Coverage of tragic bike accident by CBC St. John's
You wrote originally in August, 2009, to complain about CBC St. John's coverage of a tragic bike accident. Your friend Mike Dinn died subsequent to a collision with a truck. You said that the coverage of the accident represented “the latest sensationalist example.”
You wrote that saying “someone ‘rode' into the back of a truck implies a deliberate act….This statement is a rumour and perpetuates a rumour.”
Janice Stein, the News Director for Newfoundland and Labrador, replied that her review of the coverage indicated that “I found nothing in our reporting that could reasonably be called ‘sensationalism'. Quite the contrary, the CBC News stories are factual and restrained in their reporting of a very sad and, as yet, unexplained event.”
You were not satisfied with Ms. Stein's response and asked for a review.
There are three basic principles that underpin all of CBC's journalism:
The information conforms with reality and is not in any way misleading or false. This demands not only careful and thorough research but a disciplined use of language and production techniques, including visuals.
The information is truthful, not distorted to justify a conclusion. Broadcasters do not take advantage of their power to present a personal bias.
The information reports or reflects equitably the relevant facts and significant points of view; it deals fairly and ethically with persons, institutions, issues and events.
Application of these principles will achieve the optimum objectivity and balance that must characterize the CBC's information programs.
Reporting on an unfolding story, such as the one at issue, is always a challenge. Journalists are rarely eyewitnesses and must rely on information supplied by others, and properly attribute it.
In this case, you took particular exception to the notion that Mr. Dinn “rode his bike into the back of a (truck)…”, a formulation used in two of the 15 separate stories carried in the immediate wake of the collision. You stated that such a reference implies that he might have done so deliberately.
You said that the CBC had not reported on many of the factors surrounding the incident, including the traffic conditions at the time of the tragedy. You also raised a number of questions concerning the police investigation.
My review of the stories indicates that, in fact, the CBC appears to have reported at some length on this matter, including interviews with you on both radio and television. On the day of the accident a CBC reporter, from near the scene, commented on the traffic flow, among other issues.
In none of the stories did I garner the impression that Mr. Dinn might have deliberately run into the truck. Each pointed out that the cause of the accident was unknown. While I will grant that the best language would be that Mr. Dinn's bike “collided” with the truck (as you phrased it on air), at a remove from personal involvement with the story, I cannot conclude that saying he “rode” his bike into the truck violated policy. It did not say he drove it or steered it into the truck, and did not imply direct “agency” in the accident.
In follow-up stories with you and with spokespeople for bicyclists, the CBC tried to give appropriate context to the story, including the notion that further investigation was still called for. In fact, I noted that one program gave out your cellphone number for people to call if they had further information. It would seem to be hardly the action of an organization rushing to sensational judgment.
There was no violation of CBC News Journalistic Standards and Practices.