Canada’s national public broadcaster has been covering the biggest media story of recent years as a breaking news story, but its investigative team has yet to produce a report on Jian Ghomeshi and the CBC refuses to say exactly what resources are devoted to it.
Its media panels have not directly tackled the Ghomeshi story or have been absent altogether, as is the case with the Q media panel.
The CBC’s spokesman, Chuck Thompson, will not provide details on the nature or extent of any journalistic investigation.
“It’s fair to say they’re looking into the story,” wrote Thompson in an email.
“That’s as much as I’m prepared to say,” he said in response to further questions.
Ghomeshi’s name was mentioned once and the story discussed directly for less than one minute on the “Media Watch” segment that aired on Tuesday night’s The National, which was discussing anonymous sources in general rather than the specific situation.
Hosts and a producer with the fifth estate, CBC’s flagship investigative show, refused to disclose whether they’re working on the story, saying it’s against their policy to talk about ongoing investigations.
“If the CBC is not investigating it journalistically, that’s a big problem. I think . . . the CBC needs to put the full force of its journalistic ability into doing the story because I think it is of national interest, and it’s an important story,” said Jeffrey Dvorkin, director of the journalism program at University of Toronto Scarborough and a former managing editor who worked at the CBC in the 1990s.
“I think they have an obligation to cover the story specifically because it’s the CBC and it’s the CBC in the news. I think they’ve been covering it very thoroughly,” said Dvorkin.
The flow of information from the CBC’s upper management has been carefully controlled throughout the scandal, with most details on the company’s operations coming from leaked staff memos and being supplied independently by victims who have spoken out.
The broadcaster’s own reporters have challenged the president and senior management on their prior knowledge of the allegations against Ghomeshi and received silence or denials in return. Its radio programs As It Happens and The Current have both featured alleged victims.
“To the extent that they have covered it, they’ve covered it very well,” said Dvorkin, who noted that a full journalistic investigation would take more time.
Officially, the workplace investigation will be handled by employment lawyer Janice Rubin, who the CBC hired, but her full report will not be publicly available, Thompson said.
“We will be making public any recommendations regarding broader workplace issues that may come out of the investigation. To go any further than that would be to compromise the confidentiality we’ve promised any current or former employee that may come forward,” said Thompson in an email.
Howard Lewitt, a Toronto-based employment lawyer, also said the complaints could be released with redactions that protect the identities. He said the general recommendations will give people little information about what happened at the CBC.
“It’s a recipe for whitewash. If the general recommendations are made public, what does that really tell us?” said Lewitt.
Employment lawyer Daniel Lublin, of Whitten & Lublin, said confidentiality is important to complainants, but that the broadcaster could provide more information without sacrificing that.
“If people felt that their names would be published in a public report by the CBC then they wouldn’t come forward,” said Lublin. “I agree with that. What I don’t agree with is that all we should get is a summary of recommendations, which is very different than what the report says. I think it’s quite possible for the CBC to publish more information without prejudicing confidentiality.”
Many details about the circumstances of Ghomeshi’s tenure and firing remain unclear, including whether and to what extent management was aware of allegations of sexual harassment prior to Ghomeshi’s termination.
Thompson refused to disclose the specifics of Ghomeshi’s employment, including whether or not any severance was paid or what salary the former star was paid. A partial public salary disclosure issued in 2014 from the CBC, which received $913 million in federal funding in 2014-15, indicates that four top-paid on-air employees earned an average salary of $485,667 before overtime. Thompson refused to say whether Ghomeshi, who hosted a top-rated show syndicated internationally, was among those four.
Property records and public profiles yield insight into the lifestyle of the former radio star, who had also worked as manager for the musician Lights and frequently took on public speaking engagements. He owns two homes: one a Cabbagetown property converted into a three-unit rental on which he took out a $393,000 mortgage in 2004, and the other a palatial home in the Upper Beaches neighbourhood that he purchased for $1.8-million in 2013.
Ghomeshi recently hired criminal defence attorney Marie Henein. He has not been charged by police.