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Tyee editor answers questions posed by Levant

Tyee editor David Beers was traveling down a highway with his family on holiday when emailed questions from Ezra Levant arrived yesterday morning. Levant's controversial views on 'ethical oil' and who has the right to journalistically explore important questions involving the oil sands and Canada's energy future were satirized in the video "Ethical Oil: The Puppet Rap" published by The Tyee last week. Afterwards, Levant used his Sun TV show to attack The Tyee. Preparing a second show designed to do the same, he sent the questions below Monday morning. By the time the queries made it to Beers, there was no time to answer them before the deadline Levant provided.

Although it was explained to Levant by a Tyee staff member that Beers was indisposed and would get to the questions end of day, Levant resumed his attacks on The Tyee anyway on his Monday show.

Beers sent these responses to Levant last night via email and Levant acknowledged receiving them, and said he would speak to them on a future edition of his show.

To Ezra Levant

From David Beers

Apologies for the delay. Have been driving (yes! burning hydrocarbons!) all day with my family on a holiday trip. Here are answers to your questions.

1. In your online reply to my comments, you say the Tyee's reporting is balanced. Have you ever published a pro-oilsands article?

The news reporting we publish does not set out to be pro or anti oil sands. We are interested in reporting that helps everyone get a better idea of whether the oil sands are sustainable, where the wealth they generate goes, how the oil sands might affect climate change, and such. We start with questions and are pleased to publish whatever answers we unearth. If the answers we arrive at aren't considered 'pro' oil sands by you or others, well, that's where the facts took us. The Tyee makes it a policy to seek out the views of government(s) and representatives of the oil industry whenever reporting a news story on the oil sands. A review of our stories will show we do that. A good example would be this award-winning series on lobbying for and against the oil sands in Washington:

War Over Oil Sands: Report From Washington D.C.

In it you'll find more than one story where the position of the oil sands lobby is given full voice. Examples:

Breakfast With the Oil Sands' Top Salesman.

War Cry of Oil Sands Lobby: 'Us against the World.'

As an example of the wide range of news stories we publish about energy and the oil sands that reflect all sides, here's a story where Enbridge's reassurances about the low risk posed by double hulled tankers is the main thrust of the story:

Enbridge Pushes Oil Tanker Safety Strategy.

We also run daily a direct feed from The Canadian Press which includes numerous oil sands reports on an ongoing basis.

What is the ratio of pro- to anti-oilsands commentary that you publish?

I don't know. I don't divide the world into pro and anti oil sands. I am fine with publishing on The Tyee a fair amount of commentary that raises concerns about how to make Canada's energy future sustainable and whether current energy related policies are in the best interests of Canadians, and in the best interests of all the planet's inhabitants. I think there is a real need for that voice to be well represented in the public debate.

2. You say that you do not take editorial direction from donors. But the $15,000 grant from the Tides Foundation clearly says it's for a "tar sands" campaign. What were the terms of that grant?

We do not take editorial direction from funders. We seek funding from philanthropies to support independent news reporting we have decided in house that we would like to do in order to seek new information and share it with the public. If the potential funders turn us down, so be it. In this case the Tyee Solutions Society, which is a non-profit affiliated with The Tyee but a separate organization, sought from Tides resources to allow two journalists to continue down reporting paths they had already been following on oil sands policy and technology issues. Among the issues vital to the public interest they reported on: safety measures and oversight in case of an oil spill along the B.C. coast, whether oil sands crude meets low emission oil standards being proposed in various countries, how carbon sequestration was panning out, and more. Whatever Tides labeled the fund it drew from to fund our proposal is not my concern or in my control. The Tyee Solutions Society proposed to Tides to do journalism in the public interest, its proposal was funded, and the Tyee Solutions Society produced news stories that were fair, fact-based, sought the perspectives of all sides, and brought to light important new information.

3. How much money have you received from Tides Canada?

I don't know the exact figure. And when you say 'you' please be clear that there are two organizations that produce journalism that may appear on the Tyee, and that Tides Canada has funded several projects produced by Tyee Solutions Society – which have won journalism awards and which are made available for cross publication by other media as well as publication on The Tyee.

The simplest way to put it is that the total amount of funding Tides Canada has given for various journalism projects that have run on The Tyee is less than 10 per cent of our total revenues in any one year, and under 5 per cent of total revenues during the life of the Tyee. That's how we like our revenue mix: diverse so that we are not dependent on any one source, ensuring editorial independence.

What guidance or focus accompanied those grants?

The Tyee or The Tyee Solutions Society proposed to do reporting in an area of importance to the public interest. Tides Canada accepted our proposal and funded our work.

4. Do you know who donors were who gave the money to you through Tides?

No. It is enough to know it came from Tides, a reputable grant-maker.

5. Do you think that public interest journalism is charitable work?

Yes.

6. Did you consult with Tides or Tides Canada regarding the puppet video?

No. And neither Tides nor Tides Canada had anything to do with its funding or making. Kai Nagata's work for The Tyee has been as Tyee Writer in Residence, with a stipend from The Tyee. He is given editorial independence in that role, and chose independently of me or anyone at The Tyee to do the video, and to do so with collaborators outside The Tyee. The first I saw it was when it was all but done. I liked it. I thought it brought levity to the debate in the spirit of satire on the Jon Stewart Daily Show, the Colbert Report, and what, I gather, you attempt yourself on your show. Tyee money spent on the video would just have been the portion of the Writer in Residence stipend Kai was receiving the week or so he worked on the video.

Did you consult with them after I criticize you and them?

No. I did receive an email from Tides Canada pointing out that a typo misidentified them in the piece that quoted me on The Tyee. I apologized to them for the error and made sure it was fixed.

Beers added this comment today: "I'm concerned Levant is blurring some important distinctions and don't want to leave any room for confusion. The Tyee does not seek funding for commentary. The Tyee, and The Tyee Solutions Society, only seek philanthropical funding for news reporting, presented as such, in the public interest. Another distinction important to make is that Tides and Tides Canada are legally separate organizations."

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