OTTAWA – If CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge wants to tell Canadians his salary, that’s up to him, says Heritage Minister James Moore, but legislation prevents the government from doing so itself.
The statement came after Moore delivered a staunch defence of the public broadcaster amid calls by some caucus colleagues to end federal support for the 75-year-old institution.
“The Broadcast Act does put a barrier there about what Peter Mansbridge’s salary is,” Moore said.
“But if on a voluntary basis he wants to tell Canadians his salary, that’s up to him.”
Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber has put four questions on the House of Commons order paper asking for financial details about CBC – including the salaries of Mansbridge and CBC colleagues George Stroumboulopoulos and Rick Mercer.
But in a recent interview with The Canadian Press, Mansbridge said no salary details will come from him.
“That’s my business,” Mansbridge said. “It’s asked of me all the time – I don’t know how many people are badgered about how much money they make.
“First of all, it’s the corporation’s decision to decide whether or not it wants to release that kind of information. So far they’ve chosen not to.”
In fact, the Broadcasting Act makes clear that there is nothing to compel the CBC to publicize the salaries of its employees.
“The officers and employees employed by the Corporation under subsection (1) are not officers or servants of Her Majesty,” says Section 44 (3) of the Act.
In other words, CBC employees are not public servants and therefore not subject to the same disclosure requirements as, say, employees of government departments.
Nevertheless, it’s in the best interests of the CBC to be open in the face of public scrutiny, Moore said after addressing a communications conference.
“I think if the CBC wants to maintain public support for a public broadcaster, they need to be as transparent as is absolutely possible and not have the perception that they’re being anything other than open and accountable for every dime that they get from taxpayers.”
What Moore described as “the most public of all of Canada’s Crown corporations” receives $1.1 billion in federal funding each year. Advertising accounts for about $550 million in revenue.
The public broadcaster has come under unprecedented scrutiny in recent months after Tory members of a Commons committee sought access to CBC documents that the network says are protected and should stay secret.
The battle stemmed from dozens of access-to-information requests filed by rival media group Quebecor Media Inc. for files the CBC says contain sensitive journalistic, creative or programming details.
The committee backed off last week and returned sealed documents to the CBC after a judge ruled the broadcaster must allow the information commissioner to make an independent judgment about which ones can be released.
The controversy has not abated, however, as Conservative MPs continue to make anti-CBC statements in the Commons and circulate petitions urging an outright termination of its funding.
While CBC won’t be immune from government-wide budget cuts, Moore said the public broadcaster plays an important role that private broadcasters do not or cannot fill.
“It always has been and always will be a source of pretty heated and intense debate,” Moore said. “And that’s fine, but there is a role for a public broadcaster in Canada.”
He said one essential role is reaching Canadians in both official languages – and more.
“If there was a healthy market for, for example, aboriginal broadcasting in eight aboriginal languages in the North, there would be all kinds of competition and there would be a massive move of investment there. But there is not. There is market failure.”
“That’s … a role that the CBC plays that the private sector does not because if they did, they’d be there.”
Moore’s comments came as Friends of Canadian Broadcasting launched a fresh campaign to defend the CBC.