Argentinian soy industry

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

Report about a leading family in the Argentinian soy industry pandered to “negative Jewish stereotypes”

You wrote to complain about an item by CBC correspondent Connie Watson filed to the World At Six on CBC Radio on January 4, 2008.

The item concerned the growth of the soy industry in Argentina. It began with sound and text concerning the family of Adolfo Grobocopatel, apparently the largest soy growers in the country. We heard various members of the family talk about their rise from being immigrant small farmers to their current position of wealth and prosperity.

Reporter Watson translated some of Adolfo's reminiscences about his family—poor Jewish migrants who took up the offer of land in Argentina to escape the more hostile social and economic environment in Europe.

The item went on to talk about the current impact of soy planting on the farm economy of Argentina, about differing views of its effect on the country's farmers.

You complained that the item, perhaps unconsciously, pandered to “negative Jewish stereotypes”: “The overall impression the report gave to the average listener was not of a socially responsible and caring organization that provides much-needed support to 1500 vulnerable businesses, but rather Shylock-like piranhas of foreign origin who are gobbling up the little fish and sucking the life-blood out of communities of hard-working indigenous farmers.”

You based that conclusion on the reporting of family reminiscences of efforts to help other farmers by lending them money.

Jane Anido, the Director of CBC Radio News Programming, replied that the report “was not intended in any sense to disparage the Globocopatels, their company or its activities.”

While you accepted the notion that Ms. Watson was not deliberately fostering anti- Semitic feeling, you did ask two questions: “In what way does historical information about the Grobocopatel family's origins in Argentina more than a century old, help illuminate Connie Watson's report?” And, “Why did Ms. Watson choose to include this history in her report, and choose to use the term ‘moneylending' and yet omit the explanation of the ‘Los Grobos family member' regarding the use of the term.”

You asked for a review. My sincerest apologies for the gross delay in responding.

The item was a fascinating window on events in Argentina to which we do not have ready access. The issues at play—agribusiness, in particular—have a special relevance for Canadian audiences. Ms. Watson's work has been, over time, insightful and intelligent. This item brings more than immediate reportage into play. As you noted, in a negative way, Ms. Watson brought family history into the piece as background.

In might be worthwhile to reference appropriate policy statements from CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices. Under Journalistic Principles we find:

2. JOURNALISTIC PRINCIPLES Information programs must reflect established journalistic principles:

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.

There is also the more general admonition that facts must be placed in a context that will make them understandable. The scope and depth of that “context” will vary somewhat depending on the length and depth of the item.

In this case we are talking about an item of some substance, running more than seven minutes. In radio news terms, that would be considered a lengthy item. In discussing how a family or company came to be the leading organization in a particular field, in whatever country, it is not bizarre to reflect a bit on its history. One can easily imagine a hypothetical story about a family becoming dominant in an agricultural sector in Canada: it would not be inappropriate to hear how the family forebears immigrated from Ukraine to the Canadian prairies as penurious newcomers only to persevere and succeed.

In the Argentine case, not only was background appropriate to a fuller understanding of the story, the family involved brought the information out with, apparently, justifiable pride in its accomplishments. It seems clear that they do not believe recounting their history encourages anti-Jewish sentiment. The fact that the family was part of the so- called “Jewish Gauchos” only underlines the historic interest at play.

I agree that it would have been useful to have even more background on this fascinating family. While you took “moneylending” to be, in effect, code for “Shylock-like piranhas,” I was reminded of the long history of European exclusion of Jews from so many crafts and professions that financial activity was one of the few avenues of success open. The item also made mention of the family's support of some 1500 smaller businesses, hardly the image of rapacious piranhas. It is worth noting that a wide range of groups and individuals listen very carefully to CBC programs, monitoring for overt or covert anti-Semitism, yet yours was the only letter that found this item to be at fault.

Conclusion

The item was a substantial, but not exhaustive, look at the rise of the soy industry in Argentina, principally through the experience of the Grobocopatel family. The family itself is of great interest, although in the context of the story being told, it was more an illustration of the past and current state of the industry.

It would have been useful for the listener to hear a bit more background on the family's earlier activities, but limiting the context in order to make the present-day story understandable was a defensible decision.

There was no violation of CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman