Saturday, March 26, 2005

Don Hill speaks out

Don has jumped into the conversation on the CAJ email-list and has given me permission to publish this email. It is Don's first public address concerning his situation.

Don:I'm now able to weigh-in on this conversation.

On Thu, 24 Mar 2005 19:50:10 -0400, J
<> wrote:
> I share Fiona's skepticism on this, and let me remind everyone I *am* a CBC
> employee.

And I am now an ex-CBC employee. The Canadian Media Guild, meantime,
is pursuing a VERY LARGE grievance on my behalf. And it's likely --
given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding my alleged
'redundancy' -- my status with the CBC in Alberta will change again,
sooner than later.

So why am I now an ex-employee?

I had been forbidden, earlier this week, by CBC 'regional' management
in Alberta to give a lecture to a _university_ political science
class. This was a clear attempt, the CMG concurs, to muzzle me. No, I
wasn't going to discuss the circumstances of my alleged 'redundancy'.
My 'talk' was about the political history of Alberta and how the
present dynamic -- the democracy deficit, in particular -- creates the
conditions for another rapid-fire political movement in the province.
In fact, my 'lecture' was an audition for a series of engagements with
the University of Lethbridge's department of Globalization Studies; I
was in a job-interview situation (I have another life as an academic
teaching, for instance, at the Banff Centre's Leadership Development

I was warned by a 'regional' CBC manager that I could not proceed with
the lecture because I would be in conflict with the CBC "journalistic
policy handbook". That's right, speaking about historical facts and
democracy is forbidden (according to 'regional' CBC management in

Upon consultation with the CMG, I decided to proceed with the lecture,

> Aaron Braatan replied to my earlier request for more hard facts with this:
> >
> > Ask: "Was don Hill fired over the Enron thing?". You'll get a
> > resounding echo of nothingness out of the CBC. They hope it'll go
> > away, perhaps.
> Sorry, silence doesn't prove anything. Any professional organization worth
> its salt will refuse to comment on why it terminated an employee. Refusal to
> comment doesn't mean conspiracy.

Of course, I have no quarrel whatsoever with the Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation. It is a unique and valuable institution. I love working
with the CBC. And I expect to back on-the-air -- sooner than later
(keep reading). But there is something definitely odd about the
circumstances around my alleged 'redundancy'. Doubly so, given the
real politik at the provincial Legislature in Alberta, which routinely
'ices' reporters who ask questions that are seemingly critical of the
government's behaviour (this is a matter of public record; for
instance, a documentary prepared for the CBC's Undercurrents). How the
national public broadcaster has been influenced by this fact should be
open to debate. However, I must emphasize that the Canadian Media
Guild agrees that my alleged 'redundancy' doesn't square with the
> RG replied to me this way:
> > Don Hill was demanding that the Market Surveillance Administrator
> > reopen an investigation based on new information found by Snohomish
> > County lawyers in the course of investigating the Enron allegations.
> To which I would ask: When is it a journalist's job to demand that an
> investigation be reopened? The CBC has guidelines in place prohibiting its
> journalists from becoming advocates for causes. It's hard to interpret Rob's
> reply as anything but an admission that Hill had become an advocate.

I, along with my guests, for instance, Opposition critics of the
Liberal and New Democrats were asking a question over several
broadcasts; I certainly wasn't 'demanding' anything. When legal
counsel in the court case unfolding in the United States presented FBI
and Department of Justice evidence that named-names of prominent
Albertans directly involved in the electricity 'restructuring' of this
province's power-grid, you'd think Alberta media would echo my
question, Ought not there be a full judicial enquiry (the province has
repeatedly refused to consider the question, electricity
'restructuring' being one of the government's pet initiatives during
the 1990s)?

In the weeks that followed:

The Market Surveillance Administrator resisted repeated requests for
an interview. His final response – which up to that time typically
emitted from a communications person – a terse paragraph denying
access to the public servant came from the MSA's legal counsel.

Three days after my final broadcast, the MSA relented. Based upon the
information I had on hand, the MSA admitted the new evidence --
evidence I _first_ presented for the consideration of CBC Alberta
listeners -- was enough to trigger a request for the federal Combines
investigators to reopen the investigation.

> A final word from a CBC colleague who I'll quote anonymously:
> > My bosses would squeel with
> > delight if I could expose something like that, not yank me off the air and
> > gag me. I find this a little hard to swallow. Do people really think the
> > Corp would axe a guy who "exposed" corporate and possibly government
> > wrongdoing?

Yes, I would support that view. That's been my experience working with
other fine CBC managers in the many jurisdictions I've worked in both
radio and television (and as a manager!) across the country. And when
I hosted a network programme, I was confident that management always
looked after it's front-line documentarians when the going got rough.
And I was never let down on the really difficult stories. That's what
the CBC is celebrated for.

But here's what's happened in Alberta: It's one thing for mainstream
media outside the CBC loop not to pick up on our stories; it's quite
the other when internally, the CBC obfuscates, obstructs or ignores a
breaking story generated by its own people.

Just before I went to air with recorded conversations between Enron
traders and their Alberta counterparts at Transalta – conversations I
vetted with CBC lawyers in Toronto -- a CBC 'regional' news-manager
intervened. She asked, Can't this wait a week? And I said sure, If you
want to be second.

When my 'phone in' programme started to wake up the slumbering media
beast in Alberta, the story I broke from Edmonton was ignored by the
managing news editor and the executive producer of news on the shop
floor. That's right, the CBC did not _follow_ up on its own story. Not
a whisper.
> I'm still waiting for something credible I can take up the line.

Well, J, I'll take you up on that. You're now obligated.

But what of the 'redundancy' you might ask? Didn't eighteen people in
total lose their jobs across the Dominion's airwaves? And you would be
smart to ask about that.

The Canadian Media Guild, as I mentioned in a prior paragraph, is
deeply concerned about the circumstances around my 'redundancy'. A
big, big, big grievance is proceeding. Here are the facts:

I am a bureau of one in Edmonton. I didn't have a producer nor a
researcher, nor a budget for guests. I didn't have any resources other
than a cellphone. That's right no money for a magazine or newspaper or
book. The part-time technician did not screen calls -- he merely
answered the phone, took names, put them on hold -- I took callers as
they came up on the phone tree.

The programme before my 'phone in' show, which generates a little over
forty-five minutes of content has a staff complement in Calgary of

So the economic argument doesn't wash.

The CMG eyebrows first went up when I had been repeatedly dragged in
on a 'disciplinary' hearing that clearly had no basis (from the
union's point of view), and subsequently was abandoned by CBC
'regional' management. This went on between November through until the
end of January 2005.

The CMG noted, as had I, that the level of 'complaints' to audience
relations and the Ombudsman about my 'phone in' programme was
disproportionate to the care & attention required for both the morning
and afternoon CBC 'regional' flagship programmes -- shows which have a
significantly larger audience available to draw upon. There was a
particular spike of 'interest' in my little ghetto during the
provincial election campaign, last November.

Let me leave you, for now, with this scenario:

For those of you old enough to have lived through this it will be well
worth remembering the events of October of 1970. In the province of
Quebec, terrorists kidnapped and killed a politician. The federal
government responded with a blunt instrument, The War Measures Act.
And martial law accorded the SQ - the provincial police in Quebec -
with extraordinary powers of arrest. So what did the SQ do?

Think about that. Then think about my 'redundancy' as a similar
(contextually) opportunity.

Think about 'journalism' in Alberta. The tumble of financial and
political events -- the latest being the shenanigans at the Alberta
Security Exchange Commission -- just now making its way through the
front pages and business sections of the national papers. And think
about where the Alberta media is on this.

Name me one important story over the past year that's been _broken_ by
the 'regional' news departments of the CBC in Edmonton or Calgary? How
about last year? And the year before?

Let me be clear: I'm not talking about corruption or collusion. It's
something more dreadful: There has been over a decade of
_conditioning_ of the news cycle in Alberta (the CBC Undercurrents doc
predicated as much). And evidence suggests this may have affected the
news judgment of the 'regional' CBC.

CBC 'regional' television newscasts are irrelevant in the lives of
Albertans. More people watch the fireplace channel than the CBC's
supper hour news. And perhaps that's why parliament assigned an extra
60 million dollars to beef up 'regional' broadcasting by the CBC.

Uh-huh. Sixty big ones for the 'regions'. Regions like Alberta.

Yet, I'm 'redundant'.