Prince Charles and Duchess of Cornwall

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

Coverage of visit of Prince Charles and Duchess of Cornwall

You wrote initially to complain about the coverage of the visit of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall in November of 2009. You said that an item on The National was “bias(ed), rude and showed a total lack of respect.” You questioned the basis for an interview with Arthur Edwards, a photographer with the Royal Tour. You said further that “this female reporter started to discuss the position of the Queen in Canada and was quite adamant that the Queen should be replaced.”

You also had concerns with an edition of Cross Country Check-Up produced just after the Royal couple had left. You said that the program was “full of bias and total disrespect for the Royal Couple who were our invited guests: “Asking people to vote for or against the Queen would be like asking Americans (whether) they should keep the office of the President…or if Japan should vote out the Emperor. This was completely uncalled for and should not have been discussed.”

Esther Enkin, Executive Editor of CBC News, responded, denying that the questions by reporter Laurie Graham were “loaded.” She suggested that with the context of a Harris/Decima poll showing declining interest in the visit the questions appeared appropriate.

She also pointed out that the interview with photographer Arthur Edwards was somewhat longer than you suggested and that the context of what he was saying was fairly clear.

In relation to Cross Country Check-Up, Ms. Enkin pointed out that Rex Murphy “set out the positions held and arguments advanced by republicans and monarchists” and that in light of the apparently low level of interest in the tour the question Mr. Murphy posed concerning the future of the monarchy was “fair enough.”

You were unsatisfied with her response and asked me to review the matter, adding that the discussion of the future of the monarchy was “extremely rude and totally unacceptable behaviour from the state broadcaster.” You went on to say that a poll such as the one quoted was “mindless”: “that would be like polling the people of Texas about (whether) they would be paying attention to the US President visiting their state.”

You also claimed that the interviews cited by Ms. Enkin “were not included in any of the telecasts.”

REVIEW

CBC Information programs must reflect established journalistic 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
T he 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.

It should also be said that while carrying out their duties, CBC journalists are expected to be appropriately respectful of people and events, while maintaining a proper journalistic perspective.

The notion that there is any matter of public concern that a journalist should not probe in an appropriate manner is truly troubling. The essence of good journalism comes from skeptical inquiry into any matter that is pertinent to the people of this country.

The poll you criticized was conducted by the Harris-Decima company, a well-regarded polling group that, as far as I can determine, followed standard industry practice. It is interesting to note that a subsequent poll done around the time of the Queen's visit this past summer was similar in result. Neither was clear-cut nor predictive, but, at a minimum, reflective of some ambivalence on the part of Canadians toward a continuation of the monarchy. It is incumbent upon good journalists to note that and probe what those results might mean.

The item on the National seemed to me to be a fair reflection of both the style and tone of the visit. As a supporter of the monarchy you may not like the reactions of some Canadians, but they are entitled to those views and, contrary to your opinion, the CBC is obliged to reflect a range of views of matters of public concern.

In reviewing the transcript of the Graham item on The National, I found all the material mentioned by Ms. Enkin. The item reflected both the warmth of the greeting by some and the relative indifference by others. The photographer in question, someone with long experience in matters Royal, is entitled to his view, particularly as he and Ms. Graham placed it in context.

At the end of the program it is clear that in no way was Ms. Graham “adamant” that the Queen should be replaced. After discussing the debate that has been going on in Australia for some time, Ms. Graham said: “Now, the Queen all along has said whatever a country decides, she would respect, and I was told today that Prince Charles shares the same view.” I honestly cannot see how a reasonable person could conclude that Ms. Graham was offering any opinion, much less being adamant about replacing the Queen.

As for Cross-Country Check-Up, I would find, similarly, that the program was not only entitled to cover this question, but, in its often thoughtful manner, obliged to hear from a cross-section of Canadians on this topic.

I should add that in the current political climate in the United States, the notion of a poll among Texans concerning a visit from the U.S. President is not in any way absurd. You are perfectly free to hold your view of the monarchy, but the suggestion that, at an appropriate moment, other views might not be touched on or probed is, actually, repugnant to the notion of democratic journalism.

Conclusion

There was no violation of CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman