s totally improper," he said, "because obviously one party to the collective agreement cannot unilaterally amend it."

Cavalluzzo said clauses concerning paid outside activities are common in the media and entertainment industries. There is a general consensus among employers and unions, he said, concerning restrictions on such outside activities.

The majority of collective agreements in this case would contain non-compete clauses, preventing employees from contributing to a direct competitor, Cavalluzzo said.

Agreements also frequently prevent employees from exploiting their current employment in an effort to gain paid outside work and prohibit them from undertaking any activities that are inconsistent with their current employment or that could cause harm to the employer or its reputation.

Chuck Thompson, head of public affairs for CBC English services, said the corporation communicated with CMG before the note went out.

Thompson said CBC expects the conversation on the subject will continue.

And while Smyth confirmed discussions surrounding the new mandate are ongoing, Cavalluzzo said another avenue remains open to the union.

"They could file a grievance which would be subject to the arbitration provisions of the collective agreement," he said. "If the employer wants to change a provision, they have to renegotiate with the union."

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