Reflection on Hinduism

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

You wrote originally to complain about a column that appeared on CBC.ca under the general heading “Where is God Today?” The column was a personal reflection on Hinduism by Rod Banerjee.

Your complaint centred on the question of why Mr. Banerjee was chosen and of whether his comments had been properly “vetted”: “How could a religious fundamentalist slip through the screening process?…Once accepted, what kind of proofreading and fact- checking process was the article submitted to?”

The “facts” which you suggested needed to be checked were Mr. Banerjee's assertions about his view of Hinduism.

You are, of course, correct that even individual columns of personal expression need to be edited, not just for space limitations, but also for factual and legal matters: something asserted as “fact” rather than “point of view”(not always an easy distinction), and hate speech, for example.

In fact, it appears in this case that the column, after publication, was found to contain some factual errors and was edited to correct them. Other assertions are just that— opinions of the author.

You seem to feel that since Mr. Banerjee is, in your view a “fundamentalist” he should be precluded from appearing on the page. This is a notion that presents great difficulty, since establishing what is a “fundamentalist” in any religion is often a matter of individual judgment. But even if one were able to clearly identify a “fundamentalist” position, it is certainly arguable whether that should remove the expression of that view from the public.

You have probably noted, even on the copy of the column you originally sent, that other Hindus were expressing their views as well. The intent of that section is to give a wide ambit to personal religious views. I note views of other religions that I might consider “fundamentalist.” I cannot say that such views should not find a place in the series.

I read the material you sent concerning Mr. Banerjee's “radical” views. You wondered whether those views were “fit” to be carried on a public broadcaster. I have to be honest in saying that I cannot say which legally expressed views are “fit”—that appears to be a subjective test summoning up the tyranny of the majority: any view not held by a majority of adherents to a belief or cause would be considered “unfit.” That is not a useful operating principle in democratic journalism.

The items you submitted, by my reading, are, indeed forcefully expressed. They may even be wrongheaded. I have to confess that I reacted to his attack on filmmaker Deepa Mehta. I met her when she was just beginning a career in broadcasting, which turned into a career in filmmaking, and I have great respect for her That being said, none of us is immune to criticism. It seems to me that Mr. Banerjee is entitled to his view, just as fundamentalism Christians or Muslims are. Another aspect of this is where these views appeared: in a personal column on the website, an area which invited comment and correction; which has the characteristics of a self-correcting fluid dialogue. Indeed, as Ms Sheppard has written to me, “that fluidity is part of the fundamental nature of the web.”

Conclusion

The website should continue its mission of providing interesting, even controversial views on a wide range of subjects, including religion. It should continue to exercise due diligence on legal matters and on matters of taste, as well as continuing to strive to correct clear errors when they present themselves. There is no violation of CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman