Amanda Lang took money from Manulife & Sun Life, gave them favourable CBC coverage

CBC "stands by" her journalism

Remember last winter when CANADALAND revealed that Peter Mansbridge took a lucrative contract from an oil sands lobbying consortium while covering the oil sands industry on the news?

Remember last spring when the CBC grudgingly admitted this might be a problem and changed its paid speaking engagement policy to prevent this kind of thing from happening again?

Well, check this out.

1. Here are two paid gigs Amanda Lang, CBC News' Senior Business Correspondent, had with Manulife. They took place on July 10 and August 7, 2014. From the CBC's disclosure page:

2. Now here is Lang on September 5 – not quite a month later – welcoming Manulife CEO Donald Guloien on her business affairs show The Exchange for a cozy interview about his company’s $4bn acquisition of a competitor’s Canadian assets.

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3. Manulife Asset Management is the specific part of the company that hired her. Unprompted, Lang says this at 4:54:

“...one of the things that Manulife has done is grown its asset management business in a big way in the last few years.”

The entire segment casts Manulife (and its stock) in a positive light, giving Guloien an uncritical platform to boast about his big deal.

4. CBC News aired Lang’s interview segment with Manulife’s CEO without any disclosure of her financial relationship with the company. The segment can still be streamed on the CBC’s website without any mention of the conflict of interest.

To recap: Lang (a contender for Peter Mansbridge's chair as anchor of The National) is CBC News' Senior Business Correspondent, the top business reporter in the organization. She hosts the CBC's flagship business affairs show, which regularly covers the insurance industry. And Manulife is a giant insurance company.

Yet Lang took their money twice, moonlighting at their corporate events. Then she had their CEO on her show. And then she praised, to him, the specific department of his company that had hired her.

A source known to be familiar with Lang's speaking career tells CANADALAND that she typically charges between $10,000-$15,000 per event, and tells CANADALAND that in recent years income from her speaking gigs has exceeded $300,000 per year, possibly surpassing her salary from the CBC, which is not disclosed. Many of her clients have been large Canadian corporations in the financial sector.

Last April, after the Mansbridge/Rex Murphy scandal, CBC News Editor-in-Chief Jennifer McGuire announced that from that point on when journalists asked her permission to speak for cash, she would "reject requests from companies, political parties or other groups which make a significant effort to lobby or otherwise influence public policy."

Well, here is Manulife's active listing in the lobbyist registry of the federal Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying.

In November 2014 alone, Manulife held official meetings with two government cabinet ministers and Members of Parliament from each major opposition party.

So, how could the CBC possibly explain this as anything but a blatant violation of their own policy?

Chuck Thompson, CBC's Head of Public Affairs tells CANADALAND that Lang's work for Manulife was "grandfathered" in because it was booked before the new policy was set.

So CBC News let Lang have one last kick at the conflict of interest can.

This itself is an extraordinary admission, as it means CBC News let its Senior Business Correspondent interview Manulife's CEO knowing she had worked for his company shortly beforehand. They didn't ask her to recuse herself from the interview. They didn't ask her to disclose her conflict on the air. Viewers of the segment's original broadcast would only know of Lang's relationship with Manulife if, three weeks after it aired, they happened to check CBC's online disclosure page.

CANADALAND asked Lang for comment. She did not respond, instead forwarding our questions to Chuck Thompson. 

As gross as this all is, perhaps there's hope that the Manulife "obligation" was the last of its kind and that following it CBC News would never allow anything like it to happen again.

Oh, wait.

1. Here is a paid gig Lang had with Sun Life (another massive insurance company) on November 24, 2014.

2. And here is Lang welcoming Sun Life CEO Dean Connor on The Exchange just six weeks earlier, on October 9.

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3. In the interview, Lang discusses with Connor his views on Canadians and their retirement assets. Connor thinks Canadians are too reliant on home values and should instead look to other stuff like I don't know the financial products that major insurance corporations specialize in or something. The coverage is, for Sun Life, ridiculously positive.

4. Chuck Thompson Jennifer McGuire has confirmed to former CBC reporter Frank Koller, who first flagged the Sun Life conflict, that this too was a "grandfathered-in" event. That means that even though her laudatory coverage of Sun Life preceded her paid keynote for them, the contract had already been signed, and she welcomed their CEO onto her show knowing, and not disclosing, that she was his contract employee. It also means that the CBC knew this, and let the interview on to the air anyhow.

Sun Life also lobbies the federal government.

Taken as a whole, Lang's entanglements with corporate Canada make Peter Mansbridge's ethical trangressions look minor. He merely took money from an industry he covers as a journalist. Lang took money directly from specific companies in an industry she covers and then gave those corporations favourable coverage on the airwaves of the public broadcaster. 

As for the CBC, Chuck Thompson assures CANADALAND that it "“stand[s] behind the journalism with respect to the interview she did.”  

Follow the author on Twitter @sdbcraig.

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