As the CBC and Amanda Lang continue to fend off allegations of apparent conflicts of interest over her relationship with the Royal Bank of Canada, more is becoming clear about speaking engagements that the bank helped finance.
The six engagements, five of which Lang received a fee for, were referenced in a report by Sean Craig, writing for media criticism website Canadaland. Craig reported Monday that Lang tried to “sabotage” a major story by reporter Kathy Tomlinson on a labour controversy at RBC and outlined several connections between Lang and the bank.
Lang was, and still is, in a relationship with RBC board member Geoffrey Beattie, which she confirmed to the Toronto Star and previously disclosed to CBC management. The marketing materials for her book, The Power of Why, include a positive review by RBC president Gordon Nixon. Craig also reported that Lang spoke “at least six times” at events sponsored by RBC.
In two cases, Lang received no money from RBC — one was done by her for no fee, and in another case she was directly sponsored by a different company, according to event organizers. In one case, Lang charged Mohawk College a $15,000 speaker’s fee to talk at its President’s Dinner, while the college received a $2,500 donation from RBC — a longtime sponsor who was among the lowest-value donors to the event.
“A conflict of interest is not determined by whether Amanda Lang took RBC’s money directly or indirectly. Nor is it determined by how much of RBC’s money she took. As we reported: ‘RBC sponsored Lang’s speeches or events where Lang spoke at least six times.’ We stand by the story,” wrote Craig in an email when asked about the individual events.
Lang told the Star Monday that she denies that she tried “to kill the story,” that she was hiding a potential conflict of interest and that she received money directly from RBC for speaking engagements, though acknowledged they have sponsored conferences she attended. She said her relationship with Beattie has “no bearing” on her journalism.
“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 told the Star Monday.
Lang gave the keynote at Connections 2014, a Calgary business conference, but her talk was sponsored specifically by Cenovus Energy. While RBC was a sponsor, it funded new non-profit workers attending the conference, according to the Connections organizer.
RBC also sponsored a panel for the Women’s Brain Health Initiative that was moderated by Lang, but for which she was not paid. The bank donated $25,000 to the charity, according to Lynn Posluns, founder and president.
RBC was a minor sponsor at three of the events referenced by Canadaland.
Lang was the keynote speaker at the Mohawk College President’s Dinner in 2013. She charged a speaker’s fee of $15,000. This was paid for by donations and tickets purchased, but RBC was among the smallest donors, giving $2,500 to the college. They were eclipsed by companies ArcelorMittal Dofasco and L3 WESCAM who gave $5,000 each.
Lang spoke at a 2014 hotel industry investment conference, of which RBC was one of 14 Silver sponsors, each contributing $9,000 to the conference. It’s unclear how much Lang charged, but Vicki Welstead, conference organizer, said RBC has been a sponsor for “years” and their support was in no way connected with Lang’s appearance.
Lang also spoke as the keynote at the Certified Management Accountant annual conference in Nova Scotia. The conference’s platinum sponsor was Bell Aliant and one of three of its gold sponsors was RBC.
Finally, Lang spoke at an engagement in Peterborough organized by the Peterborough Sales & Ad Club sponsored by several agents who work for RBC Global Asset Management. It’s unclear how much she charged for the event.
“Amanda Lang has been a speaker at a very limited number of RBC-sponsored events in the past,” said Rina Cortese, head of media relations at RBC, who refused to answer specific questions.
“It is ludicrous to suggest that our journalism can be bought by an event’s sponsor. Many events have multiple sponsors. Does the fact that RBC was one of many sponsors of the Mohawk College President’s dinner to support student bursaries mean we cannot be involved? Should we now stay clear of the Scotiabank Giller awards too?” CBC editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire wrote in a blog post Monday.
Tomlinson, who spoke to the Star Monday, says the situation raises questions about perceived conflict of interest.
“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 told the Star, noting she brought her concerns to management and Lang. “It raised questions about Amanda Lang’s involvement in the story, questions that had not been raised before.”
Lang also wrote an op-ed for the Globe and Mail in 2013 calling the building furor over the story of temporary foreign workers at RBC a “sideshow.”
Lang did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.