David Frum on The Current

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

The use of David Frum as a fill-in host of The Current

You wrote in October, 2008, to complain about the use of David Frum as a fill-in host of The Current. You said that you were “both disgusted and appalled” by the choice of Mr. Frum. You said that the program “featured almost entirely, heroes of the American fascist movement such as Richard Perle.”

Pam Bertrand, the Executive Producer of The Current, responded, saying that people from a wide spectrum of views have been brought on as “Friday hosts”—politicians from three federal parties, journalists and other interesting people from various walks of life. She mentioned who was on the program, not all of whom were from the more conservative part of the spectrum. You rejected her response, adding further attacks on Mr. Frum's abilities as a journalist.

In general, hosts employed by the CBC are enjoined from taking stands on matters of public controversy. They are not supposed to editorialize.

However, from time to time, some continuing programs choose to have guest hosts or commentators that represent particular points of view. CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices makes provision for that:

1.3 GUEST COMMENTATORS

The guest commentator is by definition engaged to pass judgment on public affairs. Because of its character as a publicly-owned institution, the CBC does not adopt as its own the opinions of those commentators whom it invites to articulate the various shades of current opinion on a given subject. The CBC's concern is to ensure the presentation of a wide spectrum of opinion, particularly when the matter is sharply controversial and, where relevant, to reflect the different regions of the country. The CBC therefore seeks to select commentators whose backgrounds qualify them to give expert opinion based on accurate information. Any relevant aspects of a commentator's credentials must be clearly summarized so that the audience may have a perspective from which to appraise the speaker's view. For example, the position and affiliation of a journalist or the particular qualifications of an academic or any other type of speaker should be stated.

The descriptions “freelance broadcaster” or “freelance writer” do not meet this requirement.

Of course other parts of the policy would come into play as well. Should a guest host come from one particular point of view, the program producers should ensure that other views are presented. This may sometimes happen within a single program, or over the course of a program series.

It would appear that your basic objection to Mr. Frum is his point of view. You refer to him as a neo-fascist propagandist and make what are essentially ad hominem criticisms of his intelligence and his relative Canadian-ness (“…Mr. Frum is not a Canadian writer in any sense, although he may, or may not, still hold Canadian citizenship. He lives in the U.S., votes in U.S. elections, is an American citizen, and writes for several neo-conservative American publications.”) Other than your disagreement with his political stance, your apparent standard for guest hosts would appear to preclude quite a few Canadians who have resided and worked in other countries. (Full disclosure: I should point out that I am a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada, although I choose to live and work here.)

Were Mr. Frum the only guest host of the program, or were all guest hosts of the same persuasion, there would be a serious charge to answer in relation to policy. In fact, though, the program has attempted to bring various perspectives to bear, and that can only be considered a virtue.

Conclusion

Whatever one's opinion of Mr. Frum, his selection as a guest host/commentator was not in violation of CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices. In fact, bringing a wide spectrum of views on to the public airwaves is a reflection of the highest standards of CBC journalism.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman