Alberta Politics
Postmedia political columnist Licia Corbella (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Journalists who are UCP members are not the problem; media companies that publish nothing but conservative views are

Posted on August 03, 2019, 1:40 pm
9 mins

There was a fine old to-do on social media Friday night when a Toronto journalist revealed that a high-profile Postmedia columnist known for her enthusiastic support of Jason Kenney had been a member of the United Conservative Party at a key time during the Alberta premier’s rise to power.

A tweet from Sean Craig said Licia Corbella was a member of the UCP during the party’s 2017 leadership race, and included an image of a statement he had received from the Calgary Herald acknowledging Ms. Corbella “did indeed buy a membership to the UCP prior to the leadership contest and voted in the process.”

Toronto journalist Sean Craig (Photo: Linked-In).

“This was not disclosed to her editors at the time,” the statement said. “Her membership has lapsed, as of mid-2018.”

“We will be taking measures to address this situation with this individual, and those are governed by privacy concerns,” it continued.

Responding to me by email this morning, Herald Editor-in-Chief Lorne Motley referred further questions about the matter to Phyllise Gelfand, Postmedia’s vice-president of communications in Toronto.

A terse story worded similarly to the Herald’s note to Mr. Craig duly appeared on page 2 of the newspaper this morning under the headline “Message to readers.”

As regular readers of this blog know, I am not a particular fan of Ms. Corbella’s point of view. But while this may be an opinion that runs counter to those of many readers of this blog, in my view being a member of the UCP is hardly a mortal sin for a member of the Fourth Estate.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney).

Look, it’s a sound journalistic practice for a reporter to disclose her interest in a story. That doesn’t mean she ought to have no such interests.

Face it, we all know bans on employees of major media outfits holding party membership cards are a ridiculous affectation of the sort commonly known as a fig leaf. Readers who have dipped their toes in the history of art understand the fig leaf is the plaster or painted foliage intended to hide the naughty bits of an otherwise exposed figure, say, of Venus or Adonis. The idea, of course, was that we all know perfectly well what lies beneath.

In the case of modern Canadian journalism, the rule against journalists being party members is the fig leaf intended to hide the fact that they are virtually all Conservative propagandists, by conviction or convenience. We all know perfectly well what lies beneath.

Those who say newsrooms are packed with lefty ideologues, as a former colleague of mine incessantly and bitterly asserts on social media, clearly don’t dwell on the same planet as the one on which I spent 30 odd years in newsrooms, including the Herald’s. But that’s a topic for another day.

Postmedia VP of Communications Phyllise Gelfand (Photo: Linked-In).

My point is only that the prohibition on party membership is just another example of the hypocrisy characteristic of the Canadian news industry.

For one thing, whether or not she is or was a UCP member, Ms. Corbella, obviously, was hired to write a tendentious pro-Conservative column. So who cares whether or not she’s a party member? Indeed, more power to her on that point! At least it shows her ridiculous arguments are based on genuine conviction and passion.

As for a journalist omitting to tell his or her boss about such a membership, well, that might be an error in judgment, but it’s not as if fessing up would change much from readers’ perspectives. That said, in this context, Ms. Corbella’s tweeted reply to a comment by former Progressive Conservative deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk on Oct. 17, 2017, that “I’m not a partisan but I have an opinion I’m expected to express” was probably not the best response considering.

Anyway, what gives any employer — even a daily newspaper, fig leaf firmly in place — the right to enquire into any employee’s associations? I’m not convinced such bans on party membership aren’t a violation of section 2(d) of the Canadian Charter if Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the fundamental freedom of association to all Canadians.

An image of the Herald’s “message to readers” this morning.

Section 2(d) of the Charter was the foundation of the Supreme Court of Canada’s recognition of collective bargaining rights in Canada — something that has figured in the news in Alberta in the past couple of days very much to the UCP’s distress. (I imagine that Mr. Justice Eric Macklin’s ruling this week that Bill 9, the Public Sector Wage Deferral Act, violated the Charter rights of members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees is just the sort of thing that on a normal weekend would send Ms. Corbella into a tizzy of indignation.)

So if Postmedia’s “measures to address this situation with this individual” are disciplinary in nature, Ms. Corbella would have legitimate cause for complaint, in my view. Indeed, if the Supreme Court had ruled on this topic 20 years ago, she might have been able to go to her union representative for assistance resolving this contretemps. Alas for her, the wheels of justice grind slowly, and as a result there is no union at the Calgary Herald.

The problem with the Herald and Postmedia is not that one obviously Conservative columnist happens also to be UCP member, but that there is so little room in the pages of any Postmedia publication for a diversity views that reflects the company’s readership.

The best that can be said about the idea someone hired to write Conservative opinions for a paper that publishes very little but Conservative views must be forbidden to join a Conservative political party is that it is at once quaint and bizarre!

It’s particularly absurd and ironic to see the spectacle of Postmedia getting self-righteous about party members on staff at the same time as it bids for its share of the profits from Jason Kenney’s Ministry of Truth, better known as the War Room.

If the Herald and Postmedia want to atone for their multitude of sins, they should leave Ms. Corbella alone and hire a talented young columnist with NDP, Liberal or Green sympathies, even if she has a party card in her pocket.

But if no action is taken against Ms. Corbella, the Alberta Legislature Press Gallery, of which Postmedia remains a part, should apologize to and readmit any writer they’ve driven out for being caught with a party card in their pocket.

Judging from his social media links, Premier Jason Kenney is almost as enthusiastic about Ms. Corbella’s efforts as she is about his. So, if worst comes to worst, she should be able to find a happy home writing broadsides against foes of fossil fuels with her former colleague Claudia Cattaneo in the premier’s ludicrous War Room.

7 Comments to: Journalists who are UCP members are not the problem; media companies that publish nothing but conservative views are

  1. Sam Gunsch

    August 3rd, 2019

    EXCERPT: The problem with the Herald and Postmedia is not that one obviously Conservative columnist happens also to be UCP member, but that there is so little room in the pages of any Postmedia publication for a diversity views that reflects the company’s readership.
    ====================================

    EXACTLY!

    Corbella & many/most Postmedia columnists are & have been for decades, transparently political advocates/members for/of RW/neoliberal political class. That any have a ‘membership’ or any tangible relationship to any conservative party can be assumed, and it’s definitely part of the ‘quaint’ artifact of sham of non-partisan allegiance/independence stance the obviously propagandistic MSM like Postmedia attempt to maintain for the persuading the hoi polloi.

    Columnists attempting to maintain the fiction they’re opinions are not politically tribal is explicated as quite the sham, imho, in Jay Rosen’s writings about the media’s fiction of trying to convince the public that reporters have a ‘view from nowhere’.

    http://pressthink.org/2010/11/the-view-from-nowhere-questions-and-answers/

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/View_from_nowhere

    Reply
  2. David

    August 4th, 2019

    I have come to the conclusion some time ago that Ms. Corbella’s usefulness to her employer is not in the quality of her journalist writing, it is weak, but that she can be counted on to reliably express the political views her employer wants and not be troubled by anything in the real world that might contradict them.

    Perhaps having a closed mind has served Ms. Corbella well in terms of employment security, at least so far. However the layoffs at Postmedia never seem to end as the company races to reduce staff to keep up with its continuing declining revenues. Maybe if needed, Ms. Corbella could get a job in the war room of the Mr. Kenney’s Ministry of Truth, I doubt l having a UCP membership would hurt her there either, it might help. I doubt they are looking for objectivity. Unfortunately, it is the readers of the Herald and Postmedia that have not been well served by the fairly one sided view of the world by most of the columnists. Of course they do still keep a token liberal or two around (or at least someone who can give an occasional passing impression of being one) to try give the impression they are fair and balanced.

    I am fairly sure that most thoughtful Albertans have already discounted Postmedia as a reliable source of news, which probably only adds to their declining revenue (and therefore declining staff) problems. It might be too late now, but here’s a radical idea – maybe they should make more than a token effort to be fair and balanced and not be so closed minded. It might be the only way they can salvage what is left of their credibility and get back those thoughtful readers, many who have already abandoned their papers in disgust.

    Reply
    • Jerrymacgp

      August 5th, 2019

      “ … they do still keep a token liberal or two around…” Well. If true, they are getting harder to find, since the departures of Graham Thomson for a buyout and his current apparently freelance semiretirement, and Paula Simons for the Senate of Canada … neither was truly leftist in their perspectives, mind you, but they did tend to offer more balanced views than the current crop of “journalists” at the Journal/Herald/Suns.

      One is reminded of a book I read recently, called “Power, Prime Ministers and the Press” (Robert Lewis: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/40772216-power-prime-ministers-and-the-press). Early on in Canadian history, major newspapers were actually owned by the political parties, and acted virtually as House organs; so, one paper would be a Conservative paper, and another a Liberal one, not just in its editorial stance but in its ownership and how it covered the news—foreshadowing the modern concept of the social media echo chamber. This remained the status quo until well into the 20th century, when more modern concepts of journalistic objectivity began to emerge. However, at least then, the papers’ biases were in plain sight and could be taken into account by the more discerning reader.

      Maybe what we need today is for a major left-wing organization, like a political party or a progressive labour union, to start up or buy a major mainstream media outlet to counter the current neo-liberal bias that now dominates our public discourse.

      Reply
  3. Andy Marshall

    August 4th, 2019

    Another spot-on blog, David. Like you, I’d view with horror media outlets being able to aggressively probe the affiliations of their employees. By goodness, I must confess I carried an NDP membership for many of the years I worked as a reporter with The Herald. But, it used not to feel that hard for people, within a freer environment, to maintain reasonable objectivity. Obviously, not everyone, of course. More significantly, most media seem to operate now in such partisan and tribalistic silos, I have diminishing hope for the ongoing health of “fair and balanced.” (Remember that?)

    Reply
  4. Bob Raynard

    August 4th, 2019

    When the newspaper prints an editorial the day of an election urging its readers to vote for the PC/CPC/UCP candidate, then later justifies it with the argument that they are a conservative paper, you really do have to wonder why they are lighting their hair on fire over a columnist’s party membership. Personally I think this goes into the same category as their editorial a couple of months ago defending the carbon tax – they are wanting to create the illusion of being a real media source to support their cry for financial help from the federal government.

    When I look at the Edmonton Journal now I often see the paper running ads for itself telling us how it is a trusted news source. Ironically, when the paper was a trusted news source, I never saw such ads.

    Reply
  5. J.E. Molnar

    August 4th, 2019

    Only a discerning media consumer can cut through the maze of right-wing bullsh*t and propaganda that masquerades as journalism these days over at Postmedia properties — both in Alberta and elsewhere in the country (i.e. National Post & Financial Post).

    The trickle-down OP/ED conservative bias has on occasion even reached the reporting ranks. Next time you read an Alberta Postmedia UCP news item, check to see if the Official Opposition (NDP) was given the opportunity to respond or an expert in the field offers a contrary/opposing view to UCP policy or a proposed action being considered or undertaken by them. Chances are pretty, pretty good you’ll come up empty-handed in your search for editorial balance — the first principle of true and time-honoured journalism.

    Reply
  6. Michelle

    August 5th, 2019

    I agree 100% David. Personal political views should be just that regardless of profession. It’s how they use their “privileged”(how they hate that word)space to convince readers what they write is fact.

    Unfortunately, it’s not just Postmedia, but all of them seem to be trying to convey a viewpoint as fact. A most recent example is a piece in Maclean’s about how the vote would look if Alberta and Quebec separated, even though the author admitted that 75% of people in both provinces don’t want to separate. All of a sudden the Liberals need to be concerned this October because Alberta and Quebec may not be there? Honestly. I’m in Toronto, and the headlines in the Toronto Sun make me cringe everyday.

    Thanks for allowing this space to respond.

    Reply

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