The federal election and new reviews

With so much on the line, elections test a news organization's ability to meet public expectation. CBC's role as a public broadcaster is particularly scrutinized.

To assess performance against standards, I've appointed three independent panels to review elements of CBC election coverage online and on television and radio. The five-member panels will gauge coverage for its accuracy, fairness, balance and integrity in the context of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Their presence isn't a new approach, by any means. Previous ombudsmen have appointed panels each federal election, in keeping with a mandate that permits outside advice on certain issues from time to time.

Panelists have no electoral or political involvement and are from outside CBC, so they can conduct their work with neutrality. Many have journalistic experience (including a few at CBC years ago) to ensure they could practically and rigorously evaluate CBC's work. All have worked in, taught, or extensively dealt with journalism or public policy.

The panel examining CBC Radio under University of British Columbia journalism professor Candis Callison will listen to the morning and evening flagship national newscasts. The online panel under governance counsel David Fushtey will surf CBCNews.ca election coverage.The CBC Television panel under former Maclean's editor Anthony Wilson-Smith will be watching The National.

They will convene regularly by phone or electronically (they live in and come from various regions) and produce reports at the end of the campaign for the CBC board that will be shared with senior CBC management. Those reports also will be made public. Meantime, they can alert me to anything they feel should be reviewed.

Their work complements what this Office does during the election. There are dozens of programs with electoral coverage. The panels focus on the programs of greatest reach, take a longer view, and ultimately help practices the next time.

The Ombudsman's work is a small fraction of the oversight of CBC's coverage. All broadcasters have Elections Act provisions to guide their programming and CBC conducts several analyses of its election-related content to ensure it meets its standards.

In previous campaigns, some election-related complaints have been fast-tracked. I can also review matters as they arise without waiting for public complaints. There remains a backlog of other reviews (more than a dozen at this stage) and I will do my best to ensure they aren't further delayed.

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Since my last post I have released three reviews.

One concerned a CBC Television documentary on former prime minister Brian Mulroney's relationship with lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber. I found no violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

A second concerned a headline on a CBCNews.ca report on a WikiLeaks-released cable involving Prime Minister Stephen Harper and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. I found no violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

A third concerned CBC Television's decision not to include the Green Party in the Nova Scotia provincial leaders' televised debate in 2009. I found no violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices, but echoed an earlier review by CBC and Radio-Canada ombudsmen that encouraged alternatives to fulfill the spirit of the policy.