Thursday, April 02, 2015

Paul Godfrey's endorsement of Patrick Brown for PC leader of Ontario

Earlier today, Paul Godfrey, the President and CEO of Postmedia Network Inc., attended at the Ontario legislature where he stood next to Patrick Brown, candidate for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, to announce his endorsement of Brown. This is a moment that warrants some critical observations on the appropriateness of a major media CEO making such a public statement of support of a political candidate.

Here was the scene on the north lawn of Queen's Park where, facing the legislature, the endorsement was rolled out:


Godfrey is President and CEO of one of Canada's largest media operations. Indeed, this announcement occurs on the heels of the federal Competition Bureau having given the green light to Postmedia Network's acquisition of 175 Sun Media newspapers. There is a public democratic interest that the Competition Bureau took into consideration when granting public approval over this expansion and the recency of that decision and his company's expanded media footprint in Canada might give some executives cause for extra caution and care when considering such a political endorsement. 

Further, Godfrey's endorsement of Brown cannot help but be viewed without considering Godfrey's recent history with the Wynne government. Recall that in the spring of 2013, he was removed from his position as Chair of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. That history informs his announcement today and bolsters a perception of an adversarial political context.

A President and CEO of a company is the chief spokesperson for that entity. A President and CEO doesn't simply "run the business part of the newspapers," as Mr. Godfrey stated today, but speaks on behalf of the organization. Herein lies the perceived conflict of interest in a media CEO endorsing a political candidate, and the importance of journalistic objectivity. A CEO speaks on behalf of, represents and embodies that corporation's public and private dealings with its many stakeholders. It is quite difficult to unpack the chief executive's persona from that of the corporate entity due to their position and the scope of their authority. This is why, as Postmedia Network's Business Code of Conduct, provides - "Postmedia Personnel may participate in the political process as private citizens." - there is a signalling implicit in Mr. Godfrey's endorsement to his company's journalists, customers and shareholders. In short, Mr. Godfrey is not speaking as a private citizen. CEOs rarely do.