Should a CBC radio and television commentator be accepting speaking fees for pro-Tar Sands speeches on the side without publicly disclosing the financial conflict of interest to viewers? Should a national newspaper consider--let alone sign--a strategic partnership with the oil industry (a.k.a. Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers) to produce content? Would such a move render the paper a non-news organization? Should it?
These two stories emerged over the last week and received almost no attention in the media. There has to be a better explanation than Olympic coverage eating up air time.
We’re all familiar with the National Post’s ‘tendencies’ (sorry Terrence) so I wasn’t overly shocked with the latter. But I have to say I was taken aback by the news about Rex Murphy.
This week, iPolitics revealed CBC’s Rex Murphy, a commentator on The National and host of CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup, has been accepting money from the oil industry in the form of speaking fees. Rex’s zeal for the Tar Sands, apparently, is a profitable commodity these days.
Rex’s Renewable Resource: Verbiage
Back in 1977, Dan McDermott (Sierra Club Canada Foundation’s Ontario Director), and I, were part of a Greenpeace team participating in a Halifax blockade of two sealing ships. Our armada of rubber boats was preventing the ships from leaving for the ice flows where seals were massing. After a headline grabbing day, CBC called and asked if one of us would debate the seal hunt with a Newfoundlander named Rex Murphy. I knew who Murphy was…I’d heard him on CBC radio before, so I knew it was an excellent opportunity—but I told Dan to “stay away from that guy.”
Sealing and the Tar Sands are very similar issues. On very different scales, they are both outdated, failed industries hanging on for dear life despite billions in corporate welfare from governments. They’re dinosaurs facing extinction. The jury is in and the facts are clear: both damage the environment, are unnecessary and morally questionable, and both ignore scientific evidence while blaming poor public relations for their unpopularity.
Back to Rex and Dan in 1977…I had Dan convinced that I thought he was no match for Rex. I had decided the best way to prepare Dan for the Rex was reverse psychology. For a day and half I told Dan that he “had no chance” … “he couldn’t handle a pro like Rex” and it was “OK to back out”. I told him tales of Newfoundland’s legendary town crier and prodded others from our armada to do the same. You could say ‘we wound him up real good.’ Well not only did Dan win the debate hands-down, he beat the erudite Mr. Murphy at his own game and didn’t let him get a word in edge wise. The recollection still brings a smile to my face—it’s a good lesson for anyone planning to engage Autosaurus Rex.
Make no mistake about it: Rex Murphy is a bombastic bitumen booster and enthusiastic exalter of all energy extraction activities. It’s shocking, frankly, that the CBC has not required Rex to disclose his oily conflict of interest.
I once asked long time CBC host Peter Gsowski to attend a rally. He told me he’d like to but CBC didn’t allow its own air personalities to take public positions or be seen as taking a position. Perception was reality, after all, he told me. Has this rule changed?
Just last week during the “At Issue” segment of The National, Peter Mansbridge disclosed that panelist Bruce Anderson’s daughter worked for Justin Trudeau to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest. Just moments later came Autosaurus Rex with his weekly tirade – but still no disclosure despite the iPolitcs exposé.
Declaring potential conflicts of interests is important these days with so much traditional media breaking down, and with more and more of the information not coming through an objective journalistic lens. As consumers of information we have a right to know about, and commentators have a responsibility to declare, conflicts of interest, perceived or otherwise.
Rex, as I’m sure you are aware, likes to make sport of environmentalists. He mocks climate change science while strongly (to put it mildly) supporting– you guessed it—the dirty Tar Sands, pipelines and offshore drilling.
There comes a time…
It’s a free world and Rex is entitled to his own opinions, but he needs to disclose his financial conflict of interest. It’s about time we see some transparency--this has gone on long enough. Rex Murphy and CBC have some ‘splaining to do. If Rex won’t shed any light on his extracurricular activities, perhaps CBC’s chief correspondent and star news anchor will.
Please take a moment and ask Mr. Mansbridge to ensure that viewers of CBC’s premier news broadcast, The National, get a full and transparent conflict of interest disclosure from Rex at the earliest opportunity.
You can contact Peter by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or via Twitter (@petermansbridge).
Thanks for your consideration and for taking action.
John Bennett, National Program Director
Sierra Club Canada Foundation
412-1 Nicholas Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 7B7
John on Twitter / Bennett Blog
Related: iPolitics (Feb. 21, 2014): "Is Rex ready to step up?"
Listen to Rex's shocking comments HERE