"The attention-deficit excuse"

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services


Robert Smol's “Viewpoint” article, “The attention-deficit excuse”

You wrote to complain about an opinion column, “The attention-deficit excuse,” by Robert Smol on CBC.ca (February 24, 2009). Mr. Smol's column presented an alternative view of the prevalence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). At one point he wrote: “And while I do not doubt that there may be some genuine cases out there, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that ADHD is not an excuse by many students and their parents to avoid taking full ownership of their problems.”

You and others wrote that CBC.ca should not have published Mr. Smol's column, that ADHD is a serious condition which has touched your family and that his views are an insult to you and other families.

Mark Mietkiewicz, Director of Digital Media (Interim), CBC News, responded that Mr. Smol's column was an opinion piece, that it did not represent the views of the CBC and that countervailing opinions were freely available.

You requested a review.

One of the hallmarks of CBC's journalistic policy is its basic underpinning: freedom of speech. As with any freedom, it is conditioned by certain truths: you cannot make hateful or illegal statements. And within CBC policy, you cannot say things which are demonstrably untrue.

In this case, we have something clearly labeled “opinion” which dissents from the more generally held view on ADHD. Mr. Smol recognizes that there is such a condition but says, in his experience, it is overused as an “excuse” for behaviours that could be controlled by discipline.

Any parent trying to deal with a child with ADHD will naturally have a strong reaction to that view. However, such an understandable reaction cannot be used to shut down alternative views. At base, Mr. Smol appears to be arguing that the condition may be over-diagnosed. It seems to me that this view in no way undermines the position of those parents whose children are being successfully treated under what has become the normal regime.

Were Mr. Smol's column the only material on this condition carried by CBC News, complainants might have a case. However, even a cursory search of CBC News reveals that in the last two years there have been dozens of items on ADHD on every platform of CBC News – radio, television and CBC.ca. In fact, CBC has given extensive coverage to the causes, treatment and ramifications of ADHD.


Mr. Smol's opinion is just that – an opinion. It is not illegal, or hateful, and does not appear to deny basic facts. He is entitled to hold it, and the CBC is entitled to transmit that opinion, along with the myriad views to the contrary. There was no violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman