A few years ago I sat down in the offices of a reporter covering the BC Rail corruption trial. I handed him a stack of information contained in affidavits sworn by BC Liberal government lawyers and employees and released by the court, affidavits the reporter hadn’t reviewed and wasn’t going to review.
The affidavits showed that Gordon Campbell’s deputy minister Ken Dobell had violated the terms of the court ordered protocol for vetting potentially privileged documents relevant to the investigation. The violation was not an innocent mistake as Dobell helped draft the vetting protocol document under the auspices of Chief Justice Dohm. Dobell also formally signed off on the protocol
When I first reviewed the affidavits revealing the breach together with Dohm’s original order and the documents laying out the case for the order it became clear to me that Dobell’s ‘error’ was serious and could even be a criminal code violation.
The issue was this: In order to vet government documents required by the investigation but perhaps containing privileged government information five people were given the right to see the documents. In return they signed a legal document promising they would not disclose a thing about those documents to anyone.
That confidentiality agreement meant the RCMP could claim their investigation was untainted by interference, political or otherwise. And the government could still claim privilege over documents.
Dobell was not one of the five people entitled to see documents and Dobell had not signed any confidentiality agreement at the time he saw the documents in question. Under the terms of this legally binding protocol Dobell was not allowed to see these documents in the context of the case.
Along with the documents Dobell was given a list of the questions the RCMP intended to ask Cabinet Ministers Collins and Reid and other government employees as well as a short note briefing him on timing and other issues.
In other words the senior member of Gordon Campbell’s staff was provided with documents the RCMP thought relevant to the investigation along with the RCMP’s questions about those documents and how they related to the sale.
Dobell was not bound by the confidentiality agreement and there was nothing to stop him from speaking with Collins or Reid. This was precisely the situation the protocol was set up to avoid.
Just as importantly, there was nothing to stop the defence from raising this issue when either Collins or Reid took the stand, undercutting the prosecution’s case and raising serious doubt about the integrity of the RCMP investigation given Dobell’s unauthorized access to the documents and the RCMP’s line of questioning.
An interesting detail is the fact that Collins mysteriously changed his mind within weeks of Dobell acquiring this information and announced his resignation from government.
If one were looking for a reason why the trial abruptly ended as Collins was about to take the stand, the protocol issue may have some relevance.
The reporter, over the course of a couple of hours and then days considered the story. It was shared with editors, who shared it with their bosses. And the bosses killed it. Or that’s what the reporter told me.
They killed it because they called Dobell and Dobell told them something along the lines of “I was entitled to see those documents, so there is no story.” They took Dobell’s word over the hard and fixed legalities of Judge Dohm’s order, which completely and directly shredded Dobell’s statement.
By and large, that’s the media in BC. And why do I care?
Because the truth suffers.
That little anecdote, which is just one of many, serves to illustrate how badly British Columbians are served by those who hold the power of deciding what’s news in BC.
The anecdote came to my mind last week as I read the latest news about the Murdoch scandal.
The Murdoch/hacking scandal is about two things – the practice of illegally hacking cell phones and in at least one case, illegally destroying evidence relating to the murder of a thirteen year old girl, and the tight web of journalist/police/political connections that the Murdochs employed to cover up the hacking scandal.
The stories are already out there saying how the hacking scandal could never happen in Canada. And that may or may not be true. Again, who cares?
It’s the second part that’s so relevant to BC and Canada. The ties between BC’s media and the BC Liberals make the Murdochs look like pikers.
In England right now it’s a story that PM David Cameron employed the editor of the News of the World as his press secretary. In BC, half of the local CTV news broadcast work as political appointees for Christy Clark.
In England, Parliamentary committee members were shocked to hear how often Murdoch and his chief aides met or spoke with the Prime Minister. Bill Good, Rick Cluff and others share personal relationships with BC Liberal premiers, Cabinet members and MLAs. They hang out. They golf together. They are personal friends.
There are many buddy/buddy relationships that get in the way of real reporting.
Dennis Skulsky – the former publisher of the Sun, Board of Trade activist and intense networker – consulted regularly with Premier Campbell. I don’t believe it’s any accident that the stadium roof was a Campbell priority given his relationship with Skulsky, the Lions biggest booster and now head of the club.
Every major outlet has some conflict… Editors are married to key BC Liberal strategists and PAB employees, former reporters staff government communications jobs using their connections to move government stories… The CBC’s bureau chief in Victoria is married to the Premier’s communications strategist…
It all works one way. The club at the top is a club that doesn’t admit New Democrats. That’s not to say there aren’t some exceptions, mostly to be found amongst the reporters, but it’s very true that the higher you go in the decision making pile, the rarer it is to find someone from the centre let alone the centre left.
That’s a problem because the club works towards one end, one vision – it’s not interested in a world of conflicting ideas and difficult truths. It’s not interested in the things that are usually considered the role of the media to deliver.
In BC – from the Sun to Global TV – the stories, the editorials, the views that are expressed tend to support one end of the ideological spectrum. It doesn’t serve BC well.
The real issue is that there shouldn’t be a club.
That’s part of what’s got England so enraged. The club created the setting where the most powerful member of the club thought hacking was okay, even when it compromised a murder investigation. Then the club got together to cover it up as well as possible.
That could be the BC Rail story in a nutshell. Much of the media was part of the strategy to sell from the beginning. And they’re still a party to the cover-up. The local Bell media clan – CTV and the Globe – were spoon fed by the prosecution with information that only supported the prosecution’s view that the full extent of the scandal is nothing but the actions of a small group of rogues. And now the CTV newsroom staffs the Premier.
What’s worse is it’s not isolated. The club brings the same vision to every story. For every BC Rail story half hidden by the club there’s another two fully hidden.
You tell me how any reporter or editor can conclude that the half-billion dollar RFP for the development rights to BC Place stadium wasn’t suspicious if city staff were working to accommodate the specific design requirements of Paragon eight months before the RFP was released by Pavco?
And the go between for the City and Pavco? Ken Dobell.
I’ve had reporters tell me about BC Rail and other similar scandals, yeah but that was then, what have you got that’s now?
Well the hacking scandal was then. And it’s now. That reporters and editors in England and elsewhere can see that describes the difference between BC’s mainstream media and just about everybody else.
What’s the answer? That’s unclear but the end of the content oligopoly can’t be anything but positive as long as the other side – the unrepresented side – starts doing something about it.
Where the heck is BC’s Huffington Post? Somebody please start thinking about that.