Satirical commentary on arts funding

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

Mary Walsh as Marg Delahunty mocked Stephen Harper in a satirical commentary on arts funding during the federal election campaign

You wrote originally in October, 2008, to complain about a segment carried on CBC Newsworld and on Here and Now in St. John's, Newfoundland. The item showed actor/comedian Mary Walsh, in the guise of one of her characters, voicing frustration with what some members of the arts community felt were cuts to funding for the arts. Ms. Walsh, as Marg Delahunty, mocked Mr. Harper by throwing his now-famous “blue sweater” and a picture of Mr. Harper on to a bonfire.

You felt that the segment was a “vicious attack ad” rather than political commentary and suggested there was a lack of balance in the coverage.

Cynthia Kinch, the Director of CBC Newsworld, responded that the item was, indeed, satirical political commentary as part of CBC's “comprehensive federal election coverage.”

You rejected her explanation and asked for a review.


During an election campaign, advocates on all sides come forth to express their views in various ways. The CBC is obligated by policy and mandate to provide as broad coverage as possible of all aspects of the campaign.

The Conservative Party's statements on arts funding were clearly a significant factor in the campaign. In fact, there are some who suggest that Mr. Harper's relative weakness in Quebec stems at least partly from those arts related decisions.

While journalists must give time and space to the policy pronouncements of the parties, they must also provide space for other interested groups to express their opinions. There is no doubt that Ms. Walsh was opposed to the arts-related policies of the Conservative Party. She is a well-known Canadian artist, and particularly well-known in her native Newfoundland, whence the item originated.

Had her segment been the only treatment of the “arts” debate, that would surely have been a violation of policy. However, my observation of the campaign coverage, and the studies done of that coverage by ERIN Research, confirm that, overall, the coverage was balanced

and fair to all the major parties. You might not like what Ms. Walsh had to say, or the way she said it, but in the cut and thrust of a political campaign there will be events on all sides that cause discomfort to some.

Conclusion

There was no violation of CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman