News Editor's Blog·Editor's Note

The good and not-so-good of CBC's Brazil election coverage

It's our job at CBC News to explore this story from all angles. However, like any well laid plan, our coverage is only as good as its execution, and unfortunately we made some mistakes.
A supporter waves a flag with an image of Jair Bolsonaro after he won Brazil's presidency. (Leo Correa/Associated Press)

On Sunday, Oct. 28, Jair Bolsonaro won the Brazilian presidential elections, with 55 per cent of the vote in a second round run-off against Fernando Haddad. It had been a polarizing campaign of opposites: Haddad, the son of Lebanese immigrants campaigning on a theme of inclusion and social reforms, against Bolsonaro, who pitched himself as tough on crime and corruption and as a supporter of deregulation and a free market economy. He is anti-abortion, with strong positions on limiting immigration, and positioned himself as such a social conservative that he is accused by his critics as misogynistic and homophobic.

At CBC News, we had been following this and publishing stories about the campaign leading up to the vote as well as the outcome. We recognized that if the polls were correct and Bolsonaro won the presidency, it would mark a significant shift in direction for Brazil.  We also prepared two analysis pieces: one exploring the potential challenges for the Canadian government dealing with Bolsonaro; the other explored the implications for Canadian businesses operating in Brazil, given Bolsonaro's free market pro-business stance.

As controversial as Bolsonaro is, it's our job at CBC News to explore this story from all angles. After all, the Canadian government does business with governments around the world, not all of which are democratically elected. The people of Brazil elected Bolsonaro their president with a majority in a free and fair election. Canada invested $11.5 billion in Brazil last year, and there are potential implications for the future of that investment and for the major Canadian industries operating there, including mining and agriculture.  

However, like any well laid plan, our coverage is only as good as its execution, and unfortunately, we made some mistakes.

Apart from the general news stories, we published the first analysis about the challenges on Saturday as planned. That Sunday, following the results of the election, we published the second piece on the economic potential. The piece was relevant and met our journalistic standards. However, the rollout of that article could have been better.

We sent the link to the article on Twitter from our CBC News Alerts account, which was done in error as our News Alerts account is for news only, not for distributing analysis. The language of the tweet itself was problematic, and compounding the problem was that the second piece was not labelled as analysis. This gave the impression that we were tweeting out a news story framing Bolsonaro's victory as a win for business.  

We heard from many of you who were surprised, angry, perplexed and even insulted that CBC News would seemingly look to business opportunities first, when there was so much else to reflect upon with Bolsonaro's victory, with many Brazilians and people around the world fearing that he would lead the country into a dictatorship.

This is understandable. Mistakes on social media very quickly take on a life of their own. Our best intentions to provide some broad spectrum analysis about a controversial new Brazilian president had become a question for some in our audience of whether this one story was the most important angle of our news coverage.

The breadth of our coverage shows that it was not. That said, it is a well researched and sourced analysis piece about one aspect of that election.

Analysis is an important part of our journalism here at CBC News. We produce dozens of analysis pieces every month on all kinds of stories. They are all written to surface aspects of a story, beyond the headlines which help the audience understand context, or particular aspects of a story.

This was an important, teachable moment for us about getting the framing right; that we can never be too careful in our preparation; that we must be vigilant at all times when publishing; and, above all, that we have a passionate and dedicated audience who will let us know when we miss the mark. We are taking steps to increase oversight of our Alert Desk protocols, and shore up our processes for proper distribution of news and analysis stories in the future.

And we will continue to follow the story of Brazil as it unfolds.


Paul Hambleton, Director, Journalistic Standards and Practices

Director, Journalistic Standards and Practices

Director, Journalistic Standards and Practices