Abortion issues

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

Coverage of abortion issues by CBC New Brunswick

You wrote initially to CBC New Brunswick in May, 2009, to say that you objected to the terminology used to describe those who were demonstrating before the New Brunswick Legislature. The broadcast referred to them as being “anti-abortion.” You wrote in one of several e-mails: “…if your policy is to call those who stand for the sanctity and value of life − all life − (heart beats are all equal in my view) be called anti-abortion then would you refer to those who promote the termination of another's life on demand as anti-life (or) something similar?”

You also asked for the opportunity to debate the issue on the air. At another point you wrote: “I do not believe that you are giving the issue of the reality or the (value of) life for the unborn child in a balanced, reasonable or biologically correct reporting.”

Mary-Pat Schutta, the Program Manager for CBC New Brunswick and Dan Goodyear, the Executive Producer of CBC News New Brunswick responded. Concerning the terminology they wrote: “Anti-abortion is the term CBC uses to describe people who are against abortion. We use this to assign peoples' positions, rather than simply using the name of a group…” In another message they wrote: “It is a long standing CBC News practice to use the terms ‘anti-abortion' and ‘pro-choice.' In explanation, the term ‘pro-life' is too vague because it does not specifically address the issue of pregnancy (but could raise questions about views on capital punishment or euthanasia, for example). Moreover, it could also be seen as implying that everyone who is not ‘pro-life' is in the opposite camp, that is ‘pro- death.' Pro-abortion is not always accurate. Many of those who lobby in favour of a woman's right to choose abortion may feel that choice is a last resort.”

You rejected their explanation and asked for a review.


There are three principles that should underpin all of CBC's journalistic programming:

Accuracy
The information conforms with reality and is not in any way misleading or false. This demands not only careful and thorough research but a disciplined use of language and production techniques, including visuals.

Integrity
The information is truthful, not distorted to justify a conclusion. Broadcasters do not take advantage of their power to present a personal bias.

Fairness
The information reports or reflects equitably the relevant facts and significant points of view; it deals fairly and ethically with persons, institutions, issues and events.

Application of these principles will achieve the optimum objectivity and balance that must characterize the CBC's information programs.

I would highlight particularly the admonishments on “disciplined use of language” and reflecting “equitably the relevant facts and significant point of view.”

At the heart of your complaint is the use of language. You state that you would be satisfied with a characterization of those who support a woman's right to choose abortion as “anti- life.” Others of similar views have suggested “pro-death,” as the opposite of “pro-life.”

You base your view on your moral analysis of the issue and you are perfectly entitled to hold that view, as millions of other do. However, a journalist's description of events, as noted in the policy, must not be guided by personal opinion or a personal moral view, but by neutral and accurate language. While you personally may feel that those who do not share your view are “anti-life,” that would not be a fair—or accurate—description. I know people who are personally opposed to abortion who, however, acknowledge the primacy of the law. Also, they forbear from imposing their personal moral view on others, other than through the normal channels of democratic debate and legislation.

So, the descriptions used for participants in the demonstration, and for those opposing, are consistent with CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Conclusion

There was no violation of CBC's policies in describing the events of the day.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman