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Alberta premier and CBC settle defamation suit out of court

EDMONTON -- The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has agreed to pay Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed $50,000 and court costs and broadcast an apology to the premier for the way he was portrayed in a 1977 'docudrama,' Court of Queen's Bench was told Monday.

R.A. McLennan, Lougheed's lawyer, told the court the time needed for Lougheed's defamation suit had been 'shortened from three weeks to three minutes' because of the out-of-court settlement reached Friday.

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The settlement called for the crown corporation to pay the Alberta premier $50,000 in general damages and legal costs of $32,500.

In addition the CBC would never run the program again and would televise an apology to Lougheed over the national television network Monday night, the Minutes of Settlement said.

'This particular settlement was arrived at because of the public nature of the plaintiff and the bad record by the defendant at guessing at what goes on behind closed doors,' McLennan said.

Lougheed filed the defamation suit against the CBC in 1977 after the CBC broadcast 'Tar Sands,' which it termed a fictitious account of the closed-door negotiations between government and business that led to the construction of the $2.3 billion Syncrude tar sands project in Fort McMurray, Alta. Key figures in the negotiations such as Lougheed, however, were named personally.

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Lougheed complained to the CBC about the program in August 1977. On Aug. 25, he refused an offer of air time to give his version of the negotiations in a follow-up to the 50-minute program's telecast Sept. 12.

After 'Tar Sands' was shown, Lougheed filed his defamation suit, asking for $750,000 general damages and $2 million punitive damages.

Lougheed did not appear in court Monday but his lawyer, McLennan said, 'I think we was pleased with the results ... The format of the drama was in bad taste and the settlement by the CBC recognizes it was in bad taste.'

CBC lawyer Pierre Mousseau said he doubted 'very much' his client was 'embarrassed' by the settlement.

'Our main concern was the personal hurt done the premier, not the political hurt,' he said. 'The law in Alberta is much more stringent' than in other jurisdications and 'that was a factor' in the settlement.

In its apology the CBC said 'Tar Sands' had 'sought to recreate the tensions and debate surrounding the complex set of events leading to a Syncrude oil agreement' but it was 'not the intention of the corporation to portray the premier in an unfair manner.'

'The CBC unreservedly apologizes to Peter Lougheed for any personal distress the corporation may have caused him as a result of the telecast ... The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation adds that it most assuredly was not its intention to make any suggestion that Premier Lougheed negotiated the Syncrude agreement in anything other than a highly capable manner and ina manner calculated to gain the major benefits from the resource development in Alberta for the citizens of that province,' the CBC statement said.

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