Marketplace: Home inspectors and former marijuana grow-ops

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

Complaint from Aubrey LeBlanc, Chief Operating Officer, Ontario Association of Home Inspectors, about a report on Marketplace concerning home inspectors missing signs of former marijuana grow-ops

You wrote initially to complain about a segment on Marketplace that dealt with home inspectors. Specifically home inspectors who apparently missed signs that the homes they were inspecting had been used previously as marijuana grow-ops.

You said that “by choosing to make the grow-ops issue a home inspection issue from the inception, one places the spotlight and implied burden of proof, discovery and disclosure squarely on the shoulders of inspectors and no one else.” You also referred to the item as “largely a subliminal marketing infomercial for Mike Holmes and his new inspection show, shot and aired at a time when he is launching his own competing inspection company. Surely, this is a conflict of interest…”

The Executive Producer of Marketplace, Tassie Notar, responded. She acknowledged that “grow-ops, among other things, raise complex issues involving legal, privacy, liability and cost” and that those issues could be, and have already been, the focus of CBC News stories. She said that the item in question is “rather narrower, focusing on the interests of the consumer.” Four home inspectors went through the house without noting the signs that it might have been a grow- op. While you suggested it was unfair to expect home inspectors to bear the “burden of discovery” on their shoulders alone, Ms. Notar pointed out that, in the words used on the program, “people pay for a home inspector because they think they are being protected.” She added that while some of the other players you mentioned may know something of the history and condition of the house, “it is the home inspector that buyers count on.” She noted your statement that inspectors are “contractually bound to the buyer only” and argued that this relationship underlies the point of the item.

As for the appearance of Mike Holmes, Ms. Notar said that the program used him “solely as an unpaid expert, just as it has in two other episodes. We used a few seconds of video from Mr. Holmes' new series to establish his expertise in this area for the viewer more familiar with him as a contractor…Television programs…routinely invite experts to share information they have or offer opinions, whether about the quality of wines, the country's economy, health care funding, finance or politics, among other things.” She said there was no “conflict of interest.”

You were unsatisfied with her response and asked for a review.


CBC's journalistic programs should be guided by three underlying principles:

Accuracy 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.

Integrity The information is truthful, not distorted to justify a conclusion. Broadcasters do not take advantage of their power to present a personal bias.

Fairness 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.

In relation to Mr. Holmes's appearance, it would seem that the policy on Guest Commentators would apply:

The guest commentator is by definition engaged to pass judgment on public affairs. Because of its character as a publicly-owned institution, the CBC does not adopt as its own the opinions of those commentators whom it invites to articulate the various shades of current opinion on a given subject. The CBC's concern is to ensure the presentation of a wide spectrum of opinion, particularly when the matter is sharply controversial and, where relevant, to reflect the different regions of the country. The CBC therefore seeks to select commentators whose backgrounds qualify them to give expert opinion based on accurate information. Any relevant aspects of a commentator's credentials must be clearly summarized so that the audience may have a perspective from which to appraise the speaker's view. For example, the position and affiliation of a journalist or the particular qualifications of an academic or any other type of speaker should be stated. The descriptions “freelance broadcaster” or “freelance writer” do not meet this requirement.

I will deal with the “conflict of interest” allegation first.

It is clear from the policy—and good sense—that the qualifications and affiliations of the commentator must be made known. In this case, it is evident that Mr. Holmes is moving into the home inspection business. While it can be viewed as his having a privileged position since his opinions are being sought, that is true of almost anyone who is asked for an expert opinion. Mr. Holmes has spent considerable time and effort establishing credibility with the Canadian public on the issues in question. Obviously, if the inspector who belonged to your organization had alerted his client, the buyer, to the problems, he, too, would have been in a privileged position.

So, Mr. Holmes's affiliation and interest in the matter was evident. This does not, then, present a conflict of interest situation. It would be absurd to contemplate finding someone to comment who had no interest in or no affiliation with home inspection. One may not warm to Mr. Holmes's style even while recognizing that he is a forceful commentator with considerable credibility.

As for the more general notion that there are others who may also be responsible in such situations you are, no doubt, correct. But, as Ms. Notar pointed out, the program was about home inspectors. You say that their obligation is to the buyer and the home inspector is the person who is asked for his expert opinion on the status of the home. I think the program laid out very clearly the results. It seems to me that your concern might be more with the inspectors who belong to your organization and less with Marketplace for accurately pointing out the failures in the process.

Conclusion

The piece was illuminating and a noteworthy example of the kind of consumer protection program in which Marketplace has specialized. There was no violation of CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman