That's because CBC's President and CEO had stepped into it during a media interview, which ironically was on CBC.
Let’s get right to the portion of the interview that caused such a fuss last week.
After CBC announced hundreds of layoffs, journalist Adrienne Arsenault interviewed CBC President and CEO Catherine Tait.
Kudos to Tait for doing the interview. I can’t imagine any other TV network would have its President interviewed on the day it announced massive layoffs. That’s the good news. The bad news came when Arsenault asked about bonus payments for executives and others at CBC.
My first reaction was “Wow, why wasn’t she prepared for that question? It was so obvious. Why did she have such a non-committal answer?”
When I do media training and work through mock stories with participants, we identify the questions reporters will ask. I always say be prepared for the toughest questions. Finding answers to them will have you prepared in case those questions are asked. If they’re not asked, then no harm no foul. It’s far better to struggle through cobbling together a response behind the scenes than trying to do it in front of the camera. Doing it on the fly almost always results in a really bad look.
Upon Further Review
When I gave it more thought though, maybe her response wasn’t so bad. In fact, maybe it was the correct one.
If she would have said no bonus payments will be made because of the layoffs and other financial problems, that closes the door to them. That will likely be a big problem though. More on that in a moment.
She could have given herself some wiggle room by saying “No decision has been made on bonus payments yet, but I’m sure when it is discussed we’ll take our current financial situation into consideration.”
That doesn’t close the door to them and buys some time.
Either way, Tait was in a really tough spot on the question of bonus payments. I think she could have answered the question better, but there are likely other factors at play here.
I always tell people not to guess or speculate when talking to a reporter. If the matter hasn’t been discussed then say so and refuse to speculate on what might be decided. On that point, Tait gave a textbook response.
In situations like this, it always seems the fat cats in the C-Suite get their bonus, or at least that’s the public’s perception.
There have been reports the matter has been discussed at CBC and the word is they'll still be paid. That hasn’t been confirmed. It may be difficult to get rid of them this year because of contractual agreements.
Maybe the bonus payments will quietly be paid when the heat dies down. The problem for Tait is, the government wants her to appear before a House of Commons committee in January. She’ll face more questions about these payments then and she’ll need better answers.
I’m not saying CBC should be paying bonusses, but in the private sector you can point to all kinds of cases where the execs got their bonus cheques after huge layoffs. I’m sure they would argue a deal’s a deal and if they met certain milestones they should be entitled to those bonus payments, regardless of layoffs.
If a hockey player gets a fat bonus for scoring 50-goals in a season, he gets the bonus regardless of how much money the team made that year.
CBC is in a strange situation where Parliament can’t interfere with its budget. It’s a crown corporation that tries its best not to look like government, but it gets much of its funding from taxpayers like any other government organization.
The problem it faces is, Canadians don’t like to see government types get big bonus cheques, especially when so many people are having a hard time buying groceries and CBC is laying off hundreds. It seems tone deaf.
The other issue is the next federal election. Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre wants to shut the CBC down. The problem for Tait and the CBC is he’s now leading the polls by as much as Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes by. Making bonus payments to Tait and others at CBC after laying off 10% of the CBC staff will just add more wood to Poilievre’s Dump CBC bonfire.
So often when media interviews are analyzed, people are critical of what was said or what answers were given. Their gut response is that something different should have been said. In my experience though, sometimes there are no good answers to tough questions. What should be said conflicts with reality. Sure, you can say it, but can you back it up?
That’s the box Tait and the CBC find themselves in on bonus payments. It might not end well.
Video credit: CBC