Federal budget

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

CBCNews.ca article about the federal budget and the government's commitment to a reduction in greenhouse gases

You wrote originally in January, 2009, to complain about a story carried on CBCNews.ca concerning the federal budget that had recently been presented. You felt, in particular, that merely quoting the government's commitment to a 20% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 was a “blatant misrepresentation” since no baseline year was mentioned. You pointed out that it was the government's intention to reduce based on 2006 figures. Other parties had promised similar or higher percentage reductions based on 1990 levels.

Mark Mietkiewicz, the interim Director of Digital Media, CBC News, responded by agreeing that the story should have been more precise. He said that not only would the body of the story be corrected, but that a clarifying note giving the positions of other parties (including the Green Party) would be appended to the article.

You responded with thanks and with some further information about your perspective on the matter, but still asked for a review.


Covering federal budgets is never an easy task for journalists since hundreds of pages of material have to be intelligibly presented in brief formats, whether online or for radio and television.

The job in the first instance is to present the material in a fairly straightforward and accurate manner, allowing the reader, viewer or listener to understand what the government is saying. Subsequently, on all formats, commentary and reaction is carried. It is not the job of the journalists of first instance to argue with the government, but to report what it is saying, with sufficient context that the material is understandable. Opposition politicians and outside experts will always be present to offer analysis and, often, contradiction.

In this case, CBCNews.ca appears to have succeeded in a general way in presenting the material in a straightforward manner. You pointed out a specific item that could have been reported in a more meaningful way. Mr. Mietkiewicz agreed and made appropriate changes.

Your views on the government's budget are, of course, your own, although some of them were shared by analysts whose opinions were reported by the CBC on all its platforms during that time period. I note that on the page with the general budget stories there are links to dozens of items about specific matters contained in the budget, some containing reaction and analysis.

Conclusion

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You suggested appropriate context for the story and the programmers acknowledged it and took steps to correct and amplify the material. While we can regret the original error, the programmers have reacted in the best spirit of CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman