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Jennifer McGuire

General Manager and Editor in Chief

Recent rulings by the CBC Ombudsman

Categories: Canada, Journalism, Politics, World

at issue-large.jpg

At Issue panel (l to r): Bruce Anderson, Chantal Hébert, CBC News chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge, Andrew Coyne

Time to check in on some recent reviews by the CBC Ombudsman. They're interesting issues: one looks at how we cover a breaking story, and the other looks at how we put together Canada's most-watched political panel.

The first case revolves around our coverage of the first day of the George Zimmerman murder trial in the U.S. One of our readers saw a headline for one of the stories on cbcnews.ca that day that read "Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin 'because he wanted to.'" The reader felt we were showing a bias against Zimmerman. The Ombudsman looked into it, and discovered that on a breaking news story our headlines change frequently throughout the day.

That's a pretty typical way of doing business for us; when the prosecution made an important point, their argument helped shape the headline at the top of the article. Indeed, the quote in that headline came directly from the prosecutor. When the defence made an important point, the headline would look very different. Repeated updates are the most effective way of letting readers know that the story has changed. On that day, that one single story had 39 different versions.

In that context, the Ombudsman concluded the headline in question was conveying the latest information, not taking a point of view. As a result, she declared there was no violation of CBC Policy.

Even though we won our argument here, it's instructive to see how much of an impression our headlines make on people who read them. And we're careful to be as responsible we can be, every time. If you're curious, the headline at the end of that day read "Zimmerman portrayed as vigilante in Trayvon Martin Murder Case."

The second review is about our "At Issue" panel on The National. A viewer had complained that none of the regular panelists represented an NDP perspective. The Ombudsman accepted our explanation that Andrew, Chantal and Bruce (if you don't know their last names, you need to watch more often!) do not represent any particular party. They are experienced political analysts with diverse views that make for an engaging panel. The Ombudsman went on to discuss the wide range of opinions that we air on The National, and the variety of treatments of stories dealing with Canadian politics. In the end, she decided there was no violation of our policies.

If you listened in on our editorial meetings, you would know how serious we are about fairness and balance in both our reporting and in choosing guests to interview on our programs. We may not always get it right, but we're always striving for the right balance.

There is, of course, a lot more nuance to these recent Ombudsman reviews, and you can read the full details at cbc.ca/ombudsman.

Jack Nagler
Director of Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement
CBC News

Tags: How We Work

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