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The CBC released a statement Saturday addressing the lawsuit it filed against the Conservative Party of Canada, which included mention of filing an amendment this coming Tuesday to remove CBC journalists Rosemary Barton and John Paul Tasker as applicants in the copyright infringement lawsuit.
“To be clear, CBC/Radio Canada was the driver of this process, not the journalists” reads part of the CBC statement that mentions removing the journalists’ names as plaintiffs. “CBC/Radio Canada named and added the journalists to the application because their images and content were used inappropriately.”
Lawyers uninvolved in the lawsuit but observing the situation believe it is highly doubtful that the CBC journalists were not aware they were applicants in the lawsuit.
“In a multi-party retainer situation there is a checklist the lawyers have to go through including advising clients of potential for conflict of interest as between clients,” said Toronto based litigation lawyer and Governor of the Law Society of Ontario Jared Brown to The Post Millennial. “It’s not likely that a major law firm failed that step. But if they did proceed without authorization, it could be professional misconduct, and the lawyers could be personally required to pay a costs order. This says nothing of the horrible optics of the [public ] broadcaster suing a political party in the midst of a campaign.”
If CBC journalists Barton, co-host of The National, and Tasker were aware of the lawsuit it would mean Barton co-moderated the leaders’ debate while not disclosing to the public she was suing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s party.
The copyright infringement notice was sent to CPC reps hours before the debate.
“Rosemary and John Paul will continue to cover the election,” said CBC’s public affairs head Chuck Thompson to The Post Millennial Sunday.
“…CBC/Radio Canada was the driver of this process, not Rosemary Barton or John Paul Tasker. We named and added them to the application because their images and journalism were misused for partisan purposes, negatively impacting perceptions of their independence.”
Thompson also cited previous copyright lawsuits CBC filed against CPC and NDP think tank The Broadbent Institute.
“And that happened during the 2015 election campaign when we sued the Conservative Party as well as The Broadbent Institute for the same reasons we took legal action last Thursday.”
Thompson did not provide any other examples of other federal political parties being sued or sent cease and desist letters for using CBC content, which federal parties also routinely do.
Many high-profile critics and experts have spoken out on social media saying CBC’s lawsuit is far more damaging for the credibility of the journalists and public broadcaster than CPC’s use of short CBC clips.
University of Ottawa copyright law professor Michael Geist says the CPC’s use of CBC clips falls well within the fair dealing provision of the Copyright Act, which allows others to use and reference parts of another’s work.
Barton in the past has repeatedly been accused by Conservatives of being partial for the Trudeau Liberals. Months after Trudeau became prime minister she thought it was appropriate to take a selfie with him and post it on social media. Recently she has made subjective comments favouring Trudeau and his party live on air, including dismissing the large deficits the Liberals have run and the RCMP are “just asking a few questions” about Trudeau and his staff’s involvement in potential judicial interference in the SNC Lavalin case.
The Canadian Twitterverse erupted on Saturday over the news CBC is suing the CPC. #DefundCBC was a top trending topic for the greater part of the day. The offending CPC attack video was shared widely on social media, one copy receiving over 750,000 views.
CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices state in the introduction of the “Conflict of Interest” section that “journalists are, first and foremost, expected to be independent and impartial. This means that our primary allegiance is to the public. Any conflict, real or perceived, between that allegiance and our personal or professional interests risks corroding the trust placed in us by Canadians.”
“The Conservative Party has grave concern that this decision was made on the eve of an election that CBC is to be covering fairly and objectively,” the CPC said in a statement. “The Conservative Party considers this a complete distraction in the final days of tightly contested election, and we will dispute this lawsuit fully.”
The party’s statement also said, “When you are funded entirely by taxpayer dollars, taxpayers should be able to use the footage.”
Barton’s predecessor at The National and mentor Peter Mansbridge came to his handpicked successor over the weekend on Twitter.
“A ridiculous situation at the CBC this weekend. @rosiebarton being targeted by trolls for something she had nothing to do with while CBC lawyers who engineered this mess enjoy their weekend.”
In 2015 Mansbridge sent an email to the head of CBC news complaining about a CPC attack ad that used a clip of an interview he did with Justin Trudeau in which the Conservatives used Trudeau’s comments on the Boston Bombing. His complaints led to a lawsuit against the Conservatives. When Trudeau was sworn-in as PM Mansbridge was ridiculed for his fawning exclusive interview with him. He also had his close friend and Liberal partisan Bruce Anderson giving political analysis (i.e. Liberal spin) for years on The National.
Other news broadcasters’ clips were used in the CPC attack ad but they have yet to file lawsuits against the party.