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CBC News Defends Coutts Story After Alberta Premier Accuses Broadcaster of Making ‘Baseless Allegations’

CBC News says it “stands by its journalism” after Alberta Premier Danielle Smith issued a statement accusing the national broadcaster of publishing an article that was “defamatory” and made “baseless allegations.”

The article, published on Jan. 19, cited one anonymous source who alleged that an unnamed staff member in the premier’s office had sent multiple emails to Alberta Crown prosecutors, challenging the charges laid in connection with the protests at the Coutts border last winter.

The report said Smith’s office denied the allegations through a statement to the CBC that evening and that the premier had no knowledge of anyone on her staff doing so.

On Jan. 25, Smith issued a public statement accusing CBC of publishing the “defamatory article containing baseless allegations.” She demanded the story be retracted and that the CBC apologize to her, her office, the Crown prosecutors, as well as the province’s public sector “for the damage caused to their reputations and that of Alberta’s justice system.” She added that the story had been used by the official opposition to “smear” their reputations.

Smith’s retraction demand came not long after CBC ran a second story the same day, headlined “Premier pressured justice minister’s office to get rid of COVID charges, sources say.”

The article cited multiple unnamed “sources familiar with the interactions,” and quoted a “source” as saying there were “inappropriate” attempts to influence cases before the court, with exchanges between the premier’s office and the office of Justice Minister Tyler Shandro.

CBC Defends Reporting

CBC editor-in-chief Brodie Fenlon defended his media outlet’s reporting on Jan. 27, saying the premier’s statement generated numerous complaints to CBC’s ombudsman accusing it of “lying and inventing” the story, and others suggesting it as a politically motivated “hit job.”

“As is our practice, we responded as quickly as possible to those complaints. To be clear, CBC News stands by its journalism,” Fenlon wrote in the editor’s blog.

He shared a response sent to complainants by Helen Henderson, manager of the CBC Calgary newsroom.

“Those who told CBC they have knowledge of the matter consider the contact ‘inappropriate’ and serious enough that they believe the information should be made public. Not surprisingly, however, the sources who provided the information—and I should emphasize here there was more than one source—asked CBC not to use their names in the story,” Henderson wrote.

She went on to say that CBC has the names of the sources, knows where they work, and has “carefully assessed the credibility of the information they offered.”

Henderson also acknowledged the “inadvertent omission” in the first story’s original version that the CBC had not seen any of the alleged emails.

“We included that information and added a prominent editor’s note to advise readers of the addition,” she wrote.

‘No Evidence’

Alberta’s Justice Ministry said in a news release on Jan. 23 that there was “no evidence of email contact” with the Crown prosecutor and Smith’s staff. The investigation was conducted between Jan. 20 and 22 by the province’s non-partisan public service commission and IT experts, reviewing almost a million incoming, outgoing, and deleted emails over a four-month period, at the request of Smith two days after the first story was published.

Henderson argued that the ministry’s findings don’t mean that the CBC’s reporting is inaccurate.

“While the search extended back to October, the government has subsequently said that deleted emails are only retained for 30 days, in this instance, that is to December 22. The terms used in the search are confidential, it said, and would not say if the search included all government emails,” she said.

Smith said in her Jan. 25 statement that she campaigned for seven months “on exploring ways to grant legal amnesty for individuals charged with non-violent, non-firearms, pandemic-related violations.”

After discussions with the minister of justice and ministry officials, Smith said she received legal advice not to proceed with “pursuing options for granting amnesty.”

“The Premier followed that legal advice,” the statement said.

“All communications between the Premier, her staff, the Minister of Justice and Ministry of Justice public servants have been appropriate and made through the proper channels.”

Marnie Cathcart contributed to this report.

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