Scheduling change

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services


Cancellation of scheduled appearance by former US Attorney General Ramsay Clark on Alberta@Noon

I am writing with regard to your request for a review by the Office of the Ombudsman of the cancellation of a scheduled June 7, 2010 appearance by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsay Clark on the Alberta@Noon Calgary radio program.

Your initial letter June 13 raised concerns of bias as a result of a last-minute scheduling change in the lineup of the midday Calgary radio program. As a result, an appearance by guests had to be cancelled in order for the program to discuss a shortage of oncologists in Alberta that was having an impact on cancer treatment accessibility.

Your complaint points to an interesting issue in the news and information programming of the public broadcaster. In its effort to be timely, can it lose sight of its obligations to deliver important information in an equitable way?

In her June 15 response, CBC Calgary Programming Director Helen Henderson indicated that the show regularly has to rearrange the lineup to focus on its “primary mandate” of more urgent news. She expressed regret for “any inconvenience this may have caused” you or Mr. Clark. Indeed, she indicated several other appearances had been cancelled that week alone.

Several elements of the CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices handbook intersect with your concern of a systemic bias in the editorial selection of themes to explore. Among its passages on principles for continuing programs, it states: “Continuing news and current affairs programs must present a balanced overall view of controversial matters, to avoid the appearance of promoting particular opinions or being manipulated into doing so by events.”

The challenge for a weekday program is to balance the timely needs with the less timely needs in order to deliver material that not only reflects the relevant needs of the audience but also helps lead the public affairs experience.

In this instance, though, I find compelling reasons behind the newsroom's particular decision to change its program lineup. The oncologist story in question had been revealed only that day and concerned broad issues of public health and safety affecting a large part of the population directly and indirectly. While I agree it is regrettable that guests' schedules were arranged, then cancelled, an imperative of any news operation is to shift resources and attention to often serve

what it considers to be the timely needs of the audience. We may disagree with the judgment on a story-by-story basis, but that does not constitute evidence of bias.

Given that effort was made to schedule Mr. Clark and the panel, I believe we have to give the benefit of the doubt to the program about its intent to discuss the issues you raise. It expressed regret in correspondence about the late cancellation. I can find no evidence that Mr. Clark and the panel were cancelled for any other reason than the last-minute judgment to pursue a theme considered by the news operation to be of wider relevance to the audience. As a result, I cannot conclude there was any breach of CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Kirk LaPointe
CBC Ombudsman