independence is a fundamental underpinning of a civilized democratic society. Concerns about potential conflicts impacting editorial
integrity need quick resolution. The public interest demands no less.
months, Radio station 590 VOCM has employed the services of Open Line Host, Tim
Powers. The public record confirms Mr.
Powers, through his consulting firm Summa Strategies, is a registered lobbyist,
to the Government of Canada, on behalf of Nalcor. The exhibit (next page), is located on the Registry of The Federal
Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying. Its reactivation date is 2012-12-01.
began Consulting for Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro (now a Nalcor subsidiary) having
registered, as a lobbyist, in 2006 (Federal Lobby Registration
#777504-14002). The date is important
because that is when Premier Danny Williams started putting the Muskrat Falls
Project together and confirms Mr. Powers’ long standing relationship with
Nalcor as one of the early planners of the Muskrat Falls Project.
More specifically, the Federal Lobby Office records Mr. Powers’ area of activity as:
“assistance related to the Lower Churchill Project. Development of
East-West energy grid.”
recent Lobby Registration also lists the issues over which Mr. Powers declared his
intention to apply his lobby efforts and are very similar to those described in
the 2006 Registration. They include:
energy policy as it relates to new, large-scale, hydro-electric capacity in
Newfoundland and Labrador
Projects Office with respect to overarching project management and
accountability for a hydroelectricity generation facility on the lower Churchill
river in Labrador.
Energy Limited is listed as the “beneficiary” of the lobby activity.
Falls Project is being developed by Nalcor on the Lower Churchill.
an accepted practice but only if it is properly disclosed to whom the
lobbyist is making representation. They
need to be aware that the lobbyist is serving interests other than theirs. For that reason the rules around lobbyists
and consultants, even after they have ceased the practice, have been well developed
and strictly employed in many governments and private firms, not only to avoid
conflict, but to negate even the perception of a conflict.
than the salt from Lot’s wife” is a metaphor some invoke to describe the
standard expected from any professional group.
months, Mr. Powers acted as a temporary Host on VOCM Open Line and lately has
been heard daily. He has interviewed the
Premier and Nalcor CEO Ed Martin. He has
discussed, on his Show, the Muskrat Falls Project and other electric power
and the Provincial Government’s competence is questioned amidst a veritable
political storm over the failure of the Holyrood Generating Facility and
related power assets, Mr. Powers has been at the VOCM microphone.
Powers seems not to publicly acknowledge his relationship, past or present,
with Nalcor with the frequency necessary to ensure listeners are
adequately informed of his potential conflict regarding electric
since, I did not hear him warn his listeners he may be in a position of conflict when such issues arose. Others
have reported that they have heard him, on occasion, acknowledge the potential
conflict. Evidently, the disclosure is sporadic.
has a vested interest in this matter because they look to VOCM590, among other
media, for ‘news’. If this were a
discussion of widgets the public might be unconcerned. But, news is a far different product; its
quality revolves around assurances of integrity and objectivity.
Shows are a major platform for current political and public policy issues even
if some Hosts describe themselves as entertainers rather than journalists. During the recent days of rolling ‘black-outs’
Open Line Shows engaged in non-stop information sharing on warming rooms, displaced
seniors, public charges of incompetence by Nalcor officials, the dangers of
carbon monoxide poisoning, press conferences, specific interviews with the
Government and senior Nalcor officials, including those directed by Mr. Powers.
Would anyone have thought them
matters of entertainment rather than news? I wasn’t laughing and I don’t know anyone who was.
and months prior to these events, as Guest Open Line Host, Mr. Powers conducted
interviews on the issue of Muskrat Falls. They involved Government and Nalcor
officials and members of the public, too.
I personally did not hear the essential disclosure of Mr. Powers’
relationship with Nalcor.
Line Show Host conduct himself without “an apprehension of bias” in the course
of interviews with powerful politicians and bureaucrats with whom, directly or
through his Company, he receives, or has received in the recent past, monetary compensation? Is it possible to serve two or more masters?
Powers can help me out with these questions, too.
on the Nalcor payroll for so long, a Consultant to CEO Ed Martin and by
extension Premier Kathy Dunderdale, is it truly possible that Mr. Powers believes that his
questions of them throughout the electricity ‘black-out’, were as insightful,
substantive and probing, as they might been had he not enjoyed such a long
standing business relationship with them?
have meted out a more extensive, intense and demanding cross-examination of
their excuses, pretexts and management decisions? Would he not have used the dire warnings about the state of certain power generation assets described in Newfoundland Hydro’s Capital Budget, filed with the PUB, to remind them of what they already knew or ought to have known?
Would a more energetic Host he have better sated the public’s need
for clear answers rather than succumb to the prattle of people in search of
political cover for the crises unfolding?
Muskrat Falls or a latent ‘independent’ Government inquiry go unquestioned,
as the proffered antidote to incompetence, were someone on a more singular
mission in his seat?
most naïve among us can claim certainty that if the Government’s Inquiry lacks
the presiding authority of a Supreme Court Judge, it is not ‘independent’ at
take us for? Who does he think he is?
VOCM has an
obligation to require Mr. Powers to declare his potential conflict, announce
that he works or has worked for Nalcor.
He must be required to perform this function clearly and unmistakeably,
not just occasionally but, without fail, every time a caller raises the
issue of electric power supply, the current outages and black-outs or Muskrat
Falls, every time he interviews a senior official of the Provincial
Government on the same issues, and every
time he interviews a Nalcor official on any matter.
of the public does not listen to every word spoken on every Open Line Show. Hence, such repetition is not
only necessary; it represents the best way specific callers and the public can
be assured of learning that the Host may possess an apprehension of bias.
disclosure would equally apply to issues relating to any other company, such as
Alderon Iron Ore, for which company he is also a registered lobbyist (Registration #777504-308605).
is a well-known political strategist and Consultant. The Newfoundland and Government has no
Registry requirement, as does the Federal Government. Would Mr. Powers advise if he also a lobbyist
for Nalcor lobbying the Dunderdale Administration or if he provides political
advice to the Premier or members of the Provincial P.C. Party?
Powers connection with Alderon is an important public matter, too, given his
VOCM Hosting role. Is Mr. Powers playing
two sides of same deal? Alderon seeks a
break on a $300 million transmission line to Labrador West. Would anyone claim that it is appropriate for
Mr. Powers to discuss that issue, on Open Line, without referencing his
potential conflict as a paid lobbyist for that Company?
this is also a critical point, it is the practice of VOCM to include cuts from
interviews, conducted on Open Line Shows in its newscasts. Just within the last few days, a cut from Nalcor
CEO Ed Martin’s interview with Mr. Powers was aired on VOCM News. No disclosure
as to Mr. Powers’ potential conflict accompanied that news report. If this is journalism, in the absence of the
interviewer’s disclosure, is it an acceptable standard of journalism?
Provincial Government is a major advertising customer of VOCM and other radio
stations within the Steele Communications organization. There is nothing inherently wrong with such a
commercial relationship. Media
organizations must have advertising revenues to operate and stay viable.
potential for conflict is obvious. The Nalcor/Powers/VOCM
relationship places a heavy burden on the broadcaster to ensure its
journalistic role is at arms-length, and perceived to be at arms-length.
potential conflicts not worry the CRTC, the Broadcast Standards Council and
other media overseers?
other local media? Are they ignorant of
this potential conflict or have they merely ignored its existence? As professionals, reporting daily at the
local level, are they not concerned about the most fundamental
underpinning of their craft?
You may also wish to read: WHO WILL GUARD THE GUARDIANS?
How hard can
it be to search the Federal Lobby Registry, to pick up the phone and ask VOCM
or Mr. Powers the questions I cite here and, perhaps, others?
overstate the value of an independent media?
Are they the guardians of democracy they pretend to be? Are they
on guard only sometimes, when it suits them, rather than when their vigilance is
most demanded? If so, please let me know
so that I can lower my expectations!
to announce clear rules of engagement relating to potential conflicts by any of
its Open Line Hosts. It also must establish clear rules relating to the use of
material obtained on its Open Line Shows and used on its newscasts.
lines”, “no conflicts”, “no perceived conflicts” are valid mantras for VOCM and
for all media.
think of any other way to safeguard a disarmed public?