Former U.S. President George Bush in Calgary

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

Coverage of demonstrations in Calgary marking the arrival of former U.S. President George W. Bush

You originally wrote to complain that insufficient coverage was given to some of the demonstrators in Calgary in March of this year. The demonstrations marked the arrival of former U.S. President George W. Bush. He was in Calgary to deliver his first post-election speech. Many protestors were voicing their opinions about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and George Bush's role in them.

Your group had a more specific focus on alleging that former President Bush had committed war crimes and that he should be arrested by Canadian authorities.

You further complained that the CBC failed to properly cover the arrest of an activist name Splitting the Sky. One camera crew from another network had pictures of that event, but the CBC did not. You appear to feel that insufficient weight was given to his arrest and charge.

You also claimed that there may have been deliberate police action to draw attention away from Splitting the Sky by offering up a “plant” to divert media resources. You offered no evidence of that.

You had further complaints about your interaction with CBC reporter Gareth Hampshire, whom you had met while he was on a temporary assignment to Calgary. It appears in the notes that you are urging him to cover the story of those criticizing the police for not arresting George Bush. Mr. Hampshire points out that such a story would be outside the realm of his then current assignment. The Managing Editor of CBC Edmonton, Judy Piercey, responded on behalf of program supervisors, thinking that your complaint was about Mr. Hampshire. She pointed out that your interests were clearly outside his brief.

You objected rather strenuously that you were not “pitching” a story but demanding that the CBC cover the issue apparently as an element of natural justice. You rejected her explanation and asked to meet with me. I did so, but you subsequently continued to request a formal review of the matter.


It appears clear to me that you have been insisting that your view—that George Bush should be arrested in Canada as a war criminal—is the naturally controlling view. While I appreciate the depth of your commitment, I am afraid that reality would appear to lead one to a different conclusion. As was mentioned in the replies you received, among the hundreds of demonstrators there was perhaps unanimity on the dislike of Mr. Bush (although I am told that there were some pro-Bush demonstrators as well), but a disparity on the specific issues. I can find no evidence, other than your assertion of it, that there was a significant body of people criticizing the police for not arresting the former President. I have to confess that, through several communications with you and some of your colleagues, the exact line of reasoning is not always clear.

I have reviewed the CBC reports on the day of the Bush speech, radio, television and web. All prominently mentioned the demonstrations and gave fair coverage to the reasons for them. In fact, Ms. Collette Lemieux of the Canadian Peace Alliance was interviewed at some length on CBC Newsworld.

I noted that the demonstrations took place at the Convention Centre in Calgary, which occupies a city block. The protestors were mainly near the front entrance to the facility; that entrance is approximately a half city block from the location of the police vans and the CBC's “live” location. The CBC had several crews on hand, but evidently not when Splitting the Sky chose to make his demonstration.

Another complaint appears to be that Splitting the Sky was not somehow featured in the pictures of arrests. While that may be troubling to his supporters, I would have thought the main point would be the intellectual underpinning of the protest. Live coverage, serial mention of the underlying theme of what appear to be the majority of demonstrators, and a substantial interview with a representative of the Canadian Peace Alliance would appear to be significant coverage.

I realize that someone representing your group was not a focus of coverage, but I can find no underlying reason for that, and no evidence of collusion with the police. CBC journalists were required to follow multiple story lines and were forced to move down the street to reach the feed point and “live” location.

You are correct, of course, that the police have used provocateurs and “plants” at news events in various parts of the country. You have cited an occasion at Gustafson Lake where, indeed, the police manipulated events unfairly and misled the media, including the CBC.

In the Calgary circumstance, I can find no similar level of misdirection. Your group and Splitting the Sky were free to choose where and when they wished to demonstrate. If you and your colleagues happened to choose a time that was relatively under-covered by the media I am not sure that media outlets can be faulted. You were also free to communicate with the media ahead of time. I note that a review of the material received by the CBC turned up no mention of the overriding importance of the criticism of the police for not arresting Mr. Bush.

You are entitled to your view that Canadian officials could and should detain Mr. Bush under current laws. It does not appear that view is shared widely, even within the anti-war movement.

Conclusion

>I can find no violations of CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman