Interview with Ontario Minister of Children and Youth Services about anti-poverty meetings
You wrote in July, 2008, to complain about an interview on Metro Morning with Deb Mathews, Ontario's Minister of Children and Youth Services. During the interview, Ms. Mathews said, in response to a question from host Andy Barrie, that she had been inviting “a broad range of people” to consultations aimed at developing a workable and effective anti- poverty strategy. Mr. Barrie pressed her on exactly who had been invited. She said: “To today's meeting we've got community health centers. We've got agencies serving immigrants, chambers of commerce, teachers, aboriginal friendship centers. We've got OCAP coming, service clubs, academics, CNI, a whole range of people each of whom bring a different perspective to the conversation.” You stated that, in fact, OCAP had not been invited.
Mr. Barrie continued querying about why some felt they were being excluded and were, in fact, picketing the meetings. Ms. Mathews said that “in every case I've invited (those) people into the meeting. If others wanted to come, they were invited in if they wanted to be part of a constructive conversation.”
In a press release two days later, OCAP said that the group “has never received an invitation to attend these private consultations.”
The Executive Producer of CBC Radio Toronto responded by saying that “while CBC has a clear obligation to be accurate in the information conveyed in the stories it broadcasts…that obligation does not extend to the determination of the truth or falsity of everything an interview subject might say. It would be entirely unreasonable to expect any news outlet to prove what an interview subject or someone quoted in a story might allege. Having to do so would, in effect, make it impossible to report on any controversial matter.”
You rejected her explanation and asked me to review the matter.
The underlying journalistic principle at work here is that CBC journalists are required to prove anything they assert as fact. It is clear, however, that, as Ms. Melanson said, it is not reasonable to expect CBC journalists to prove every assertion made by interview subjects.
The obligation there is to report those assertions accurately and, during longer-format programs like Metro Morning, provide adequate context in the interview.
In this case, Mr. Barrie, a skilled and experienced interviewer, did not let Ms. Mathews' statements go without challenge. He followed up by asking about the pickets who felt they were excluded. However, the interview had a broader focus than who was in and who was not and Mr. Barrie carried on with other questions.
It should be noted that OCAP is not without access to the media, as shown by their subsequent press release. It should also be noted that, while Ms. Mathews might have been indulging in semantics, she did say that those outside could come in to join the discussion. That may not qualify as an “invitation,” but does broaden the scope of who could participate.
Ontario Courts have found in recent years that it is, indeed, unreasonable to expect journalistic organizations to prove the truth or falsity of every allegation made by an interview subject. As Ms. Melanson pointed out, were it the case, reporting on most controversial issues would cease.
Mr. Barrie's interview was appropriate to the circumstances and well within CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices.