The term is of Norse origin; an ombuds means a proxy. In one form or another, an ombudsman is a representative for the people with an institution, organization or territory. Its role is to handle complaints and find mutually satisfactory solutions.
The concept dates back to the Qin Dynasty in China (221 BC), but its modern use started two centuries to Sweden with the appointment of a watchdog on citizens' rights. Its media application began in the 1920s in Tokyo with a committee at the Asahi Shimbun to review public complaints. The first North American news ombudsman was appointed in 1967 in for readers of the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Louisville Times. The first Canadian ombudsman was appointed in 1972 at the Toronto Star. The CBC and Radio-Canada appointed their first ombudsmen in 1992. There are dozens of media ombudsmen worldwide.
The Organization of News Ombudsmen, the international association of this field, identifies five key roles:
The Ombudsman acts as an independent appeal authority for complainants who are dissatisfied with responses from CBC information program staff or management. The Ombudsman determines whether the journalistic process or content violated CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices and its principles of accuracy, fairness and integrity. From time to time, the Ombudsman identifies public concerns and advises CBC News accordingly.
Generally, the CBC Ombudsman's reviews concern news and information content produced by those CBC units across all platforms. But the mandate permits in special circumstances the review under journalistic policy of content from other programs when they are discussing "current issues, especially if controversial."
Complaints about programming in the area of Sports, Arts, Entertainment (including satire) or Children are generally dealt with through other processes at CBC. The CBC Ombudsman also generally steps aside when legal action is pursued or might be pending.
Typically the Ombudsman reacts to a public complaint about CBC news and information content by referring the correspondence to the senior responsible programmers. They are expected to provide a response within 20 business days. If the complainant is dissatisfied with the response, the Ombudsman can be asked to review the matter. The Ombudsman can also launch a review if he or she feels a reasonable period of time has passed without a response to the complainant.
An Ombudsman researches a complaint principally through interviews with managers, journalists, experts and complainants as part of an assessment of the content against journalistic standards and practices policy. The gathering of facts is a non-judicial process and does not examine the civil liability of the CBC or its journalists. A review generates findings that often include recommendations.
A review is released initially to a complainant and to senior programmers responsible for news and information content. It is subsequently posted online.
Yes. They are alerted to this fact at the outset of a review, when they can argue there are special conditions that shield the identities of complainants. The decision to proceed with a review of an anonymous complaint is at the discretion of the Ombudsman.
The findings and their recommendations are not binding on CBC. While it has strongly supported the role of the Ombudsman as part of the corporation's governance, CBC News maintains its decision-making independence.
The CBC Ombudsman is a public representative and not an employee of CBC News. He or she reports directly to the CBC President, and through the President to the Board of Directors. He or she can be dismissed only for dereliction of duty or gross misconduct.
All of the findings of the CBC Ombudsman are made public online, including annual reports to CBC and the response to them by CBC News. Information on reviews completed and under way is regularly provided at the Ombudsman's website. The Ombudsman's expenses are provided quarterly through CBC's corporate website. The Office of the Ombudsman fully cooperates with the Access to Information office of CBC to respond to public requests.
To make a public complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman, you can use our standard form by clicking here, or you can write to us at the address below.
P.O. Box Station A
Toronto, Ontario M5W 1E6
Phone: (416) 205-2978
Fax: (416) 205-2825