WATCH: Alan Carter reports on the suspension of Global News anchor Leslie Roberts.
Global News Toronto anchor Leslie Roberts has been suspended while the news organization investigates allegations of conflict of interest against him.
“Global News takes all issues of our journalistic integrity very seriously,” Troy Reeb, senior vice president of news for Global News said in an interview Friday. “We have a codified principles and practices document that is quite lengthy that clearly articulates the expectations of all of our journalists in terms of maintaining editorial independence.”
The investigation is delving into whether Roberts improperly tried to influence news coverage involving his alleged clients.
“That question and others are at the heart of the investigation that is now underway,” Reeb said. “I don’t want to prejudge what the results of that investigation will be and we’re not going to be commenting further on those types of issues until we’ve actually allowed the investigation to take its course.”
The suspension preceded publication of a report in the Toronto Star that revealed Roberts has secretly been part owner of Buzz PR, a Toronto-based public relations company.
Buzz PR clients have appeared on Global News programs as well as at other media outlets.
But a statement from Kashif Khan, the co-founder and managing director of Buzz PR said Roberts was “brought on board to consult on a creative level on writing and media training.”
Khan claims Roberts did “not deal with the media relations side”, writing in a statement to Global News that Leslie had “zero influence over how stories got to air.”
Khan refused to be interviewed by Global News for this story.
Roberts acknowledged the seriousness of the allegations to The Star, saying, “I agree this doesn’t look very good.”
He told The Star he never directly accepted payment from a client to be a guest on any Global News program. Roberts also said he would resign from Buzz PR immediately.
Roberts has been the evening anchor for Global News in Toronto since 2001 and also co-hosts the network’s national morning program.
The Global News investigation of Roberts’ relationship with Buzz PR is being conducted in accordance with the news organization’s journalistic principles and practices.
Lisa Taylor, a journalism professor at Ryerson University, said journalists must not only guard themselves from real bias but a perceived bias.
“It’s not whether it was unbiased, it’s whether your average viewer might have concerns about whether there was bias at play,” she said.
She also suggested the allegations against Roberts hurt not just his reputation but that of other Global News journalists and the profession of journalism.
“What I get concerned about is what it does generally to the vocation of news, where we’ve already got a bit of crisis of confidence in journalism and it’s also really challenging for others at Global who are doing their jobs, doing their jobs well, doing their jobs in a way that there is no real or apparent conflict at all but they kind of get tarnished by the same brush,” she said.
However, she admitted it would be “terribly naïve” to think no other Canadian journalist has crossed the line.
“I have never heard of a case like this but that’s not to say this hasn’t happened,” she said. “I think it may well be a question of we’re dealing with the first person whose gotten caught doing this.”