"Opinion"

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

You wrote to complain about a report from Keith Boag, CBC's Senior Parliamentary Reporter. In the course of an item about a proposed government measure and its status as a matter of “confidence,” Mr. Boag stated that the government would not be defeated on this particular measure. He continued: “Still, the government does seem to be coming up with some novel ideas about how to engineer its own defeat.” You felt that this was merely an opinion that should have been labeled as such, or not included in a report.

The Executive Producer of The National, Jonathan Whitten, responded that CBC journalists are free to make judgments based on facts.

You rejected his explanation and asked for a review.

The relevant portion of CBC's Journalistic Policy and Standards can be found under Production Standards/Reporters. It states: “In providing comprehensive coverage, reporters may want to offer some context to news events. To do this, they may present an explanation of the background to the event based on careful research. They must not, however, express or reflect their personal opinion or bias. In other words, they must keep their personal views separate from their reporting.” Mr. Boag's conclusion that the government was hoping to engineer its own demise appears to me to be clearly a contextual judgment based on the facts as he knew them. Had he characterized that wish in some skewed fashion, it might be grounds for a complaint. But the quite reasonable assumption that the government wanted to force the opposition to defeat it, or in the alternative, support government policies, is not a statement of bias. He didn't say that the moves the government was making were good or bad, merely that they existed.

In any event, since the opposition, the Liberals in particular, avoided voting non- confidence, the government took it upon itself to ask for dissolution and an election, with the results we all know.

So, Mr. Boag's statements were not mere opinions, on a level with those of the average viewer, but the product of daily reporting on Parliament Hill with access and knowledge that most of us do not possess. In that role, I would hope he would provide appropriate context for us.

Conclusion

Mr. Boag's report was appropriate, contextual journalism and did not violate CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman