Canada·Editor's Note

Journalistic safeguards at CBC News

All of us who care about journalism and public broadcasting can't help but be concerned about recent events at the BBC. Let me assure you we have safeguards in place here at CBC, writes Editor-in-Chief Jennifer McGuire.

All of us who care about journalism and public broadcasting can't help but be concerned about recent events at the BBC.

No journalistic institution — public or private — wants to become "the story," as the BBC has been this past week.

It's probably not useful for me to go on at length about what's happened at the BBC.

But it is worth noting that a number of commentators in the U.K., including the head of the journalism program at Oxford University, have called on the BBC to separate the role of director general and editor-in-chief, in large part, they argued, because it is impossible for the non-journalistic head of a public broadcaster, the director general, to be aware of, and responsible for, all the journalism produced on a daily basis.

In short, they're calling on the BBC to adopt a similar management framework that is already in place here at CBC News.

Our structure is different from the BBC's. In our structure, the daily management of the journalism is led by journalists.

In the U.K., there have also been calls to break down the silos between the different news-gathering platforms at the BBC, which is another step we have taken in recent years with the creation of our integrated news assignment desk.  But organizational structure alone can't always prevent mistakes that damage reputations — those of the individuals we report on, and our own.

In Britain, there have been fears expressed that the current situation at the BBC will lead to a decline in investigative journalism.

Former BBC director general George Entwistle, following his resignation on Nov. 10, just two months into the job, after a controvesial news documentary wrongly implicated a former Thatcher-era Tory in a sex scandal and was denounced by the corporation's chairman as shoddy journalism.

Here at CBC News, we have gone in the opposite direction, by shifting resources to investigative units that will provide Canadians with the kind of information they may not be getting elsewhere.

We are still committed to that. But we only feel confident going down that road because of our established safety net: the oversight process we have in place.

At CBC News we have many checks and balances in place to oversee our journalism.  It starts with the journalist on the floor and in the field. Every decision made about what to include or not include in stories is based on a shared set of journalistic values.

There are vigorous debates and active conversations everyday about the choices we make. Program leaders add another layer of oversight every time they fact-check, vet or line up a story.

As a senior journalist and manager, it is my job to protect this ability to do journalism.

The management team at CBC News does that in a variety of ways, from providing adequate training, establishing guidelines and policies, and most importantly, asking tough questions of our journalists and of ourselves to ensure we get it right.

We have clear and recognized processes to flag any issues before they flare up.

If a story might harm the reputation of an individual or institution, result in possible legal action, require the use of techniques such as anonymous sources, or hurt the CBC's journalistic credibility, it is always referred up to me or to the other senior journalists that make up my management team.

At its core, it is based on the notion that any sensitive story will require at a minimum a second set of eyes, and a full understanding at the highest levels of the news department of the background of the story, the methods used to gather it, and any risks and vulnerabilities involved in putting it to air or online.  The intent is never to stifle the journalistic process, but to make sure the proper oversight is in place, and the right questions are asked, long before a story makes it to air or gets posted on

Depending on the story, we might engage the legal department or measure it against our stated Journalistic Standards and Practices policy.

In short, we want to be sure all our stories are fair, balanced and accurate.

The ultimate responsibility for what we broadcast on radio and television, and post online, lies with my office, but everyone who works at CBC News shares the responsibility.

It is a responsibility that I know all our journalists take very seriously and they defend the journalism as strongly as I do at every opportunity.


Jennifer McGuire

Former Editor in Chief

Jennifer McGuire was General Manager and Editor in Chief of CBC News from May 2009 to February 2020. She came to journalism via a Bachelor of Science in Biology then a Graduate Diploma in Journalism. Her first media job was as an Associate Producer on the CBC Ottawa morning program. McGuire led the creation of many influential shows, including The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti.