Saturday, December 17, 2011

CBC reporter's conflict of interest

Read the followup piece: Help for the CBC on conflicts of interest

"Legislative Bureau Chief" Stephen Smart reports regularly on the British Columbia government. The "year-end views" interview with Premier Clark is but one example.

Mr. Smart is married to Rebecca Scott, a Communications Officer for the Premier and her Deputy Press Secretary.

CBC practice guidelines state,
"We are independent of all lobbies and of all political and economic influence..." and "The trust of the public is our most valued asset. We avoid putting ourselves in real or potential conflict of interest. This is essential to our credibility."
CBC policies further state:
"Covering a story involving family members
"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."
I believe the marital connection, not disclosed with Mr. Smart's reporting, is a potential conflict of interest that should be addressed. It is my understanding that CBC BC news management does not agree that any conflict exists.


The above is text of a complaint I lodged today with Kirk LaPointe, CBC Ombudsman.

Stephen Smart's wife Rebecca Scott works in Premier Christy Clark's office as an Order in Council appointment. Her employment was excluded from the hiring procedures used in the professional public service. Since her job is directly and indisputably political, with the purpose of organizing positive press coverage for Premier Clark, it poses a real - not potential - conflict for Mr. Smart. He should not be working for CBC as its Legislative Bureau Chief, even if his connection to Scott is prominently disclosed, and it is not.

H/T to Alex Tsakumis for the following:


The New York Times, America's flagship newspaper, deals specifically in its policy "Ethics in Journalism" with conflicts arising from activities of family members:

B2. Avoiding Conflicts Over Family
98. In a day when most families balance two careers, the legitimate activities of household members and other relatives can sometimes create journalistic conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts. These can arise in civic or political life, professional work and financial activity. A spouse's or companion's campaign for public office would obviously create the appearance of conflict for a political reporter or television producer involved in election coverage. A brother or a daughter in a high-profile job on Wall Street might produce the appearance of conflict for a business reporter or editor.
99. Our company has no wish to intrude upon family members who are not its employees. Nothing in this document prohibits a spouse, companion or other relative of a staff member from taking part in any political, financial, commercial, religious or civic activity. Where restrictions are necessary, they fall on the company employee alone. But any attempt to conceal a staff member's activity by using a relative's name (or any other alias) would constitute a violation.
100. Staff members must be sensitive that direct political activity by their spouses, family or household members, such as running for office or managing a campaign – even while proper – may well create conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts. Even limited participation, like giving money or ringing doorbells, may stir suspicions of political bias if it becomes conspicuous. Staff members and their families should be wary of ambiguity. A bumper sticker on the family car or a campaign sign on the lawn may be misread as the journalist's, no manner who in the household actually placed it. When a spouse or companion makes a campaign contribution, it is wise to avoid writing the check on a joint account.
101. To avoid conflicts, staff members may not furnish, prepare or supervise news content about relatives, spouses or others with whom they have close personal relationships. For the same reasons, staff members should not recruit or directly supervise family members or close friends. Some exceptions are permissible – in a foreign bureau, for instance, where a married couple form a team, or in a small news department, with the approval of top newsroom management.
102. The company and its units depend on staff members to disclose potential problems in a timely fashion, with an eye to working together to head off embarrassment to all concerned. Any staff member who sees a potential for a conflict of interest in the activities of spouse, relatives or friends must discuss the situation with newsroom management. In many or even most cases, disclosure will suffice. But if newsroom management considers the problem serious, the staff member may have to withdraw from certain coverage. Sometimes an assignment may have to be modified or a beat changed.
Recommend this post


  1. It is hard to keep up with your reporting, you must have one large research staff or one larger work ethic.

    the Bloggers are making MSM irrelevant.

  2. Anon-Above--

    With Mr. Farrell I think it is both a fantastic research staff (of one) and a fantastic work ethic.

    Not to mention a willingness to root out codswallop wherever he may find it.


    To the matter at hand - I believe that this is more than a 'potential' conflict.

    More specifically, I believe it is a true conflict to have a political reporter reporting on the political work of a spouse. More specifically, even if both players feel they are being objective in all aspects of their working relationship, and even if that feeling has been codified by their respective employers, all of that feeling will be clouded by, well, the feelings of the couple concerned.



  3. Yeah, but I still have time for important stuff, like making chocolate chip cookies with two five-year-old grandsons.

  4. Mr. Farrell...What I would like to know...

    Did all legislative reporters get the same allotted 10 minutes one on one with Christy Clark?

    For I haven`t seen any other year end video interviews anywhere.

    yes there were several written year end reviews but video?


  5. Grant--

    Don't forget how Mr. Smart stamped had a tantrum and started a tweet-fight last time when he was 'bypassed'.

    I think you will find that this one is wall-to-wall, at least with the friendlies as I see that J. Fowlie has something similar coming in Monday's VSun....But, as for who got first dibs?....Well, perhaps there is a story there.




    Now that's important.


  6. I'm sure most of your readers are familiar with Kirk LaPointe, CBC's Ombudsman. Just in case anyone is not, Kirk LaPointe was the managing editor for the Vancouver Sun from 2003 until taking his present job in 2010.

    Just wanted people to know this, lest they get their hopes up.

    Having said that, good for you to file that complaint about Mr. Smart and his wife Mrs. Spin to CBC's Ombudsman.

    I complained to the CBC about this glaring conflict of interest, and they just blew me off with "Oh that." Just simply dismissed my concern, not even a pretense of accepting the concerns of one of their shareholders. Arrogant beyond words.

    On the other hand, perhaps we can use Mr. LaPointe's own views on the importance of avoiding even the "appearance of conflict of interest" to give us some hope. The following is from a Georgia Straight article on his appointment as CBC Ombudsman:

    "...Today's print edition of the paper still had him listed on the masthead as the managing editor.

    "A direct association with a journalism organization complicates my position's need to represent the public interest," LaPointe wrote on his blog today. "I want to avoid any appearance of a conflict in my new duties and provide the best possible service to the CBC by providing the best possible service to the public."

    Now that you've thrown the CBC's own ethics policy and practices guide in their faces, I'll be interested to know how the CBC worm themselves out of that.

    Maybe they'll get some help from Mrs. Spin to craft just the right words.

  7. I think everyone should complain to their MP on this matter, as it's our taxpayer dollars that are going towards this nepotistic arrangement.

    If they privatize the CBC, they can do whatever they want. While it's my $$$ footing the bill, they can't.

  8. Doesn't surprise me about Smart: ever listened to any of his stuff?

  9. All media outlets in the Press Gallery got about 12 minutes with the premier on the same day.
    Paul Willcocks

  10. I have also lodged a complaint with the CBC Ombudsman...should get a response by Jan 20 or so.

  11. Speaking of CBC and their besmirched role as "public broadcaster", here's another delightful example of why we can no longer trust their journalistic objectivity, or even their loyalty to the public's well-being.

    This morning (Thursday Jan 5, 2012) on CBC Radio's local morning show I heard Mark Forsythe, the host of the noon hour show BC Almanac, give a plug for his show later today. Mark Forythe said that BC Almanac would feature an interview and call-in segment on elder abuse crimes occurring inside and by staff at BC's hospitals and residential facilities.

    So, I listened to the entire BC Almanac show today, waiting for that segment, and ... nothing. Nothing even remotely related to this subject, and no reference to why they had suddenly dropped this item.

    I'm sure, if asked, the CBC will give some superficially plausible excuse for why they pulled that subject but it sure feels like this was yanked when someone in the government heard that the CBC was going to be giving more exposure to an explosive subject that they want to keep a tight lid on.

    Among many explosive stories the government and BC health authorities are desperately trying to suppress is this one briefly reported a couple days ago. An elderly Duncan, BC woman with dementia, who had been hospitalized for a fall, was raped by a 45-year-old patient who occupied one of the beds in her ward.

    Jody Paterson who occasionally writes for the Times-Colonist paper in Victoria (one of that rag's few good journalists) wrote a good commentary on the story and health authority's nonsensical response:

    Jody Paterson's blog reprints or links to the news story about the rape of the elderly woman in hospital.

  12. check the CBC Ombudsman site January 18th. It seems they caved



This is an archive only of items published before April 22, 2016. These and newer articles are available at:

If you read an article at this blogger site, you can comment on it at the new site.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.