Future bleak for Brent Rathgeber’s CBC disclosure bill; perhaps less so for Rex Murphy’s commentaries

Your blogger with CBC commentator Rex Murphy, quite possibly on his way to a speaking engagement with the oil industry. Below: the same blogger with Edmonton-St. Albert Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber, who has a date with history next week; the controversial Press Progress Rex Murphy info-graphic.

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

MP Brent Rathgeber’s private member’s bill, the CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act, is scheduled to be back before the denizens of the House of Commons on Wednesday night.

Bill C-461 has no chance of passing in the form the Edmonton-St. Albert Member of Parliament desires for the simple reason that from the perspective of the Prime Minister’s Office the national broadcaster is now behaving itself with properly helpful deference to the Harper Government and its policies.

The recent kerfuffle in progressive and environmental corners of the Internet about CBC commentator Rex Murphy’s frequent and apparently quite profitable oil industry speaking dates could be argued to illustrate quite nicely how this is working for both the CBC and the PMO.

For his part, Mr. Murphy struck back today from his lofty perch at the National Post at critics who have argued he should declare his relationship with Big Oil to listeners on the CBC’s The National and Cross Country Checkup with a broadside in which he accused “vicious blog posts” of seeking “to shut me up.”

Before we get to that, what do you say we consign Mr. Rathgeber’s doomed bill to the ash heap of history?

The appearance of Bill C-461 in the House Wednesday is sure to generate a certain amount of media attention – not so much because of the content of the bill but because of what Mr. Rathgeber so famously did last June when the Parliamentary committee considering it made changes of which he disapproved.

Readers will recall that Mr. Rathgeber surprised everyone, possibly including himself, by resigning from the Conservative caucus to sit as an Independent, earning for himself a certain amount of popularity in media circles, a book contract and no doubt the undying hatred of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cabal of strategists.

While this has made Mr. Rathgeber popular with some voters, and of course with the media, it has not done much to enhance his Parliamentary career in this riding, which has reliably elected Conservative candidates under one party name or another with metronomic regularity throughout the Reform-Alliance-Conservative era.

Indeed, it is said here that after the next federal election in 2015, Mr. Rathgeber will follow his bill into the history books, possibly reemerging as a political commentator on the CBC alongside Mr. Murphy.

The fate of the bill, which if it were passed the way Mr. Rathgeber wants would make the salaries of CBC employees paid more than $188,600 a year subject to Freedom of Information searches, will generate additional headlines, quite naturally, because the media likes stories about the media.

What really seems to have made Mr. Rathgeber mad last June in fact was when MPs on the committee, led by the majority from his own former party, raised the search threshold to $444,661, a development he discusses in this recent post on his MP website.

As for the demands that commentator Rex Murphy declare on air his connection to the oil industry and the fees they pay him, the CBC has been blowing them off with an email from Chief Correspondent Peter Mansbridge that smarmily tells writers, “you were one of a few dozen concerned viewers who wrote to me, most it seems, after being encouraged to do so by the latest Sierra Club fundraising blog.” (Sierra Club supporters of my acquaintance say they have received no such thing, but whatever…)

More likely, members of the public who have written the CBC have been provoked by reports in the Broadbent Institute’s Press Progress online publication, which published an info-graphic Thursday saying Mr. Murphy as been paid up to $30,000 a pop for 25 speeches to oil and gas groups since 2009, and by former CBC and CTV journalist Andrew Mitrovica’s columns on iPolitics.

On Tuesday, Mr. Mitrovica argued that both CBC News and Mr. Murphy have a duty to inform viewers and listeners of Mr. Murphy’s relationship with the oil and gas industry. However, he wrote, “apparently neither CBC News nor Murphy believes that they have a journalistic duty to disclose such a conflict … even though CBC News requires other so-called ‘freelancers’ to publicly reveal other types of conflicts in order to be seen as transparent.”

In a column yesterday, just before Mr. Murphy entered the fray directly with his National Post column, Mr. Mitrovica said, “I hope he avoids the tedious tendency of his confrere, Conrad Black, to hurl epithets as a substitute for argument,” and further that “I also hope Murphy doesn’t paint himself as the aggrieved victim of a cabal of left-wing rags and hacks.”

Alas, the way I read Mr. Murphy’s column this morning, that is pretty much what he has done.

He accuses his opponents of calling him “a ventriloquist for hire,” which he dismisses as “an empty, insulting slur against my reputation as a journalist.”

To be fair, this isn’t quite what those who argue for disclosure of Mr. Murphy’s speaking fees by the CBC are saying, but I suppose a certain amount of hyperbole in such a situation is inevitable.

Mr. Murphy argues that speaking to oil industry groups for “more than a dollar” (his only comment on the quantum of his speaking fees) is no different from his being paid for speeches to farmers, academics, A&W hamburger-restaurant franchisees, and civil servants over the years.

Full disclosure here: I have a fairly low tolerance for Mr. Murphy’s commentary and I have never stayed tuned long enough to hear the many stout defences of A&W hamburgers or Canadian civil servants that he presumably has offered on the air. 

Mr. Murphy notes that he once appeared on the same stage as the late NDP Leader Jack Layton – although I’ll bet that Mr. Layton wasn’t paid on that occasion. And he vows that he’s not about to change, which is of course his right even if it is not really the issue.

In conclusion, if I could be so bold as to offer a suggestion to a politician I have too often complained about, perhaps it’s not too late for Mr. Rathgeber to slip a clause into his bill requiring the CBC to publish its freelance commentators’ speaking fees, no matter how large or small, and who paid them?

Either way, count on it that we’ll be hearing more about both stories in the next few days.

In the interests of even fuller disclosure, it needs to be said that I am a member of one union, the United Steelworkers, an employee of another, the United Nurses of Alberta, and an unabashed supporter of the labour movement in the pages of this blog. Like Mr. Murphy, I occasionally speak to groups in an engaging, sometimes even riveting, fashion. Also like him, my words are always my own and it’ll take more than a few vicious blog posts or cheap Tweets from ministers of the Crown to make me change. Unlike Mr. Murphy, alas, I am rarely paid for my bon mots and, when I am, I can’t ever recall getting more than $100 and a serving of rubber chicken. But let the record show that if any oil company offers me $30,000 to speak, I can’t promise that they’ll like what I have to say, but by gosh I’ll strive to make it entertaining! This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

11 Comments on "Future bleak for Brent Rathgeber’s CBC disclosure bill; perhaps less so for Rex Murphy’s commentaries"

  1. anonymous says:

    I once attended a conference where Rex was a luncheon keynote speaker. Halfway through his diatribe, I began laughing. The problem was, I was the only one laughing, and all of the innocent luncheon eyes directed their gaze towards me. I quickly exited stage left. I assume my fellow luncheoneers had never experienced such an obsequious sycophantic offering, served by Rex, the kind that so titillates the appetites of conference goers.

    “David’s Tea”? I didn’t know you had a concession at the airport. Is that ‘medical tea’?

    • In answer to Anonymous 12:06′s question, none of my tea is medicinal, with or without quotation marks. As for the TV screen that states #Outworks, I have no idea what that’s about either.

  2. Have you commented on this issue: the CBC Eyeopener in Calgary has a regular weekly slot for Deb Yedlin. I am not aware of a similar regular weekly slot for someone who presents other than her purely business/corporate oil viewpoint–for example, Pembina, Parkland, and “citizen–community” based organizations that could offer another insight on the “business/oil” issues that she is given so much free time to expound on–alone.

    As with Murphy’s regular slot–how does CBC fulfill it’s mandate for responsible journalism when The National has no regular weekly slot(s) for others who hold viewpoints arising from different and/or non-partisan platforms?

    The problem of excellence in tax-supported journalism crosses boundaries. Unbelievable from Australia:
    “On the ABC TV’s flagship, 730 Report, the “talent” chosen to give an independent perspective was Burchell Wilson, the chief economist from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a right wing ideologue and a fierce anti-renewable campaigner.” http://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/renewable-energy-review-could-have-a-preordained-outcome-29730

  3. anonymous says:

    “#Outworks, I have no idea what that’s about either.”

    ‘Outworks’ is what happens after you imbibe David’s Tea. It is a diuretic, after all.

  4. Sam Gunsch says:

    Mitrovica also reports that the National Post editor is dodging the core issue of disclosure of funding sources. Surprise, surprise.

    http://www.ipolitics.ca/2014/02/21/is-rex-ready-to-step-up/

    excerpt: ” Murphy needs to do what he lectures so many others to do, including politicians, native groups, artists and environmentalists: He needs to take responsibility for his choices and actions.

    Murphy can’t make the exculpatory and shallow argument advanced by his editor Kay — that, since many other “freelance journalists” accept speaking fees to make a living, it’s simply a modern, industry-wide practice.

    Kay misses the point. The core issue being debated here is disclosure. The public has a right to know whether Murphy or any other journalist — freelance or not — is accepting money from sources they opine or report about. All the rest is obfuscation.

    Why is that so difficult for Kay, the CBC and Murphy to even acknowledge?”
    =====================

    Sam Gunsch

  5. ronmac says:

    $30,000 in speaking fees? I’m sure there are plenty of audiences out there who will gladly double that to get him to stfu after 50 minutes.

    • This presents an intriguing idea – the possibility of “crowd-sourcing” Mr. Murphy’s silence – not, of course, because of his views, but because he is so darned irritating and cuts off his Cross Country Checkup guests whenever they are about to say something interesting or mildly at variance with the line he is pushing. I mentioned in the post my low tolerance for his on-air persona. It is inevitably during Mr. Murphy’s attempts to silence his commenters that my finger seeks the button for a classical music station.

      • ronmac says:

        Exactly. If RM played his cards rights he can claim he’s not getting a penny in speaking fees so he’s got nothing to disclose. Those tens of thousands of dollars allegedly changing hands is like ransom being paid for the release of hostages being verbally tortured.

  6. Owen Brnaond says:

    How much does David charge for a speech? Just asking.

  7. President of the CBC. I’m just wondering why Canada’s top Conservative would appoint right-biased / right-wing CEOs and Directors to run the CBC.

    Repost from XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX – Re CBC – I don’t agree with those who are blaming CBC for getting the Cons elected, etc. I know people who work at a couple of different CBC stations and the inside story – which they can’t reveal – is awful. Ever since Steve HarperCON’s guy took over, the pressure on them has been enormous! You’ve noticed, for example Evan being not only front and centre, but now promoted! Evan?! That’s all coming down from HarpCons.

    Every person who works there is absolutely walking on eggs almost all the time – unless they’ve been appointed by Harper. There have been tons of “unexpected” lay-offs and “disappearances” of staff who tried to buck the system or to report differently. From all the CBC people I know, in fact – under the dreadful circumstances and incredible pressures in which they find themselves for the past few years, increasingly since pre-election – they have managed to keep doing a pretty good job, imo – all things considered. They still are mostly really trying and they still do better than anyone else we have. There are definitely two sides to this story – so I’m just mentioning the other side.

    I remember reading something a couple of months ago, about the employees of CBC having to sign some kind of agreement which affects their ability to criticize the government. not exactly a gag order.

    (first scroll down to accept button, then you’ll be taken to article)
    http://www.friends.ca/news-item/10398

  8. David Grant says:

    As usual, Dave, I couldn’t agree with you more. I don’t doubt that Rex Murphy’s opinions, however inane I find them, are his own but there is a good issue of transparency. I don’t think people like myself want to censor him, but challenge. It is just sad that someone as intelligent as Rex is would write such drivel on almost every subject. I used to listen to him far more regularly when he debuted on Cross Country Checkup in 1994, but sometime after 9/11 he started to take a very hawkish, pro-American, climate change denying, and pro oil-sands positions. I found that he sounded like a broken record and began to tune him right out and not listen to the program anymore. Regrettably, there are a lot of people who identify with him and he will be around for awhile until he decides to retire, and for my sake, it won’t be soon enough.

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