CBC Ombudsman explains how Rex Murphy can collect speaking fees while still hosting Cross Country Checkup

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      CBC broadcaster Rex Murphy has long been a lightning rod to the climate-justice movement.

      It drives some progressives crazy that Murphy can line his pockets with speaking fees from the fossil-fuel industry while hosting the nonpartisan Cross Country Checkup call-in show on the national public radio network.

      Murphy is the only CBC host who condemns the scientific consensus on climate change in a regular column in the right-wing National Post.

      He's also an honorary patron of a highly controversial war memorial proposed on Cape Breton Island.

      CBC's chief correspondent, Peter Mansbridge, and CTV broadcasters Lloyd Robertson and Lisa LaFlamme were also honorary patrons but they withdrew after the proposed $25-milllion monument became a significant news story.

      CBC Ombudsman Esther Enkin was recently asked to review why Murphy wasn't obliged to quit as an honorary patron. The complainant, David MacDonald, also inquired if management is aware of Murphy's outside work and if he has to disclose his other sources of income. 

      Enkin acknowledged in her response that it's "not surprising that audiences see him as a CBC employee", given his weekly commentary on The National and his hosting of a weekly current-affairs radio show. 

      In fact, she pointed out, Murphy is a freelancer.

      Enkin also noted that Murphy is required to disclose his paid speaking gigs, which are made public on the CBC website. The corporation does not reveal how much a broadcaster is paid for each speech. 

      "Mr. Murphy’s status presents an ongoing challenge," Enkin wrote. "He told me in the course of doing another review that he has maintained this contractual relationship so that he can speak his mind in other fora. He says it is clear that he is speaking on his own behalf and that his message is one he chooses to deliver."

      When Murphy hosts Cross Country Checkup he must adhere to the public broadcaster's code of journalist standards and practices, according to Enkin. And the CBC ombudsman noted that he did not host the program that focused on the war memorial.

      In 2012, Murphy hosted a live Cross Country Checkup broadcast from the Suncor Community Leisure Centre in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Callers and the live audience talked about the role of the oilsands in Canada's future. Companies and associations active in the oilsands have hired Murphy as a speaker.

      In her response to MacDonald, Enkin made no mention of the 2012 show, which was not cited in the complaint.

      "His status and activity does stick out from general CBC practice and understandably creates confusion," Enkin wrote. "He is even bound by the conflict of interest policies—and that is why he was not part of a program on the monument. CBC Radio management has an obligation to assess potential conflicts and ensure it does not affect on air content."

      Rex Murphy hosted a 2012 Cross Country Checkup show in Fort McMurray.

      Nor did Enkin refer to the 2012 broadcast from Fort McMurray in her 2014 response to John How.

      How and others filed complaints about a Murphy commentary on The National that echoed remarks he had earlier delivered in a speech to an oil-industry audience.

      As a regular listener of Cross Country Checkup, it bothers me that this show has not focused much attention on climate change. Nor has the program given much weight to the renewable-energy revolution, which has potential to save many lives. Renewable energy is also posing a growing challenge to the fossil-fuel industry that pays Murphy to speak at its conferences.

      Climate change is not a single issue. It has an effect on health, the economy, the environment, provincial and federal budgets, energy policies, public infrastructure, and even our democracy. If there's any doubt of that, just review some of the Conservative government's omnibus budget bills that have undermined democratic discourse while demolishing environmental barriers to the fossil-fuel industry.

      A show with as much impact as Cross Country Checkup shouldn't have to find a fill-in host any time its regular host is in a conflict of interest. For the staff, it's a hassle and it costs money to get a replacement, so the natural inclination will be to avoid doing this.

      Just imagine how much better informed Canadians would be about climate change and renewable energy if Cross Country Checkup would start hosting more national conversations on the subject. It's well worth considering as Canada prepares to take its position at the upcoming United Nations COP21 climate-change conference in Paris later this year.

      Rex Murphy rants about environmentalists in 2011.

      Comments

      3 Comments

      MarkFornataro

      Jul 24, 2015 at 11:48am

      I remember several years ago before she was a politician, Rex was extremely rude to Elizabeth May on Cross Country. And prior to going on air from a Cross Country segment airing from Victoria I asked Rex why they don't do something on the environment and he brushed it off saying they were concerned with doing pieces currently big in the news. On that basis Cross Country should be doing lots on the environment- as the Guardian and Straight do. And Rex should go, maybe to work as a PR rep for dirty oil.

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      Listener

      Jul 24, 2015 at 5:13pm

      I tune in to Cross-Country Check-up whenever Murphy is NOT hosting. His folksy "if you don't mind my asking" patter sounds so insincere to me, I just can't listen to it. I'm waiting to see what he's got up his right sleeve as the election draws near. Yuck. I need a shower.

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      Graham Mulligan

      Aug 4, 2015 at 1:33pm

      Mr Murphy is just one of CBC's 'personalities' that have dampened my enthusiasm for our public broadcaster. Now that there is an election on in Canada I wonder how many of these 'personalities' will come out in favour of the government? I don't think I will be surprised.

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