Confusion threatens the CIJ's credibility
by Gerry McAuliffe
THE CREATION OF THE CENTRE for Investigative Journalism
could not have come at a more opportune time. The credibility of
the print and broadcast press in this country is under serious attack
everywhere. Many of our readers and listeners either don't believe
us anymore or suspect our motives. Much of the criticism is well-founded
Our definition and the public's understanding of quality journalism
are far apart. The need to improve our standards (and thus our credibility)
has never been more urgent. The role of CIJ in promoting better standards
is critical. After all, what good is investigative journalism if people
view it with suspicion or, even worse, don't believe it?
There are, however, some serious issues that must be confronted
before the Centre can hope to attain this degree of professional
and public credibility.
Objectives: The Centre lacks defined objectives. What we
have is a play with an enormous cast (almost all reporters), but
almost no directors or producers. How can you promote in-depth or
investigative journalism without serious and active involvement
from city editors, managing editors, news directors, station managers
and publishers? Very few people whose job it is to provide guidance
and leadership in the newsrooms across the country belong to the
Membership: To call it the Centre for Investigative Journalism
and then sell memberships to staff members of major corporations,
employees of federal and provincial government departments, the
research staffs of political parties, the promoters of special interest
groups and "anyone—whether in or out of journalism—committed to
the Centre's goal" makes me wonder if the CIJ directors are really
serious about the Centre's ultimate purpose.
Since when have the interests of the major corporations, government
agencies and special interest groups been compatible with the pursuit
of investigative journalism? Conflicts of interest abound.
How is the CIJ going to deal with a request for funding to probe
a government agency or corporation if its employees hold membership
in the Centre? How can the CIJ take their membership money and investigate
them at the same time? How comfortable are journalists going to
feel at future conferences discussing what they found or the methods
they used, with those employees listening? It is absurd. Both their
interests and jobs conflict.
The role of freelance writers, broadcasters, producers and researchers
presents another difficulty. The Centre claims the central Sourcefile
is open to "working journalists" only and that "other" Centre members
are denied access. How will the Centre know, when a freelancer calls,
whether he/she is working for a legitimate news source or is in
pursuit of an assignment from a government agency or private corporation?
Even more importantly, what about "working journalists" who take
on these types of assignments? Should there not be carefully laid
down rules as a condition of membership? Should there not be some
safeguards to ensure names and material contained in a source file
are being used for purely journalistic purposes only?
I raise these questions, not to impute motives on anyone's part,
but to demonstrate the dangers and conflicts that arise.
Funding: The Centre's policy on funding is most difficult
to understand. It is full of contradictions. It has decided against
seeking grants and assistance from government agencies such as the
Canada Council, the Ontario Arts Council or private corporations,
but it sells memberships to their employees. That is a conflict
of interest. Since memberships are the Centre's only source of revenue,
everyone must know that these very membership dues are being used
to help finance special projects. There can be no question that
that, too, is a conflict of interest. It taints the very work those
journalists are doing.
The decision to apply for special tax status as a charitable or
educational foundation is unconscionable. The Centre for Investigative
Journalism is no more a legitimate charitable or educational foundation
than the Canadian Bar Association.
Membership is wide open because to restrict it would significantly
reduce the chances of getting the special tax status the CIJ is
seeking. We compromise our principles on two fronts. We open the
membership to anyone who wants to join and we seek a dubious special
Surely our role as journalists is to produce stories about those
at the public trough — not to stand in line with them. Ideally,
the only place the funding for such an organization should come
from is its journalist members and from the media managers and owners.
The fact that the latter have shown little inclination to support
improvements in the quality of journalism is no reason to go to
these other sources for backing.
A resolution (which I moved) at the founding conference last year
called for the new executive to approach the Canadian Daily Newspaper
Publishers Association and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters
for a $25,000 grant from each. The request was never forwarded to
The directors are convinced that financial support from media owners
will only come if their contribution also becomes a tax deduction.
That is an assumption at best, since the Centre has not acted on
The financial responsibility for the training of reporters and
the raising of journalistic standards rests with the owners, not
the Canadian taxpayer. What other consumer-oriented industry is
given charitable tax status to underwrite the costs of operating
its quality control department?
Annual Meeting: Leaving the annual meeting to the last two
hours of a three-day conference is a disservice to the Centre and
its members. There are many important policy issues that need to
be thoroughly and thoughtfully debated by all. Most delegates have
left by the time the meeting starts and the executive is in a hurry
to get it over with.
The questions of special tax status, funding and membership qualifications
have never been thoroughly or properly debated. Policy issues should
be laid out by the executive in writing in advance of the conference
to give everyone the opportunity to properly consider them. And
they should be debated at a time when attendance is at its greatest.
The momentum is there. The interest is there. The need could not
be greater. But we must first acknowledge the fact the duty of the
press is to report on the actions and activities of government,
corporations and special interest groups. How can we do that with
any degree of public integrity, if we all belong to the same club?
Gerry McAuliffe, one of our best known investigative reporters, did not renew his CIJ membership this year. He argues that the Centre must clarify its foggy thinking about goals, membership criteria and sources of funding if it is to have credibility with the profession and the public.
See Nick Fillmore's response in A clear consensus on the Centre is emerging.
Published in SOURCES May-June 1980
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