TORONTO – Criticism of a documentary on the search for the lost Franklin expedition by former BlackBerry chief executive Jim Balsillie betrays an ignorance of how such productions are made, its lead fact checker said Thursday.

In a blog posting, Prof. Russell Potter takes the founder of the Arctic Research Foundation to task for a letter he reportedly wrote in April to Environment Minister Leona Aglukkak complaining among other things that the documentary gave too much credit to the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

“It’s not the documentary, in the end, that contains errors,” Potter states. “It’s Balsillie’s letter, which makes repeated, and demonstrably false claims.”

The production, aired on CBC’s “Nature of Things” in April, along with Balsillie’s complaints about it became news earlier this month when award-winning reporter Paul Watson resigned from the Toronto Star. He accused the newspaper of suppressing a story he wanted to write about the expedition — something its editors denied.

In announcing his resignation, Watson indicated he wanted to “give voice to federal civil servants and others” involved in the search and he also noted Balsillie’s complaints.

Balsillie’s letter reportedly maintains the documentary downplayed the contribution of the Parks Canada team and role of the icebreaker Sir Wilfrid Laurier in the search for the lost ships.

“It’s a puzzling situation,” Potter writes. “Why on earth Balsillie would address his complaints about the documentary — in the production of which the Canadian government and the RCGS had no role — to the environment minister is the first puzzle. What could he expect her to do?”

Potter, an English professor at Rhode Island College with an avid interest in Arctic exploration, has served as a consultant on several documentaries, including the one at issue, “Franklin’s Lost Ships.”

In essence, he writes, Balsillie doesn’t seem to understand how the films are made.

Balsillie seems “most miffed” that not enough of the Laurier and other vessels — including one he paid to outfit — were shown, Potter writes. However, he says, the small filming unit managed to take “some impressive shots” despite its limited access to the Laurier and the research vessels.

On his blog, Watson called John Geiger, the CEO of the geographical society, a “peripheral” member of the expedition with access to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office. The journalist said Geiger was the source of “distorted and inaccurate accounts” of last fall’s historic discovery of Erebus.

However, Potter said Geiger fulfilled his designated communications role, speaking in broad terms about the difficulties of the search without taking personal credit.

Geiger, Potter writes, has a “modest” screen presence while the key Parks Canada scientists are featured prominently.

“It’s quite clear that it’s their discovery; I don’t think anyone watching the program could possibly miss this point.”

Geiger has told The Canadian Press that his organization had no editorial control over the Canadian-U.K. co-production.

Balsillie could not be immediately reached for comment. A spokesman has said Balsillie had privately expressed concerns about the Franklin project to “relevant partners.”


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