Mining development in the Ring of Fire

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

Report about mining development in the Ring of Fire in northwestern Ontario

You filed a complaint with the Office of the CBC Ombudsman after hearing a report that aired on the CBC Radio morning program in Thunder Bay, The Great Northwest, on April 22, 2010.

The substance of your complaint concerned a report by journalist Jody Porter. It examined the ongoing mining development in an area of northwestern Ontario known as the “Ring of Fire.” Your objections were as follows:

  • You objected to what you felt was the report's implication that the local mining industry is a “racket.”
  • You also objected to a description of the office of one mining company as being small in size and located at the end of a dead end street.
  • You felt that these attributes demonstrated the reporter's personal bias/influence, which unfairly damages the reputation of all companies involved in the mining industry in northwestern Ontario.

CBC Management Response

Susan Rogers, program manager at CBC Thunder Bay, stated that Freewest was included in the report to show that there are local companies operating in Thunder Bay as distinct from “other mining presidents who can only be reached by cell phone in Toronto.”

Ms. Rogers further stated that Jody Porter is not a “cub reporter” but a “senior award-winning journalist.” She also stated that the report was balanced and provided a cautionary tale for investors since there have been some “bad apples” in the mining business in the past.

REVIEW

I would like to acknowledge the substantial contribution in research and preparation of this review of Jeffrey Dvorkin of the University of Toronto and the Organization of News Ombudsmen.

Investigation of Facts

Ms. Porter's radio story concerned the recent flurry of interest in the mining development of the Ring of Fire. Her report stated that there are concerns that some mining companies might engage in dubious practices that could result in profits for investors, but little or no resources or local business development.

The report refers to two previous developments by mining companies. Both ended in litigation and enforced settlement of claims by local First Nations where the Government of Ontario was forced to intervene.

Ms. Porter included an interview with a London, Ontario lawyer, Dimitri Lascaris, who specializes in securities class action suits. He explained how some companies have in the past engaged in a practice known as “pump and dump,” a ploy where the share values are pumped up by reports of potential riches, then dumped when expectations collapse along with the stock market share value.

Enormous profits have been made at the expense of ordinary investors. Mr. Lascaris stated that he was unaware if this was the case in the Ring of Fire developments. The reporter investigated three local mining companies and none of them appear to be engaged in these activities.

Ms. Porter interviewed a local mining developer, Mr. Don Hoy. She described his company, Freewest, as “operating out of a tiny office building on a dead end road here in Thunder Bay.” Mr. Hoy spoke optimistically about the future prospects of his mining company.

Background and Context The Ring of Fire development has suddenly produced considerable interest and controversy in mining and government circles in Ontario. The Daily Commercial News and Construction Record, a trade publication based in Markham, Ontario, describes the Ring of Fire as a “mineral hotspot, poised to start a building boom.” It reports that more than two dozen junior mining companies and at least one senior established company “are hoping to cash in on an area they believe is simply burning with high-grade nickel, copper, zinc, gold, chromite and palladium.” The Government of Ontario, struggling to deal with a $19.3 billion deficit, is also encouraging development in this area. This encouragement comes in the form of a controversial piece of legislation now before Queen's Park entitled the Far North Act, designed to open up much of the northern boreal region to development.

Ontario's Environment Commissioner, Gord Miller, has warned that without strict government oversight, development of the Ring of Fire will turn into a “free-for-all.”

Further complicating development are questions around First Nations involvement. They see the exploitation of minerals in the area as “their gateway to real jobs and money, but they have serious qualms about whether they'll get the benefits they desire.”

Environmental groups are warning of a potential disaster on a scale of the Alberta Oil Sands without strong government oversight.

CBC Standards and Practices

Two sections of the CBC's ethical guidelines are relevant:

2. JOURNALISTIC PRINCIPLES

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.

and

3. CREDIBILITY

Credibility is dependent not only on qualities such as accuracy and fairness in reporting and presentation, but also upon avoidance by both the organization and its journalists of associations or contacts which could reasonably give rise to perceptions of partiality. Any situation which could cause reasonable apprehension that a journalist or the organization is biased or under the influence of any pressure group, whether ideological, political, financial, social or cultural, must be avoided.

Conclusion

You may have had good reasons to mistrust certain reporting which may have originated outside of the region. However, there is nothing in Ms. Porter's story that would lead one to conclude that the scoundrels outnumber the heroes in Thunder Bay mining circles.

At no time in the reporting did either Ms. Porter or the program host, Ms. Lisa Laco, refer to the mining business as a “racket” as you claimed in your email to this office. Indeed, Ms. Porter and Ms. Laco went to some lengths to identify three mining companies – Freewest, Spider and Noront – whose records with the Ontario Securities Commission are unblemished compared to two other companies, Platinex and KWG and their difficulties with one First Nations tribe.

This report is a textbook example of strong contextual journalism. The history of mining exploration and development in Canada is one that has had its share of heroes as well as a few scoundrels. The skepticism in the report was appropriate to the history and present circumstances in northwestern Ontario mining as well. You are correct in stating that the health of the mining industry is of vital concern to the region. But there is nothing in this report that could be construed as being unfair or out of context or that might damage the overall reputation of the industry.

CBC Thunder Bay provided an important service to its community with this report. There was no violation of CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman