The CBC’s Amanda Lang is denying allegations that she tried to “sabotage” a significant story on RBC and temporary foreign workers because she appears to have ties to Canada’s biggest bank.
News website Canadaland reported Monday that the public broadcaster’s senior business correspondent “lobbied aggressively within the CBC” in April 2013 to “undermine” the reporting of investigative journalist Kathy Tomlinson and her Go Public team on the growing labour controversy at RBC.
Tomlinson had revealed that an outsourcing firm was being used to replace RBC employees with temporary foreign workers, an award-winning story that sparked national outrage and changes to the federal government’s temporary foreign workers program.
Canadaland highlighted that Lang was romantically involved at the time with RBC board member Geoffrey Beattie — Lang confirmed to the Toronto Star they are still in a relationship — and that she had given paid speeches at events sponsored by RBC.
Lang told the Star that she is specifically denying that she tried “to kill the story,” that she was hiding a potential conflict of interest and that she received money from RBC for speaking engagements. “I received no money from RBC; that is not in dispute. To say otherwise is an outright falsehood,” she told the Star, acknowledging that RBC was one among many sponsors at some of her speaking engagements.
Lang said that she is often invited to speak about her book, The Power of Why. She referred to another Canadaland piece about her ongoing relationship with Beattie as a “new level of attack on my personal life,” adding that her producers are aware of her relationship with Beattie. In a statement to staff on Monday, CBC editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire wrote that Lang’s executive producer “put in place appropriate protocols” upon learning of her relationship with Beattie.
“It has no bearing on my journalism,” said Lang. “All practices that we follow here at CBC were followed, and there was no decision made at any time that we should disclose on air.”
At the heart of the dispute is a conference call in 2013 involving a number of journalists and producers, in which Lang and Tomlinson reportedly squared off about the nature of the story, with Lang saying she didn’t believe it was about temporary foreign workers.
Senior producer Raj Ahluwalia of The National said he had invited Lang to be on the call because he said he valued her “viewpoints and expertise.” He said he never believed Lang was trying to undermine the story.
Lang responded that it was “fairly normal” journalistic debate about the issues underlying the story.
“I disagreed that this was a story about an abuse of the temporary worker program and I thought that issues were being confused,” she said. “It was actually a case of RBC outsourcing jobs, also a negative story about RBC, but a different story.” She acknowledged that the story nevertheless sparked change to the temporary foreign workers program.
Tomlinson told the Star she thought the call was “odd” — “only because I’d never spoken to her before, and it was difficult because she didn’t know what had gone into the story; we’d never discussed it.”
Tomlinson said it was only later that week that she had concerns when she found out that Lang had been invited to speak at the Centre for Outsourcing Research & Education (CORE), of which iGate was a sponsor. The outsourcing firm was the employer of the temporary workers at RBC. The bank is a member of CORE. Lang would ultimately withdraw from the event.
“The problem for me, and I said so at the time, was the perceived conflict of interest and the impression that that created internally and externally,” Tomlinson said, adding she brought her concerns to management and to Lang. “It raised questions about Amanda Lang’s involvement in the story, questions that had not been raised before.”
Lang said Tomlinson became aware of the speaking engagement after Lang had already cancelled. She said she withdrew because she had written an op-ed piece for the Globe and Mail about outsourcing, and the conference was going to be about outsourcing. A note from CBC editor-in-chief McGuire on the CBC ombudsman’s website says that “once the story involving RBC Financial Group, a member of CORE, and iGate, one of the sponsors of the conference, was prominent news (Lang) withdrew from the event.”
Lang didn’t clear the op-ed with CBC managers at the time, telling the Star she was unaware she had to do so. She said that she “expressed some amount of outrage that (Tomlinson) was accusing me of any kind of conflict that would affect my journalism.”
In a statement on Monday to staff, McGuire wrote that “it is unfortunate that our internal processes are fodder for external debate by people who have their own agendas. If there are any concerns about what we put to air, by all means take them forward and let’s have a robust discussion. Half-truths based on anonymous sources (are) not going to achieve anything constructive.”
Canadaland editor Jesse Brown said the site stands by the story.
“It’s disappointing that once again the CBC is more interested in protecting their celebrity host than in finding out what happened,” he said. “These are substantiated allegations coming from career journalists at the CBC who we admire and trust.”
Lang did previously reveal to viewers her relationship to Barrick Gold executive Vince Borg when the two were married. She said that was a different situation because they were husband and wife.
“My husband’s livelihood was from that company and therefore you could infer that, I suppose, I have a financial relationship with that company,” she said. “I have no financial relationship with RBC, and there is no conflict that arises because I am in a relationship with somebody at RBC.”
When asked if Lang will be permitted to continue reporting on RBC, CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson said: “Decisions will be made depending on the nature of the story.”
Lang remains defiant.
“I’m the senior business correspondent at the national broadcaster. I will continue to report on the serious business stories, and that includes Canada’s biggest bank,” she said.