Saturday, May 30, 2009

Why Mike Duffy Must be Removed from Senate

Last October, during the final days of the election campaign, and the Liberals were starting to climb in the polls; Mike Duffy pulled out all the stops, not to broadcast news but to discredit Stephane Dion.

We all know how he was repaid for his efforts and as he sits in Senate, no longer accountable for his actions, it begs the question. Does he have the right to continue to enjoy the benefits of such a position after being charged by the Canadian Broadcast Council for unethical behaviour?

Along with his partner in crime, Steve Murphy, he greatly impacted the views of voters. However, he only impacted them to stay home on election night, because none of the lost Liberal votes went to the Conservatives, who were also down from last election. Duffy merely helped to muddy the waters of the entire electoral system, and in turn, the democratic process. This puts into question his ability to represent Canadians in a fair and intelligent manner.

I'm helping to pay his salary and as such believe he should now be fired.

national specialty services Panel
CTV Newsnet re an episode of Mike Duffy Live Prime Time(Stéphane Dion Interview)
(CBSC Decision 08/09-0213 & -0281)
Decided April 6, 2009


Mike Duffy Live Prime Time was a political public affairs program of limited duration. While Mike Duffy Live was a regular series, the special Prime Time episodes were at times material to this decision only aired during the 2008 Canadian federal election.

On October 9, 2008, CTV Atlantic journalist Steve Murphy interviewed Liberal leader Stéphane Dion for the second time during the 2008 federal general election campaign. During the interview, it appeared that Mr. Dion had not understood Murphy’s first question and the Liberal leader asked to re-start the interview a total of three times. On the fourth occasion, the uninterrupted interview continued for about twelve minutes. CTV Atlantic (CJCH-TV) aired the interview process in its entirety, that is to say, the false starts followed by the complete interview, on its 6:00 pm newscast.

Later that evening, Mike Duffy Live Prime Time, broadcast on specialty service CTV Newsnet, had as its primary subject of discussion the Murphy-Dion interview and restarts, which had by then begun to generate considerable public controversy and interest on the part of various news organizations (although it is unclear to the Panel whether any other broadcasters had aired the stops and restarts). The complete interview was not included in the Duffy episode, which began with the host’s introduction of that day’s principal topic:

Hello again and welcome to the Thursday edition of Mike Duffy Prime. Well, the Harper Conservatives got some good news today and it wasn’t just the World Economic Forum, which rated our banking system as the best, the most secure in the world. This good news came in the form of a devastating reminder of Stéphane Dion’s struggle with the English language. We’ll have the tape in just a few moments. If you’ve got a PVR, set it on “record”. This is going to be one you’ll be talking about for days....

First, the tale of the tape..... What we’re going to show you is exactly what happened in that Halifax hotel suite. The tape has not been edited. CTV Newsnet then broadcast the interview stops and retakes, ending shortly after the final restart, which resulted in the Liberal leader’s response to the final, only slightly altered, version of the initial question.

Murphy: "Monsieur Dion, the economy is now the issue in the campaign and on that issue you’ve said that, today, that Mr. Harper’s offered nothing to put Canadians’ minds at ease and offers no vision for the country. We have to act now, you say. Doing nothing is not an option. If you were prime minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not done? (In order for Mr. Dion to be PM 'now', he would have had to have been elected in 2006)

In the rest of the full interview, which continued from that point but was not broadcast on the Duffy show, the Liberal leader, in response to Murphy’s several questions, dealt with what he would say “to ease the minds of Canadians”, the Liberal economic plan, the proposed carbon tax, deficits, the green shift, taxes, comparable European national policies, and Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan.

At this point in the Mike Duffy Live program, Duffy facilitated a panel discussion with representatives from three of the major federal parties. The caption at bottom of screen during this portion of the program was “Campaign Exhaustion?”

The topic of discussion then shifted to other aspects of the election, primarily the various parties’ prospects in different ridings. The MP panel portion of the program concluded and Duffy spoke to CTV correspondents Tom Clark and Craig Oliver via telephone. During this segment, the caption at the bottom of the screen was “Dion’s False Starts” and live footage of Dion giving a speech was shown as the commentators discussed the issue.

Duffy: CTV’s Tom Clark is covering the Liberals in Laval. Tom, how are the Liberals explaining this Dion language problem? Are they doing the Geoff Regan move here and saying it’s all about his handicap and anybody who mentions it’s picking on him?

Clark: No, uh, surprisingly, Mike. Um, the Dion Tour is not saying it’s because of a physical handicap. They are saying he did not understand the question. But they are steaming mad, I can tell you. They are saying that this is an “appalling”, in their words, they say this is an “appalling breach of journalistic ethics”.

They had asked for the TV station, CTV station in Halifax not to run those false starts. Uh, they believed that they had, initially, an agreement that those false starts would not be run and now they are saying that nefarious or higher-ranked, uh, uh, people within the organization, within the network, uh, went back on that word, uh, and ran what everybody has seen tonight.

Duffy: Well, it’s clearly part of CTV News policy that no reporter on the street can make deals. Uh, the camera’s rolling and, and we don’t make deals with anyone. It doesn’t matter who they are....

Duffy: Yeah, well, Geoff Regan put it down to being a handicap and we’re making fun of a handicapped person, which we are not doing. We’re covering the election campaign. Thank you both for joining us tonight. Undoubtedly this will be water-cooler talk tomorrow as Canadians, uh, get ready to make their choices in the upcoming election.

The CBSC received numerous complaints about the Dion interview, both about the original CTV Atlantic broadcast of the clip and about its rebroadcast on this episode of Mike Duffy Live Prime Time. A total of ten complaints specifically identified Mike Duffy Live Prime Time as their subject of concern. Of the ten, six provided enough information for the CBSC to engage its process and, of these, only two individuals requested that the CBSC rule on the matter following receipt of the broadcaster’s response ...

Those complainants were concerned about the inclusion of the Murphy interview in the Mike Duffy Live Prime Time program. They expressed the view that Murphy’s question had been awkwardly worded, so it was understandable that Dion had comprehension difficulties, which were compounded by the fact that he was operating in his second language. They wrote that the broadcast of the false starts was unfair, particularly since CTV Atlantic had initially told Dion that they would not air them (that fact was clearly acknowledged by Steve Murphy in his introduction to the clip on the CTV Atlantic News at 6 newscast).

One of these two complainants characterized the broadcast of the Dion footage as an attempt to “make news rather than simply report it,” while another articulated his concerns about Duffy’s presentation by questioning whether “Mr. Duffy’s words and facial expressions reflect professional journalism?”

The formulation of the question itself.

Since much turns on what was asked and what was understood, or misunderstood, the Panel considers it useful to look carefully at the formulation of the question itself. It was initially put as follows: “If you were prime minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not done?” When the interview recommenced, the question was framed almost identically, the adverb “already” having been inserted to qualify the verb: “If you were prime minister now, what would you have already done in this crisis that Mr. Harper hasn’t done?” And then, in the context of the “good” interview, that ran in full, there was no structural change, the word “today” having been substituted for “now” and “by now” for “already”; the question was worded in this final incarnation as follows: “If you were Prime Minister of Canada today, what would you have done by now that Stephen Harper has not done about this economic crisis?” […]

In any event, any moderately attentive analysis of any of the three forms of the initial question would reveal that the question is confusing, and not only to a person whose first language is other than English. In the strictest grammatical sense, Steve Murphy’s question mixes not only tenses (present and past), but also moods (subjunctive and indicative), both being syntactically relevant in French and English.

It follows that several interpretations of what the interviewer intended to ask are possible. What the Panel (speculatively) believes the interviewer wished to ask was essentially what Mr. Dion would have done in the past about the economy and this crisis had he been in Mr. Harper’s shoes during the same period. If such is the correct understanding, the question would have been more properly framed, “If you had been prime minister during the period that Mr. Harper has been prime minister, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not done?” Or, it may be that the question Murphy wished to put was meant to have a present/future articulation, as in “If you were prime minister now, what steps would you be taking about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not yet taken?”

Given the confused question, the Panel considers that the interviewer may even have intended to ask whether Mr. Dion would have taken specific steps to obviate such an economic crisis in the first place. Alternatively, did Murphy mean to inquire how Mr. Dion would have tackled the economic crisis had it landed on his plate after two years in office? Or did he wish to request how, if Mr. Dion were elected as prime minister on the day of the interview, he would handle such an economic crisis encountered that day or thereafter, in the future? Indeed, Mr. Dion appeared to understand that there could be a difference in the answer depending on how long he might have been in office before being called upon to face such a problem. As he ultimately pointedly asked, “give me a first date where I’m prime minister that I can figure out what, what is your question […] about [emphasis added].”

The Panel’s only point is that the question was unfocussed, unclear and ultimately confusing, even to Anglophones (as all Adjudicators on this Panel are). It was neither crisp nor even clear, and it left doubts as to its meaning in the interviewee, the audience, and even this Panel, after viewing and reviewing the logger tape. In other words, blame for misapprehension cannot simply be laid at the feet of the interviewee.

The Newsworthiness Issue

There are two aspects to the newsworthiness issue, one that was raised in the CTV Atlantic decision and one that flows from the Duffy rebroadcast of the false starts.

The first issue relates to the broadcast of the outtakes at all. The majority of the National Specialty Services Panel agrees with the Atlantic Panel. The undisputed newsworthy element of the original broadcast was the complete interview, which ran for about twelve minutes after the restarts, beginning at about 6:41 pm. In that part of the 6:00 pm newscast, Mr. Dion discussed his platform and offered suggestions for dealing with the economic crisis in response to the initial poorly formulated question. The balance of the interview (a little more than an additional ten minutes in duration) dealt with what he thought should be said “to ease the minds of Canadians”, the Liberal economic plan, the proposed carbon tax, deficits, the green shift, taxes, comparable European national policies, and Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan.

That is where the substantive meat was, not in the restarts. Despite the presence of that complete interview following the initial four minutes of introduction and restarts, the Atlantic Panel concluded that it was a code breach “for the broadcaster, CTV Atlantic, to reverse its commitment and broadcast the outtakes.” In the matter at hand, where almost none of the substantive electorally-relevant content was provided to the audience, the Panel finds that the rebroadcast was unfair in terms of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

The second issue relates to the fact that the CTV Atlantic broadcast of the restarts was itself newsworthy, that it had become newsworthy. As the President of CTV News said in his November letter, “That evening and the next day, the interview and the restarts were reported by several news organizations including The Canadian Press, CBC, Newsworld, Global News, The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star [emphasis added].”

The majority of the Panel considers the following conclusion of the Atlantic Panel to be of relevance: What then was the broadcaster really seeking, if not the full questions and the full answers? It appears to have been the stumbles, the whoopses, and the mis-starts. Given the poor quality and confusing syntax of the question, the Panel does not accept the “justification” that Mr. Dion’s command of English could be shown to be “so poor that he could not understand a question with different tenses.”


[The Atlantic Regional] Panel (two-thirds of the industry Adjudicators being themselves members of RTNDA and broadcast journalists of considerable experience) considers that restarts and retakes are a common, not a rare, occurrence. The decision to extend such a courtesy was neither unreasonable nor even unusual.

Such outtakes, the Specialty Services Panel concludes, are very common, even absolutely routine. The Panel does not, therefore, even find it a modest stretch to have a person in authority agree to a restart, or even more than one restart. After all, once that ball was rolling, there was no reason to expect that anything had changed when it came to restart three or even four. On any of those restarts, the interviewer could have said “No, we must carry on from here.” Murphy did not and, in the view of the Panel, the Liberal leader and his team had every reason to expect that the restarted matter was, in effect, “overwritten” or banished from use. ... Had the question been articulate and well-framed, the Panel might have expected the Liberal leader to wear some responsibility for the confusion that ensued. That was not, however, the case.

Even had the question been properly put, though, the broadcaster’s commitment to permit the restarts would likely have put the filmed content off-limits. In the circumstances, the question was bad and the commitment was made. The Panel views the broadcaster’s actions in the rebroadcast of the outtakes on the Duffy show as an unfair and improper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial, contrary to the rule established in Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

The National Panel also acknowledges that, while the host, Mike Duffy, was entitled to have and manifest an opinion, as this was, after all, a mixed news and public affairs show, not a pure news program, he went too far. He was not fair, balanced or even-handed. In addition to the unfairness of the rebroadcast noted immediately above, the host significantly misrepresented the view of one of the three members of his Panel, namely, Liberal MP Geoff Regan, who had attributed the misunderstanding as a hearing issue and had said, “I don’t think that we should […] spend a lot of time talking about someone’s physical impairment.”

About 20-30 seconds later (all of the following emphases being added), ignoring totally the actual words of MP Regan, Duffy said “you fob it off as, we’re making fun of someone’s physical impairment.” And, in his next observation, the host reiterated the fallacious assertion, “And then you tell me we’re making fun of his physical impairment?” Despite the fact that guest panellist Geoff Regan twice said, “That’s not what I said,” and it is clear from the transcript that was not what he said, Mike Duffy persisted in his misrepresentation.

In talking with his CTV colleagues Tom Clark and Craig Oliver, Duffy next said, “Are they doing the Geoff Regan move here and saying it’s all about his handicap and anybody who mentions it’s picking on him?” He concluded the item with these words, “Geoff Regan put it down to being a handicap and we’re making fun of a handicapped person.” The National Specialty Services Panel concludes that the consistent misrepresentation by host Mike Duffy of the MP’s point of view constituted an unfair and improper presentation of opinion or comment contrary to Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

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