The giant head shots that decorate the CBC’s Toronto Broadcast Centre are starting to feel like “Wanted” posters.
Just weeks after the public broadcaster purged radio host Jian Ghomeshi—and scraped his image off its walls—another network star is under fire. Amanda Lang, CBC’s senior business correspondent, stands accused of trying to “bury” a damaging story about the Royal Bank of Canada and its abuse of the Temporary Foreign Workers program, for personal gain.
In the spring of 2013, CBC investigative journalist Kathy Tomlinson sparked national outrage with her report that RBC—on its way to making more than $8 billion in profits for the year—was firing 45 Canadian IT staff, and replacing them with cheaper, temporary foreign workers. The bank eventually apologized, and the federal government promised to reform the system. But not everyone agreed that off-shoring was such a big deal.
At the time, Lang aired a sympathetic interview with the bank’s CEO Gord Nixon, and then wrote an op-ed for the Globe and Mail, labelling the debate a “side show.” “Information technology workers displaced in Canada are being replaced not by cheap Indian workers but by better ones,” she argued. “It’s called capitalism, and it isn’t a dirty word.”
The column for a competing media outlet raised some eyebrows, and reportedly earned Lang a dressing-down from her bosses. But this week, the muckraking website Canadaland published a piece alleging that the CBC host had a much deeper, undeclared interest in downplaying the story. The online report says Lang not only received speaking fees from at least six events where the bank was one of the sponsors, but notes that she was in a romantic relationship with one of its board members, Geoffrey Beattie. Canadaland also detailed a heated, internal CBC conference call in which Lang and Tomlinson squared off about the significance of the story, with the business correspondent arguing against follow-ups.
Lang denies that she ever tried to kill the story, undermine her colleague, or took money directly from the bank. And she told the Toronto Star that the CBC was well aware of her personal and business connections. “It has no bearing on my journalism,” she said in an interview with the paper. “All practices that we follow here at CBC were followed, and there was no decision made at any time that we should disclose on air.”
The public broadcaster is backing up its star. In a memo sent to staff, and later posted on its website, CBC News general manager and editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire wrote that the Canadaland story is “misleading” and based on several misrepresentations. “There was rigorous debate but there was no ‘sabotage,’ and the notion that ‘Lang’s efforts to scuttle the story were successful, at first’ is categorically untrue,” said the network executive. “We continued to invest in the story, and our coverage led to a change in government policy. It is a story we are proud of and continue to follow.”
But the new controversy, and all the negative publicity, can hardly be welcome at an institution that is already in turmoil, rocked by budget cuts, layoffs, and the fallout from Ghomeshi’s alleged sexual assaults against multiple women.
With its stars becoming targets, the CBC may soon have to start offering them danger pay. Or at the very least, rethink its decorating scheme.