Complaint from Dr. Xia Cheng, Director, Canadian Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine
You wrote to complain about an item concerning the Canadian Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine (CITCM) that appeared on the CBC News at Six in Calgary and Edmonton on February 11, 2009. You said that the report, concerning the on-line courses then given by the Institute, contained false and misleading information.
Specifically, you said:
1. that a subject of the report, Monica Sweetapple, did not study “a full year,” that she only studied at CITCM for four courses at a total of 150 hours, completing only three of them;
2. that the report said that you “never had returned any calls,” when, in fact, you had on two occasions;
3. CITCM day students, hearing “rumours” about the CBC report, sent a letter to the CBC expressing their views on the program of study. The CBC reporter, Dane Liu, apparently told you that she would report “the full picture,” including the day students' views;
4. that the report said nothing had changed when, in fact, CITCM “is no longer offering any on-line program”;
5. that it was misleading for the report to call the Tui Na Massage exam a “final” exam since Ms. Sweetapple still had another course to take and that the “hours she completed is still not even close to the amount of hours required to be eligible to take the provincial licensing exam”;
You requested an apology and also raised a question, subsequently made specific, about an interview with Dr. Roman Bayrock, an instructor at another college. You questioned whether it was appropriate to feature a “competitor.”
Judy Piercey, the Managing Editor at CBC Edmonton, responded, having also spoken with you on two occasions. She pointed out that there were a couple of errors in relation to the presentation of the story: one, you had called back before the report aired; and two, a portion of the item was not carried in the Calgary area due to a technical mishap. That portion contained important contextual information about the day students' support for the day program and about the Institute's suspension of the on-line program.
She went on to say that she stood by the bulk of the report, saying that the exam that Ms. Sweetapple took was the last one required. She also said that Roman Bayrock had sat on the licensing board for acupuncturists. She noted that you did not contradict his statements that he had warned you that you should tell students that the on-line program was not accredited.
Ms. Piercey said, in essence, that the item was not about the day school program at CITCM, but about the on-line program.
You asked for a review, although, according to Ms. Piercey, you turned down the notion of an “update” report on CBC News at Six.
There are obviously some notable problems with the way the item was handled. It is clearly wrong to have said that you did not call back. I can think of no rational defense for such an error. The fact that you did not wish to discuss the matter could have been included, but it is never acceptable to make a false statement.
Also, the technical problems that truncated the report in Calgary are not the responsibility of the viewer. The fact is, for whatever reason, the CBC broadcast a report without significant context that would have helped the viewer to understand the story. The CBC should have corrected that in Calgary as quickly as possible.
The fuller report carried on the Edmonton transmitter appears to be journalistically sound, other than the misstatement about your call: it accurately related the statements of Ms. Sweetapple, gave you and the Institute an opportunity to respond, which you declined, and offered context from appropriate practitioners. You attempted to undermine Dr. Bayrock's credibility by saying that he works for a “competitor”—Grant McEwan College—but the mere fact of his employment does not negate the worth of what he had to say, absent evidence that what he said was wrong. You did not offer any.
The Edmonton item actually went out of its way to include positive comments on the CITCM program, referencing the day students' letter, even though the item was not about the day school, but the unaccredited on-line program. Also, you dispute whether the exam Ms. Sweetapple took was a “final.” I suppose a case could be made that, in the academic context, it may have been more correct to say “last” rather than “final,” but the difference is slight. Interestingly, you say that, in any event, Ms. Sweetapple was short of the number of hours necessary to take the provincial exam. Of course, she would not be able to take the provincial exam since the course was not an accepted program—the point of the story.
This appears to be one of those situations where an acceptable piece of journalism has been damaged by both inside and outside forces. Inside: a bald statement that is incorrect; outside: technical faults that created an imbalance in one of the programs' iterations.
Ms. Piercey has acknowledged the error and the technical mistake and offered to do an update. You apparently rejected that notion. Since an update, as offered, was the most sensible solution to the problem, I have no further suggestions for a remedy, outside of suitable supervision of reporters who make incorrect statements.