Unfortunately, doing both jobs puts him in an obvious conflict of interest as a journalist. Clause 5 – News of the Code of Ethics of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council says:
“It shall be the responsibility of broadcasters to ensure that news shall be represented with accuracy and without bias. Broadcasters shall satisfy themselves that the arrangements made for obtaining news ensure this result. . . . Broadcasters shall refer to the Code of Ethics of the Radio and Television News Directors of Canada (“RTNDA”) for more detailed provisions regarding broadcast journalism in general.”
According to Article Six (Conflict of Interest) of the Code of Ethics of the RTNDA, “Broadcast journalists will govern themselves on and off the job in such a way as to avoid conflict of interest, real or apparent.”
Being a paid advisor of a sitting government you report on sounds like a clear conflict to me. But if journalists and news outlets won’t behave ethically, then somebody has to bring their behaviour to the attention of the bodies whose job it is to ensure that they do.
You can e-mail your complaints to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council here and the Radio-Television News Directors Association here. I sent the following complaint:
To: the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and Radio-Television News Directors Association:
I believe that cable news station CP24 is in violation of the RTNDA’s Code of Ethics, due to the fact that one of its anchors, David Onley, has accepted an appointment to advise the Ontario government, yet continues to read news and conduct interviews on CP24, including interviews with ministers of the government that appointed him.
The position is Chair of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council, an appointment made by the Minister of Community and Social Services, for which Mr. Onley will be paid $225 per diem (it is a part-time position). The details of the council and Mr. Onley’s appointment are at the website of the Ontario government’s Public Appointments Secretariat (http://www.pas.gov.on.ca/scripts/en/BoardDetails.asp?boardID=141221). The December 13 release announcing his appointment is at the website of the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services (http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/CFCS/en/newsRoom/newsReleases/051213.htm.)
On the afternoon of Friday, December 16, 2005, Mr. Onley conducted an on-air interview with Ontario’s Minister of Health. On the afternoon of February 7, 2006, Mr. Onley conducted an on-air interview with Ontario's Attorney-General. As of February 20, 2006, Mr. Onley was still performing anchor duties at CP24. The Code of Ethics of the RTNDA states, under Article Six, “Broadcast journalists will govern themselves on and off the job in such a way as to avoid conflict of interest, real or apparent.” I believe that Mr. Onley’s provision of paid advice to the Ontario government is a clear conflict of interest with his duties as anchor on a news channel.
Thank you for your attention.
With a sizeable cohort of former broadcast journalists on staff (e.g. Matt Maychak, newly-anointed Toronto-Danforth candidate Ben Chin, Leon Korbee), odds are the McGuintyites know this is less than copasetic, but think they can get away with it. Onley’s on-air interview with McGuinty’s health minister George Smitherman three days after his appointment suggests that Onley thinks he can get away with it too.
This situation brings back memories of McGuinty’s first hire after he was elected Liberal leader in 1996: his kid brother Brendan. Ontario Legislature rules are explicit that MPPs can’t hire relatives. McGuinty tried to get around it by making his brother an employee of the Liberal caucus services bureau, though he made it clear that Brendan would be working directly for him, telling reporters, “he’ll be of great assistance to me, to have somebody on staff who will be completely truthful.” (I guess his non-sibling staff were all liars), and “I can always count on him ... to tell me when I’m doing something stupid.”
After it blew up in his face, McGuinty cancelled his plans to hire Brendan and blamed the public, telling the Toronto Sun “I regret that I underestimated the extent to which my brother’s appointment would be misinterpreted.” Brendan eventually ended up back in Ottawa, where he spent several years as a top staffer to Ottawa mayor and former Liberal MPP Bob Chiarelli.