Earle Files Complaint

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CBC Ombudsman finds no breach of standards

The talk radio peanut gallery seems to have its sights trained on John Furlong, host of the “Fisheries Broadcast” on CBC Radio.

Last week, I told you about Gus Etchegary, and his accusation that Furlong is “biased”.

This week, I get word that Dr. Philip Earle, another fixture on talk radio, filed a formal complaint with the CBC Ombudsman in Ontario.

If you listen to all three talk radio shows on VOCM, and the “Broadcast” on CBC, you will know Dr. Earle all too well. Between these programs, it seems his voice is on the air at least once a day. Dr. Earle was also a Liberal candidate in the 2011 provincial general election.

I will summarize the Ombudsman’s report here, but you can read the full decision here: http://www.cbc.ca/ombudsman/pdf/2011-12-06-Earle.pdf

This began on November 4, when Dr. Earle wrote to the local CBC, complaining that his calls to the “Fish Line” were not making it to air. He claimed the show was “censoring” his viewpoints, as well as the similar views of others, and that three of his phoned-in commentaries were never used.

By allegedly favouring the “commentary of one group over another,” Dr. Earle wrote, and projecting one viewpoint about the industry, the program had “lost its credibility and integrity.”

Tough talk, to be sure. And strong accusations. But the good doctor was not done. He also singled out a statement Furlong made, within the context of an interview. Here is what Furlong said:

“People call for an inquiry into the fishery,” Furlong said. “I mean, who cares what went wrong? The question is what do we do now with what we have left.”

Dr. Earle said these remarks were irresponsible and had a “serious negative influence” on impressionable listeners.

Marc Riddell, managing editor of news with CBC NL, replied to Dr. Earle on November 16. He explained that at least 15 of Dr. Earle’s calls had made it to air since January. Here’s an excerpt from the Ombudsman’s report:

Riddell said that in the recent provincial election campaign the program refrained from running his comments because he was a candidate for the Liberal Party. “We also felt that after the election your comments had a sameness to them and didn’t reflect the editorial direction of the show on those days.”

As for the November 2 comment by Furlong, Riddell said he crafted his statement on the basis of the three political parties all saying they “wanted an inquiry but saw no value in finger pointing about the past.” A review of that and other broadcasts indicated Furlong was not favouring one view over others on how to fix the many problems the fishery was facing, Riddell wrote. 


Note the reference to the “sameness” of Dr. Earle’s comments. That’s the understatement of the year. There is a fairly standard formula to Dr. Earle’s calls. He will usually start with a description of how things were, when there were millions of tonnes of fish in the sea, and before the bad guys (ie everyone but us) raped the resource. Then, he will point the finger at various antagonists, such as foreign draggers or DFO in Ottawa, using phrases like “I have been told” and “I have reason to believe.” As he talks, Dr. Earle’s voice rises in anger, until he is practically spitting into the phone. Some members of the talk radio choir talk about Dr. Earle in reverential tones, calling him a “passionate” Newfoundlander, but I think he sounds ridiculous and have started switching the channel whenever he comes on. His rants used to be unintentionally funny – now they are just tiresome and predictable.

It is difficult to summarize the decision of Kirk LaPointe, the CBC Ombudsman, without sacrificing any of the nuance, so I will reproduce it all, right here. 

“Certainly the complainant has made a valuable contribution to the program over the years, and the commentaries he submitted were indicative of that. I am satisfied there is nothing to exclude him from further contributing to the Fishline segment, only that the program is looking for content distinct from some of his earlier material.

Naturally, though, there is no obligation to continue to feature his contributions. The program has the freedom to choose as it wishes to work within policy that requires a range of views. Indeed, it is important to introduce new contributors regularly. I am satisfied the program makes a consistent, conscious effort to provide the broadest possible commentary on issues involving the fishery, and in so doing that it adheres to CBC journalistic policy.

I concluded that the complaint about Furlong’s statement needed to take into account the context in which it was made. I found he was keeping the conversation going by summarizing and reflecting the views of political parties that there was little point to a review of past practices in the fishery. The important context here was that he was in conversation with a guest and trying to further prod him to discuss his views, not endeavouring to take a stand and use the platform to express it.

Another element of the complaint was the program’s treatment of the complainant during the election campaign. At that time the program had to be cognizant of journalistic policy to provide equitable treatment of political parties and candidates. It featured discussions with representatives of the parties during the election on the fishery and with the leaders of the parties on related issues. Given this equitability requirement, the program would have been imbalanced and likely breached policy had it featured the complainant’s commentary during that time. It wisely steered clear of this.

There was no violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices."

The Ombudsman made the right decision, and did so with clarity, tact and restraint. Had it been me writing the report, I might have been more direct. I might have said that Dr. Earle hogs too much airtime – that his commentaries are repetitious, monotonous dirges that have lapsed into self-parody.

Bravo to any broadcaster who curtails his calls, even a little, to allow a broader range of opinion on the airwaves.

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Recent comments

  • p earle
    January 05, 2012 - 11:12

    Truth is the totality of all things known and unknown at any instant in the universe, and it is always changing and moving , unfolding from moment to moment as time evolves. Other then the tiniest fraction of this totality that us human are privileged to be aware of at any instant of our lives on this planet, the rest of it’s immense totality is beyond us. We really know but the slightest puff of the totality of the storm! Using the expression ‘the truth’ in conversation, or an article, is therefore but a figure of speech we humans use, and understand as such, to imply an approach, an attempt, to get at that which is correct or factual of what goes on around us in our every day world. Such as in our Fishery. This figure of speech, sadly, is used widely, and incorrectly, in many situations to cover that which the person using the term considers to be adequate, be it partly wrong or even false, to convey a position they want to present. My references to ‘the truth’ infer , as to the beast of my ability, not to the types of people in the latter category but to those in first. This while still bearing in mind, and humbled, by the fact of my human condition which is truly insignificant in the universal scale of things. For some one to claim or think that I think I am the ‘knower’ or ‘bearer’ of truth, in lieu of what I feel I really am as described above, is to have completely missed the mark. It is however for sure correct to say, that making false character claims, is insignificant at this time of crisis in the fishery and our coastal peoples. P earle

  • Agnes
    January 04, 2012 - 18:54

    Mr. Meeker for several years now certain fishery activists in Newfoundland and Labrador have been seeking information from Ottawa, particularly regarding infractions that have been committed by certain foreign fishing countries in our offshore waters, and they have also been calling on Ottawa to give our province joint jurisdiction over the fish quotas that were passed over to it for maintenance in 1955, but apparently to no avail. Apparently Ottawa has refused to to have any serious discussions on the subject and according to one activist, he did receive a piece of communication from Ottawa, which stated it could not release any information for fear that it would cause a Foreign Affairs debacle, most likely concerning the International Trade Contracts that are already in place in the reciprocal trade of Canadian and foreign goods. The problem is Newfoundlanders and Labradorians naturally want some control over the fishing waters and the fish resource it brought into Canada when it became part of the Canadian Federation in 1949, yet the Canadian News Media have never come on side with Newfoundland and Labrador to investigate what is going on in our waters or to encourage Ottawa to do what is right, that being to give the province of Newfoundland and Labrador some say into the fish resource the province held under its wings for 400 years before Ottawa took charge. The News Media over the last few years got into taunting Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in a negative way, remember Margaret Wente and many other journalists did so as well, I suspect under the encouragement of the Ottawa Government. So Mr. Meeker, given the fact that the inshore fishers and plant workers of our province have been facing serious economic woes because of the lack of fish being allotted to them by Ottawa to prosecute their trade and the fact they themselves have been under moratorium for ground fish since 1992, while foreigners were allowed to fish the same stock with no moratorium imposed, I'm wondering if you would offer your opinion on what you think the province of Newfoundland and Labrador should do to get an answer from Ottawa on how it can gain some jurisdiction over this most valuable renewable fish resource.

  • Wm. Murphy
    January 03, 2012 - 16:59

    Dr. Earle only managed to garner about 1/6 of the votes as the fish expert and speaker of the "truth" during the last general election as a Liberal candidate. Dr. Earle's message came across as a joke and now we have the same message coming through during this pissing match. Just a a thought but maybe the message spewing from Dr. Earle is the issue. Just a thought!! I couldn`t agree more with Mr. Furlong

  • peanut
    January 03, 2012 - 15:12

    I see that someone in the peanut gallery had the only article on the fishery in the New years eve final 2011 edition of the telegram. Good to know that those making the important descisions on having truth exposed is publishing what eventually is printed in our paper. From the peanut gallery.

  • Agnes
    January 02, 2012 - 13:43

    Mr. Meeker I just read your bio on line and I see you were a former journalist and managing editor of The Telegram. I'm wondering why when you had some control over our local paper you didn't write stories indicating that the Fishery was sinking further and further into Ottawa's grips and further and further out of the fisher's of this province control. I am not associated with the fishery one iota but I know the fish resource my province brought into Canada belongs as much to me as it does to Ottawa and the fish corporations who want all the control over what is delved out in our province. As an ordinary citizen of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador I have observed for years now that Ottawa was gaining more and more control over the fish quotas, that Newfoundland and Labrador brought into Canada and it was quite obvious that the fish quotas were being utilized by Ottawa to conduct International Trade with many countries for the benefit of trading off surplus Agriculture and Manufactured goods for Central Canada. Mr. Meeker when you had more control, why didn't you do a little investigative journalism at the time on the fishery and then publish your findings in the Newspaper that you had some control over? By the way it is still not too late for The Telegram to do that long overdue piece that has been crying out to be investigated and published. Last June 29th I attended a public Meeting where Paul Moist and Maude Barlow of The Canadian Union of Public Employees for the Council of Canadians were the hosts. The meeting was on the awareness about a new trade deal between Canada and the European Union (CETA) that threatens the fishery that Newfoundland and Labrador brought into Canada even more than it is at present, to the point where the European Union will have more control than will Canada, because according to what I heard Canada is about to cede it all over to the EU, the fishers of the European Union will be able to come right up to the coastline of Newfoundland and Labrador to fish and do whatever they want. I would advise you Mr. Meeker, as the author of a Blog, to do a little investigation on what is happening to the fish quotas and published it on your blog. Be assured it is not as you see it at profess to see it at present. By the way, you negatively mentioned Dr. Phil Earle and Mr. Gus Etchegary, both gentlemen are fishery activists, who are trying to get the message out there of the skulduggery going on in our fishery by Ottawa. You thrashed their opinions , when what they were saying about the problems of the fishery, as it relates to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and the sick state of the fish stocks, is as plain as the nose on our face. If we are to wrestle back some of enormous wealth we ship out of our province, that Canadian Economist Jim Standford spoke of on CBC's "On The Go Show" with journalist Ted Blades in September we need your blog, our local Newspaper and every News Station in Newfoundland and Labrador, both in Radio and Television, to start doing their duty of informing the people of what really is happening.

  • Casey
    January 02, 2012 - 09:43

    Sure...Let's just keep playing the smoke and mirrors game. If we don'y learn from our mistakes we'll kep making them. The problem with the fishery today is basically the same as what caused the collapse. i.e Mismanagement by Ottawa. After 20 years the cod stocks should have recoverd. They have not recovered mostly because NAFO continues to allow fishing offshore, while NL's fishermen cannot. This is a straddling resource. You would have to be an idiot to not see the mistake here.

  • JT
    December 23, 2011 - 07:25

    I believe Furlong simply stated what many in the province have not said publicly, and any attempt to muzzle Furlong is quite simply reprehensible. I thought we lived in a free society where free speech was a cornerstone of our citzenship. I admire Mr. Earle's compassion for the fishery and the people who make a living from it, however I cannot agree with Mr. Earle's attempt at preventing those who disagree with his point of view from having a forum to express THEIR point of view. Mr. Earle take's issue with as he states "Furlong's one sided opinion", which is interesting since Mr. Earle has been expressing his one sided opinion in the media for quite some time, and nobody has demanded that he be muzzled, I guess free speech is not free for everybody.

  • p earle
    December 21, 2011 - 17:25

    For anyone's information I sent the following response letter to the Ombudsman's investigation , and link to an article writen by john Furlong on Dec 10 on our Fishery, of my complaint about the FBC host. Read Mr Furlongs article 'Change in the N.L. fishery: Get used to it.' CBCNews, Dec 10/11. It is not necassary to say more. Thank you for bringing this issue back into the media. It''s good that many more will be exposed to the truth. phil earle, carbonear, Mr Lapointe, Dec 13/11 On realizing you gave every licence in the book, and possible leeway to defuse or dismiss my points of issue with John Furlongs biased presentations on the fisheries broadcast I found it a waste of my time to pursue you and your office further for your help in the exposition of the truth of my complaints. Your honest attention will not be needed in any case as the following ... Change in the N.L. fishery: Get used to it. written by John Furlong was posted on CBCNEWS/Canada Dec 10. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/story/2011/12/08/nl-furlong-fishery-1210.html proves all the points and suspicions I had in my complaint to you about the damaging affect Furlong is having on the Fishery in NL and the coastal fisher people. This article shows very clearly Furlong's one sided opinion. He should in my opinion be replaced as host of the FBC. Thank you. Dr philip earle, Carbonear, NL.

    • John Furlong
      December 22, 2011 - 19:27

      Isn't it strange that the "truth" , as Dr. Earle notes, is the one that he understands to be true. No one else's. It's fine to have the "truth", as long as it's Phil Earle's "truth". It must be a considerable weight on one's shoulders; not just to have an opinion, but to carry the "truth".

  • Geoff Meeker
    December 13, 2011 - 22:19

    Jerome, Furlong asked that question within the context of the interview, and was challenging the interviewee with a point of view that is prevalent out there. That said, it IS a valid question. If one wants to learn from the past, there is no shortage of reports documenting what went wrong with the fishery - the last thing we need is another inquiry. Russell Wangersky makes that point very well, in this column: http://www.thetelegram.com/Opinion/Columns/2011-09-17/article-2751820/Fish-and-ships-%26mdash-and-politics/1

  • Geoff Meeker
    December 13, 2011 - 15:21

    Jerome, Furlong asked that question within the context of the interview, and was challenging the interviewee with a point of view that is prevalent out there. That said, it IS a valid question. If one wants to learn from the past, there is no shortage of reports documenting what went wrong with the fishery - the last thing we need is another inquiry. Russell Wangersky makes that point very well, in this column: http://www.thetelegram.com/Opinion/Columns/2011-09-17/article-2751820/Fish-and-ships-%26mdash-and-politics/1

  • Jerome
    December 13, 2011 - 10:32

    Furlong said: “People call for an inquiry into the fishery,” Furlong said. “I mean, who cares what went wrong? The question is what do we do now with what we have left." "I mean, who cares what went wrong?" That's the line that concerns me. If we don't learn from our mistakes ... you know the rest. Wall Street today is operating like it did in 2008. What will be the result of that? What went wrong in the past, was that unprocessed fish left this province and no one seemed to care. The reason no one cared was because there was plenty of employment associated with harvesting and exporting a raw product. Such is not the case today. My problem is not with Dr. Earle or Gus Etchegary or John Furlong, but with the lack of urgency our provincial government places on the industry. If there is going to be a billion dollar deficit next year, what will the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador look like in 20 years? The future of the fishery (and our future after oil) is too important to be decided by a few businessmen.