Statement made on 03 May 2012 by Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette
Hon. Céline Hervieux-Payette:
Honourable senators, on this World Press Freedom Day, I speak in this chamber today to assure the Canadian public that the fundamental principles of journalism are being respected.
Allow me to refer to the code of conduct of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec to outline the fundamental values of journalism in Canada.
We know that journalists' work must be based on the critical thinking that pushes them to question everything, the impartiality that pushes them to do their research and report on the various aspects of a situation, the independence that keeps them at arm's length from power and lobby groups, the honesty that makes them stick to the facts, and a number of other principles.
In the collective agreement between CBC/Radio-Canada and the Syndicat des communications de Radio-Canada, which expires on September 30, 2012, it is agreed that in order to fulfill the mandate given to the corporation by Parliament through the Broadcasting Act, CBC/Radio-Canada staff members will report factually and without intent to deceive the public. The parties recognize that the primary professional obligations of the corporation and of its employees are toward the public, which is entitled to news and information that is impartial, complete, factual and balanced — that is from section 47.2 of the agreement.
On December 21, 2011, the Conservative government imposed a type of "pledge of allegiance" on all federal institutions through a so-called values and ethics code. The code describes the values and behaviours expected of public officials in all activities related to the performance of their professional duties. This so-called code was established by the Treasury Board, in accordance with section 5 of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act.
In this regard, it must be stated that under the Broadcasting Act, CBC/Radio-Canada staff are not subject to the so-called values and ethics code. Although the corporation is a federal institution, section 44(3) of the Broadcasting Act states that staff members are not officers or servants of Her Majesty.
In fact, under section 46(5), the corporation shall, in pursuit of its objects, enjoy freedom of expression and journalistic, creative and programming independence. Therefore, CBC staff enjoy an exception and are not subject to the values and ethics code.
Finally, CBC/Radio-Canada adopted a new code of ethics on April 2, 2012, to introduce guidelines for standards of integrity and professional conduct for its staff. This new code is a serious threat to the independence of the public broadcaster and its staff. Section 1.2 of the code states that CBC/Radio-Canada staff must loyally carry out the decisions of their leaders and support ministers in their accountability to Parliament and Canadians. And there is obviously no exception for the opposition.
The Conservative government and the new CBC/Radio-Canada code of ethics violate the principles of independence and impartiality that are so closely associated with the profession of journalism, and are a serious threat to the preservation of Canadian democracy, where freedom of the press is a fundamental value enshrined in our Constitution.