Monday, June 21, 2010

Will Fox News North protect whistle-blowers?

Former Sun Media reporter and Parliament Hill veteran Elizabeth Thompson, who was laid-off last week from Quebecor's Hill Bureau (along with Christina Spencer and Peter Zimonjic) raises an interesting point in The Hill Times today, and points to some of the inherent conflicts in having a news organization run by the Prime Minister's former communications director:

"At least I can stop wondering what would happen the first time the PMO called my bosses because they didn't like a story or what I would do if Kory asked me for the name of a confidential source or a whistleblower," she said.
This is a very serious question. If a Sun/QMI reporter writes or airs a story critical of the Harper government, based on a leak or whistle-blower either from within the Conservative government or the civil service, just how will this be handled by the editors, and by Kory Teneycke? Will the PMO pressure Teneycke and QMI to disclose their sources? Will Teneycke pressure his staff to name names?

These are some of the inherent conflicts this new venture is going to have to deal with because of Teneycke's involvement, and were I a serious journalist at QMI I'd want some strong assurances around process, and Chinese walls. This doesn't necessarily have to be a problem if Teneycke makes clear up-front that editorial is editorial, he'll leave those decisions to his editors, and he doesn't want to know about sources. There are stories though when legal and management need to be involved, and it would be hard to cut him out entirely.

And even with those assurances, there are two other problems here. One Thompson identified: what happens when I do stories that piss off the PMO? The inherent risk there is of self-censorship to avoid consequences, real or imagined. The other is if people will be less likely to go to QMI with scoops or inside information, fearful they won't be protected. That makes it harder for their journalists to do their job, and do it well.

These problems aren't unsurmountable. And as I've said, I support any organization that wants to invest in journalism in this country. But only as long as they let journalists be journalists. And I'm sure people like David Akin would have gotten some assurances before signing on. But it will be interesting to see how Sun TV handles these conflicts, and how they do will be a significant factor in their success or failure.

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10 comments:

Proud Canadian said...

"Will Fox News North protect whistle-blowers?" We have no Idea! But I have a problem with those who are criticizing this potential new network even before a single show has been aired! "Ridiculous" Its the same has criticizing a movie before seeing it! Let me make a prediction here!Also the same people who are criticizing the new news network are going to be the first ones watching! I personally believe that we're going to see this new network next winter. The reason why is that even if the CRTC should reject the licence the government will overrule it and I also believe they will get the same license Cat one just has the other two network. What do you think Jeff, will Sun TV see the light of day this winter?

rockfish said...

Great observations, Jeff. If we haven't already been exposed to slanted media coverage (see the big 3 media's coverage of the realty story over the past 3 years, their coverage on harper and accountability, harper's meetings with murdoch, etc) I'd be well assured by the mumblings coming from this Q-monstre. However, as I see it the early fingerprints already want to establish a non-balanced tenor, a 'slant' of which in our training to become journalists is something that reporters and editors are expected to battle against, right and left.
Just a question - all this whinning by the likes of PC and the CON ilk about 'left-wing media' seems to be singing a loud note that is feeding the Q-monstre machine. But where oh where and when will the media on radio be expected to return the favour? Take a drive across Canada and fuel up on the chatter and blather from those hosts and you'll come to think for the most part you're in texas. Is it because the hillbilly Harper team is sucking their fans dry of funds that the poor yokels can't afford a tv?

Greg said...

If a Sun/QMI reporter writes or airs a story critical of the Harper government,

See, your premise is all wrong from the get go. The Sun/QMI will never air or publish a story critical of the Harper government.

CanadianSense said...

Really?

Looks like more groupthink in deriding of competition.

Investors and viewers will ultimately decide if the proposed Sun TV product is successful.

Should we be debate how much more likely the Sun TV female hosts will be attractive by referencing the American product as well?

The mainstream, left of centre pundits seem to be almost in a panic of competition. Why is that?

Jeff Jedras said...

PC and CS,

I have been quite supportive of the new venture, particularly compared to many of my (l)iberal friends. But if you don't see reason for discussion around the potential for conflict having that comes with having this led by the PM's former communications director, then your partisan blinders are on too tightly for us to ever hope to have a reasonable discussion.

Let me put it this way: while I know my concerns as a journalist would be the same were, say, Peter Donolo tapped to head a new news network, I suspect your take on the potential for conflict would be pretty different.

Proud Canadian said...

Jeff the point is that the network isn't off the ground yet. I didn't hear has much criticism from the liberals and left when Harper selected the new head of the CBC. Oh I didn't hear ok now that Mr.Harper has put one of his people to head the CBC it will now be more conservative,why is it? Mr. Teneycke and Quebecor must be enjoying all of this free publicity that they're getting right now!

In general the news shows that we have are boring with a couple of exception here and there! I have no doubt that the Sun TV News will work,especially if they allow call in shows the way we have on LCN in Quebec. LCN is the number 1 French news channel here in Quebec which is owned by Quebecor. Its far more popular than RDI which is subsidized by our tax dollars.

CanadianSense said...

Jeff,

Balance is a funny thing.

I have zero problem with the left having their talking heads.

The current products sucks and some new talking heads may help fix the boring stuff from the left.

As much as the left feel wafers, arriving 120 behind OBAMA is newsworthy, some of us feel the bigger stuff is not being covered.

If Sun TV sucks it will fold, the market will make that call.

Are the left really upset with the potential of more eye candy on televsion?

Kory should be sending thank you notes to those who have provided so much free publicity in attacking this CRTC submission.

Ted Betts said...

"some of us feel the bigger stuff is not being covered."

Which is why, I suppose, Kory highlighted the dire need for them to cover the "big stuff" like the launch of Victoria Secret Canada.

I don't actually think this will be Fox News North. This is going to be the Toronto/Calgary/Ottawa Sun on TV. It will certainly be more conservative, but it will be more populist than ideological, aim for the lower common denominator than sophisticated in-depth commentary. If you read carefully what Kory says without the spin from Blogging Tories, you'll see he does not highlight the conservative side of this nearly as much as the entertaining side of it.

That is better than Fox News or MSNBC or any of the yelling crap that paints a false left-right picture of the world, and pretends to be news or even serious opinion/commentary.

But it will still be crap. Perhaps more entertaining crap, but crap nonetheless. Not because it will be right or left, but because it will be small and superficial. The Sun does local really well and righteous indignation pretty well and short snippits of news well, but if I want to learn about something about something I go for the long and boring.

It certainly is not up to me to decide for others and if the market can support it, then no one should be stopping it.

It certainly does concern me, as it should everyone, that the Prime Minister and his Communications Director were negotiating the issues with this channel just a few months before his Communications Director became its head. That the PM and his chief spokeman would be setting up a deliberately ideologically driven - at least in part - TV channel should frighten people on the left and on the right. We don't need more Big Brother; we need less.

But I have a higher regard for Canadians. I fully believe that most Canadians are not as politically partisan as us pundits, or as in the US. And we're a lot smaller. We also don't watch news in nearly the same numbers (actual numbers or percentages) as Americans. If this conservative channel turns into a mountpiece for Conservatives then it will die, not a quick death because enough ideologs will come along and support it, but a long and painful and public death like other ideologically-driven media ventures (National Post, Western Standard, The Record, etc.).

"If Sun TV sucks it will fold, the market will make that call."

And yet they want to force me to pay for their crap in a "must offer" license. Meaning, whether i or the market likes it or not, we will be subsidizing them.

Does anyone doubt that, if the CRTC does it's job properly and deny them a "must offer" license that the cabinet will overrule them? As usual, "Conservatives: our principles don't apply to us".

CanadianSense said...

Awkward

The left, anti-Harper thugs are upset Sun TV has applied for an equal footing with their competitors like CBC, CTV and Global?

Ted, find a cave, stop paying taxes, start a garden to avoid supporting the evil Theocracy in Canada.

You most likely believe that 26% is the floor. Let's hope the leaders can get all his MPs to vote against this government in the Fall before JC takes him out.

Ted Betts said...

"evil theocracy"?

What on earth are you talking about CS? You get more nonsensical every single day.

Even if I knew what you were whining about, I'm quite certain it is not worth a response.