Monday, June 15, 2015

"Good Evening this is Casey and Finnegan with tonight's CBC National News!"

Good Day Readers:

It's interesting to speculate where former CBC glitterati Evan Solomon and Jian Ghomeshi will end up once the dust has settled. CyberSmokeBlog's prediction? Mr. Solomon will go on to become a Toronto art dealer that or CTV News will scoop him up. Jian Ghomeshi? He'll find enployment as a counselor in a woman's resource centre.

Clare L. Pieuk
CBC Ottawa bureau reeling after loss of Solomon in 'brutal year'

By Simon Doyle
Monday, June 15, 2015
CBC's Ottawa bureau was shocked after the sudden firing of Evan Solomon. (Hill Times file photo by Jake Wright)

CBC’s Ottawa bureau is in shock and trying to understand what happened after last week’s swift firing of Evan Solomon and the loss of one of the biggest names in Canadian journalism.

The bureau is now headed toward a fall election while “missing one of our biggest players,” one CBC employee said. Given recent controversy faced by CBC, the employee added: “It’s been a brutal year, absolutely brutal.”

Late last week, the bureau was still struggling to understand how the host of two top political shows—CBC News Network’s Power & Politics and CBC Radio’s The House—was fired so quickly as The Toronto Star reported that Mr. Solomon moonlighted as a broker for fine art, using at least one political contact to earn big commissions.

“It’s terrible. Everyone’s still numb,” said another CBC employee. “He was a tremendous journalistic leader.”

CBC journalists Chris Hall and Rosemary Barton had been hosting since Monday, when Mr. Solomon was unexpectedly taken off the show with no answers given to staff. They learned about Mr. Solomon’s dismissal Tuesday evening during that day’s airing of Power & Politics. An email from CBC News editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire, before the end of the program, informed staff about the news.

“Our hearts went up in our throats,” said another CBC employee, a reaction of dismay at the Crown corporation that’s been mixed with anger and frustration. “What he did was stupid.”

Friends and former colleagues have been reaching out to Mr. Solomon, with little response, however, as the former host lays low.

“We put people on the edge of the cliff and we almost relish the opportunity to see them fall,” said Liberal MP Adam Vaughan (Trinity-Spadina, Ont.), a former CBC journalist who knows Mr. Solomon personally. “Part of the problem with the business of both journalism and politics is that we have no way of allowing people to make honest mistakes and finding a way back to their lives.”

The Toronto Star reported early last week that, for commissions of about 10 per cent, Mr. Solomon had been working with Toronto art collector Bruce Bailey to broker sales of fine art to high-profile clients, including Jim Balsillie, co-founder of BlackBerry, and Mark Carney, former Bank of Canada governor and current governor of the Bank of England. Mr. Solomon earned at least $300,000 over two years through sales, according to the Star. Mr. Solomon had dealt with Mr. Balsillie as a journalist at CBC and Mr. Carney had appeared on both of his shows.

In a follow-up story last week, the Star reported that Mr. Solomon had fallen into a dispute with Mr. Bailey and considered suing him for the payment of $1-million he believed he was owed in commissions.

Mr. Solomon issued a statement through his lawyer last week that said the business involved “only two clients” and that, following the dispute, he ended the partnership.

“I did not view the art business as a conflict with my political journalism at the CBC and never intentionally used my position at the CBC to promote the business,” Mr. Solomon said. “I am deeply sorry for the damage that my activities have done to the trust that the CBC and its viewers and listeners have put in me.”

The morning after the story broke, Ms. McGuire held a conference call with senior news manager Jonathan Whitten as well as other managers in Ottawa and the Power & Politicsteam, CBC sources said.

During the call, the people said, Ms. McGuire confirmed that The Toronto Star story was accurate. Staff raised questions about the actions against Mr. Solomon compared to the broadcaster’s dealing with Amanda Lang, the high-profile CBC business journalist who had taken paid speaking engagements at events sponsored by Royal Bank of Canada. (CBC updated its speaking policies this year to prevent such fees.)

Ms. Barton covered the story of Mr. Solomon’s dismissal on Power & Politics Wednesday evening, noting that the show had unsuccessfully requested an interview with CBC management to discuss the issue.

“Ending our relationship with Evan Solomon was upsetting for me and many other colleagues in CBC News,” Ms. McGuire said in a note to staff last week, adding: “It’s time for every single professional journalist and media organization to stop providing ammunition.”

Ms. McGuire’s note said Mr. Solomon disclosed to CBC in April that “a production company he owned with his wife had a business partnership with an art dealer. We told him, and he assured us, this could not conflict in any way with his work for CBC News.”

She added that, under the collective bargaining agreement with CBC, employees have a right to earn income outside of CBC.

Craig Stehr, a labour lawyer with Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP in Ottawa, said journalism ethics must be taken seriously, though Mr. Solomon may have recourse through CBC union the Canadian Media Guild depending on what policies were breached, what was disclosed to management, and what guidance management provided him, if any.

“We also need to take a close look at how serious that breach is,” Mr. Stehr said. “Not all conflicts of interest are created equal.”

In a statement last week, Carmel Smyth, national president of the Canadian Media Guild, suggested Mr. Solomon’s quick dismissal may have been linked to previous CBC controversies, such as the broadcaster’s handling of Amanda Lang’s relationship with the Royal Bank or the Jian Ghomeshi scandal.

“We are concerned that factors unrelated to this case have caused management to single out and treat a respected journalist unfairly and in a way that may be very damaging to his career,” Ms. Smyth said.

There may have been a “disproportionate response” or even “an unintentional breach of corporate policy,” she said.

Hubert Lacroix, chief executive of CBC/Radio-Canada, said in scheduled interview with CBC Halifax last week that the broadcaster acted on information from its own, independent investigation. He said the decision to fire Mr. Solomon was made in the context of employment lawyer Janice Rubin’s report into the Jian Ghomeshi affair, which found senior managers failed to investigate reports of inappropriate behaviour and breaches of standards.

“There’s always been zero tolerance,” Mr. Lacroix said. “We were challenged by the Rubin report, by the recommendations that came out of Mme. Rubin, and all the actions we took from there on [are] about protecting and supporting the integrity of the content and the journalism that we make.”

CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson said the broadcaster is looking for a permanent host, with Ms. Barton and Mr. Hall expected to fill in for now. Mr. Thompson couldn’t say whether CBC is looking for a single person to host both The House and Power & Politics.

With files from Abbas Rana


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