Editor's Blog - How we work, how we make decisions, how we serve Canadians.

Jennifer McGuire

General Manager and Editor in Chief

Responsible Reporting on Polls

Categories: Canada, Journalism, Politics

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The CBC Ombudsman told us today that CBC News needs to do better when it comes to reporting on public opinion polls. We agree that a couple of tweaks are in order.

At the heart of the issue is how we treat polls on one of our very best programs - Power and Politics with Evan Solomon. As part of our daily examination of the political landscape, the program offers analysis of newsworthy research on issues and politicians in the spotlight. This adds insight and perspective that otherwise might not come out.

But CBC News has very strict policies on how we are allowed to utilize opinion polls in our journalism. Those rules are laid out in our Journalistic Standards and Practices. They detail how we treat polls we commission ourselves, how we treat "outside" polls, and how we treat online surveys.

For example, when it comes to outside polls, there are several steps we're expected to take:
   •  Verify the methodology meets CBC standards.
   •  Submit the results for a review by our own research department to interpret the findings. They are experts in statistical research as well as being up to date on all the best practices in opinion polling.
   •  Provide the audience with relevant information about the methodology and size of the sample along with the results.

The Ombudsman said we failed to live up to those high standards, because we weren't diligent enough about making sure our research department had seen and approved each and every poll before we broadcast its results.
That's not to say we think we've aired anything that shouldn't have been on the air. But the Ombudsman made her point very clearly.

"The whole public opinion research field is in flux," wrote Ombudsman Esther Enkin, "and has had some hard knocks recently. Practitioners are faced with challenges in obtaining representative samples at a time when the way we communicate is profoundly changing. And like everyone else, they are under more scrutiny and demands for openness about their methods. It is important for CBC News credibility and its commitment to transparency to ensure a rigorous process of review for all polls it chooses to publish on any of its platforms."

The Ombudsman also challenges us to be more consistent and rigorous in explaining methodological information so the audience has everything it needs. That applies to all polls. And it applies especially to online surveys. We have a feature on Power and Politics called "Ballot Box" which encourages viewers to be "part of the conversation" by choosing among a set of options on the question of the day. The Ombudsman asserts that we need to be more explicit in telling people the results of this type of survey do not meet conventional polling standards for measuring public opinion.

All this comes in a context where we are doing everything we can to engage audiences. Whether they're watching on TV, listening to the radio, or enjoying our digital services, people want to participate and express themselves. Tools such as Ballot Box help us facilitate that. But the Ombudsman review reminds us that new ways of storytelling can't come at the expense of our journalistic standards. You can be sure we'll re-examine and tighten up our processes where necessary.



Tags: How We Work, Ombudsman

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