March for Life

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

Lack of coverage of the March for Life in Ottawa

You wrote to complain of what you saw as a lack of coverage of the “March for Life” in Ottawa on May 14, 2009. You added: “I would like to know why CBC News consistently year over year makes no mention of the annual pro-life rally that occurs every May 14th. This year on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the law legalizing abortion in this country over 12,000 people protested on Parliament Hill the murder of innocent children, yet nothing is mentioned on our public broadcaster…”

The Executive Editor of CBC News, Esther Enkin, replied that the CBC did not ignore the March; it was on several radio and television news broadcasts. “It is natural,” she wrote, “that those who participate in public demonstrations in support of a particular cause may well be disappointed that the media did not cover the event to the extent they would have liked or thought appropriate.”

You were not satisfied with Ms. Enkin's response and requested a review.


“News judgment” is a topic often difficult to pin down. I can think of no precise definition that will cover all circumstances. What an editor judges appropriate for one broadcast might not be appropriate for another, not on intrinsic merit, but added consideration of time available and resources. No news organization can cover all stories each day, or give the same amount of coverage to each story.

Journalistic supervisors expect their staff members to reasonably balance the often- conflicting priorities that editors might face. This is particularly true of regular demonstrations of various kinds. The kinds of tests that an editor might apply include: is it new? Does it carry some overriding significance? Has it created a notable public stir, either intellectually or physically? Just a few of the questions that might be pertinent. Some yearly events summon up—indeed demand—coverage: Remembrance Day comes to mind. Others have to be judged in the context of the day and time. Were it to be found that a demonstration on a significant topic did, indeed, receive “no mention year after year,” a case could be made that the coverage (or lack of same) was not “fair”—one of the underlying tenets of CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices.

I note in this case that there actually was coverage on a number of programs—and on several different outlets. As Ms. Enkin mentioned, stories were carried on The World This Hour and at least one edition of The World at Six, both national Radio broadcasts. There were other stories on CBC Radio and CBC Television's News At Six in Ottawa, as well as on other local evening news programs. You will have also noted that the day was a particularly busy and complicated one for news.

Also, I note that on CBC Television alone in the last five years there has been coverage in some form of each Ottawa march—and a number of local marches across the country, as well.

Although the coverage might not have been as broad as you would have liked, my survey does not support the notion that there has been “no mention year after year.”

Of course, editors should always keep an eye out for new developments, or new aspects of discussion, but as Ms. Enkin noted, editors were dealing with one of the busier days on the news calendar.

Conclusion

Although there was not extensive coverage of the march on CBC outlets, there was, indeed, coverage, as there has been regularly in various locations. I can find no violation of CBC policy.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman