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CBC to staff: ‘Stay away’ from John Baird rumours

Leaked memo tells employees not to ‘retweet’ speculative social media posts

Then-foreign affairs minister John Baird attends a panel on Iraq and Syria in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan 22, 2015. Credit: WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM/ Jolanda Flubacher

CBC management has directed its staff to “stay away” from any speculation about Conservative MP John Baird’s personal life, according to a leaked internal memo.

“There is speculation and rumour circulating on social media about John Baird’s personal life as it may or may not relate to his resignation,” wrote Paul Hambleton, the CBC’s managing editor of radio and television news, in an email sent Feb 4. Baird announced his resignation as foreign affairs minister on Feb 3.

“Please stay away from all of this. Do not retweet or flag publicly. The Ottawa bureau is aware and exploring and will advise if any facts emerge that are worth reporting.”

Xtra obtained the memo from Matthew Hays, a Montreal-based journalist and Xtra contributor, who would not disclose who forwarded it to his attention. Another source also provided Xtra with a copy of the memo.

Baird has long been the subject of rumours about his sexuality. In 2010, Conservative Pamela Taylor, who was then running in a provincial by-election in Ontario, cited him as an openly gay Conservative MP when asked to name one during an appearance on CBC Toronto’s Metro Morning radio show. Baird, however, has never publicly broached the topic.

When asked for comment on the memo, Hambleton told Xtra that CBC News regularly issues editorial guidance as part of its support to the news service. “This is not censorship. It is promoting responsible journalism, which has an obligation to fact, not rumour.”

In 2013, Xtra reporter Andrea Houston, playwright and Xtra writer Brad Fraser, and activist Roy Mitchell were invited to appear on an episode of The Current dealing with the ethics of outing gay politicians. Fraser declined after being told he could not name specific politicians on-air, including Baird; Houston’s and Mitchell’s invitations were retracted over similar concerns.

Gord Westmacott, a CBC producer, reportedly told Fraser in an email not to mention any specific politicians on-air. Fraser told Houston at the time that the implications were “really horrifying.”

“Our taxpayer-funded national broadcaster doing this — it stinks to high heaven,” he said.