Climate Change Conference

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

Young Canadians at Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen

You wrote in December, 2009, to complain about an item on the radio broadcast Calgary Eye Opener. The item was a conversation between the program host in Calgary and a journalist in Copenhagen. It concerned the activities of a group of young Canadians who, with no official status at the Climate Change Conference, were very active both before and during the summit.

You wrote that the journalist was questioned “with warm enthusiasm” by the program's host and that “the contents, mood, and purpose of this report seemed to generate enthusiasm toward Canadian young people and university students who had gone to Copenhagen to protest against their own government's policies on Climate Change.”

You said that the report “enthused” about the demonstrators, “calling them and their protests ‘creative' at least 3 times in a single 20-second sequence. She referred to one protester as someone who had ‘great media savvy,' as if that were a moral virtue.”

You said further that “in the most disturbing sequence, the ‘reporter' noted that the protestors were showing Copenhagen that ‘the people of Alberta' were not represented at Copenhagen by their provincial government.”

Diane Humber, the Regional Director of Radio and TV in Calgary, responded. She pointed out that the program had done, up to that point, more than a dozen items on the Copenhagen Conference. She disputed that the host's tone was “at odds with his tone in any other interview he conducts,” and she noted that the journalist did not make the statement you attributed to her. A similar statement was made by one of the young people she had interviewed.

You were unsatisfied with her response and asked me to review the matter.


In order to frame my review, I will excerpt the CBC's policy on balance as it would apply to an interview such as the one at issue:

BALANCE
CBC programs dealing with matters of public interest on which differing views are held must supplement the exposition of one point of view with an equitable treatment of other relevant points of view. Equitable in this context means fair and reasonable, taking into consideration the weight of opinion behind a point of view, as well as its significance or potential significance…

…the CBC, as a journalistic organization, must ensure that its programming is fair and balanced. Program balance should be achieved, where appropriate, within a single program or otherwise within an identifiable series of programs.

Had the item in question been the only, or one of few segments carried on the subject, there might indeed be a case for imbalance. However, a review of material shows that there were literally dozens of items on the morning and afternoon programs in Calgary, NOT including the news reports in the regularly scheduled newscasts at the top and bottom of each hour. The programs carried views from a wide range of concerned parties including multiple appearances by both the provincial and federal ministers responsible for the climate agenda.

So, one item on the youth who decided to attend on their own would not seem to be out of balance.

Tone is a trickier issue to deal with. However, after a careful audition of the item in question, I cannot find that the host, Jim Brown, sounded particularly different than his tone in other items, either about climate or anything else. He posed questions designed to elicit information from the journalist in Copenhagen and she, in turn, reported on her interviews and observation of the youths in question. I note that you did attribute to her statements made by interview subjects.

I cannot find that the term “media savvy” is or was purported as being a moral virtue. Rather it appeared to be a conclusion by the reporter on her observation of the people in question. Being “media savvy” is neither a virtue nor a fault, but an understanding of how to get one's views noticed. I would apply the same analysis to the use of the term “creative.” One is free to agree or disagree about the worth of the demonstrations, but “creative” is a reasonable judgment on the quality of the effort. It is not a benediction on the strength or weakness of an argument.

Conclusion

The item in question did not violate CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices, and the overall bulk of material throughout the period in question certainly met the tests of balance on this important story.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman