Two sides good, one side bad

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.

 

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17 Responses to Two sides good, one side bad

  1. catherine reid says:

    You have waited a long while to write on this. Congratulations.

  2. Kim says:

    You, Rafe Mair, Ross K., BC Mary, Laila, Grant G., Kootkoot and many more, even myself at times. We see. We know. We just don’t have any money to form a co-op or something! Thank you for this post. Exactly right!

  3. Ole Nielson says:

    As far as your question of “where is BC’s Huffington Post?” is concerned, I think that between you, Laila, BC Mary, et al, we already have our Huffington Post. And thanks to all for that!!

    I think what we need in BC is our own whistleblower, a counterpart to Sean Hoare. It would take a lot of courage, but there is someone on the “inside” who knows much but is fearful of repercussions.

    Perhaps for good reason – Sean Hoare was recently found dead in his London apartment. To be fair, Sean was described as having a drug/alcohol problem, and we only need to look at the sad Amy Winehouse for what that can lead to.

  4. Shell says:

    maybe you need to start it……

  5. Robbie says:

    Excellent stuff, thanks for your diligence and respect for the public’s right to know what is happening on their dime.

  6. John says:

    Really great piece, Ian. In the U.K., there is little media competition, but at least just enough that the Guardian will investigate the Times. In Canada, the Star, Globe or Post regularly get up enough energy to attack each others’ sympathies and columnists. But, in BC? Nothing. Just the club.

  7. ron wilton says:

    Impressive analysis!

    Unfortunately, we also need an ‘inside’ contact to get important substance like your article out to a broader audience than currently achievable in the blogosphere.

    Someone who works for, or knows someone who works for, a reputable arm of the MSM, would be helpful.

    Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.

    How do we get CBC to feature this article?

  8. Canadian Canary says:

    Umm, Ron Wilton, you asked “how do we get CBC to feature this article?”

    Am I missing your sarcasm or are you serious?

    As Ian wrote in the piece above, Rick Cluff (CBC Radio Vancouver) is a golfing buddy of the ruling party. And CBC Victoria’s bureau chief Stephen Smart is married to a woman who until a few months ago was a radio producer in Vancouver, and who Christy Clark appointed to the premier’s Executive branch as communications director. So the CBC is pretty tight with the powerful clan ruining this province. Oh, and Stephen Smart’s daddy is a BC Supreme Court judge. They have all the bases covered, and this does not bode well for the people of BC.

    Have a look at an article that was published by CBC’s national News Editor saying that Murdoch-style corruption couldn’t happen in Canada:

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2011/07/22/f-vp-enkin.html

    The best thing about this article is the proliferation of comments decrying the article and Canadian media’s absence of integrity. The comments mocked the CBC and Canadian mainstream media for its utter failure to provide believable and honest coverage of the news.

    Ron, I share your fervent hope that there might be conscientious, principled and courageous “insiders” in Canada’s mainstream media, but no one comes to mind anymore.

    We need a Ralph Nader, an unaligned, unsulliable person with a laser-like instinct for decency, and the drive and analytical ability to get through the crap. Too much polarization and tendency to stick to the party line on either side of the political spectrum. The right defends business, the left defends unions, and the worst of it is, both of them defend their fiefdoms, come hell or high water, even when there’s considerable evidence to support critical investigation into one of their fiefdoms.

    On the sidelines, watching it all, are the hyenas of our society, the media and the lawyers, all waiting to go in for the kill when it will best serve their purposes. The fixers.

    You have done a great service Ian to expose this story of media cowardice, greed and complicity. Now if only we could alert ordinary people across the province so that they would wake up and stop supporting those who are raping and pillaging the province of BC.

  9. Maharg says:

    An excellent presentation, Ian!

    Some viewer responses are also very good.

    Canadian Canary comments deserve repeating : “….We need a Ralph Nader, an unaligned, unsulliable person with a laser-like instinct for decency, and the drive and analytical ability to get through the crap…..You have done a great service Ian to expose this story of media cowardice, greed and complicity.” I totally agree!

    I also know what it is like to work for henchmen of both Campbell & Dobell. Their ethics were also in short supply.

  10. BC Mary says:

    .
    Bravo, Ian!

    .

  11. Maya says:

    This is a story that needs to be heard. Thanks Ian for putting it all together. There is no hyperbole here, just the truth.
    PS thinking of you guys!

  12. BC Mary says:

    Here it is, August 2, 2011, and there’s nothing in Canada’s mainstream west-coast news media about Rupert Murdoch or News of the World, although by other means I’ve learned that U.K. police have arrested one more former NotW editor today. And the alarm bells are going off in my head, as this starts to feel like the BC Rail tragedy again …

    From Day #1 (Dec. 28, 2003) I have held it as a true statement that the secret shifting of BC Rail from public hands into private pockets was our key … a key which would open up the back shop where such shady deals are formed and given life. The tragedy of BC Rail was like a template, in which a precious public resource built for provincial development, was suddenly gone, despite promises that it would never be sold … and despite protests. Although the deal remains partially secret, we did know that there was 5th year anniversary repossession clause in the BCR-CN deal (July 14, 2009), and that the Opposition’s Justice Critic, Leonard Krog shirked his duty when asked to lead the group ready and willing to challenge CN. Because there were/are grounds for repossession. That’s when we learned that there’s little difference between one corrupted official or another, elected or otherwise. Anyone who believed what the complacent news media of Vancouver published, was robbed of that delusion when the phony trial of Basi, Virk, and Basi was shut down without warning on October 18, 2010.

    OK, so now we come to the massive scandal of the Murdoch media empire, caught red-handed in the corruption of the very media we need so desperately, if we’re to make sane choices in a world gone mad with criminality added to floods, forest fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, and international money-meltdowns. The Murdoch Method of news-gathering and news-publishing is stuff we, the people, need to know.

    The similarities are there already. So obvious. The Conservative Prime Minister of Britain has close personal ties with Murdoch … 26 visits … and yet Peter Mansbridge is a dinner guest at 24 Sussex Drive, without it being mentioned in print. Mansbridge was also an invited guest at this year’s secretive, exclusive Bilderberg Group, barely touched upon in print. And already, Canadian Press is producing ridiculous pap telling us that Murdoch-gate could never happen in Canada because … because …

    So my new question is: shouldn’t the news media be paying a lot more attention to the deconstruction of the Murdoch empire? Because, if there aren’t enough honest journalists or independent publishers left in the world to properly reveal the facts of that story, we’ve got work to do. A lotta work.

    how badly British Columbians are served by those who hold the power of deciding what’s news in BC.

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  14. imagine... says:

    Think of the power of this story if it had included the name of the reporter you originally spoke with – imagine…

  15. James says:

    Just read the article from Esther Enkin CBC editor, talk about blowing smoke up your own butt.

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