Commentaries on the Fisheries Broadcast

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

A complaint that the public input segment on CBC Radio Newfoundland and Labrador’s The Fisheries Broadcast was no longer using the complainant’s commentary, and about remarks by its host. The review found no CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices violation.

The Fisheries Broadcast, since 1951 a staple of CBC Radio Newfoundland and Labrador, features a variety of information about and for the region’s fish industry. The program includes the Fishline segment, listener commentary and feedback on policies and practices in the fishery, often in tandem with themes of that day’s show.

The complainant, Dr. Philip Earle, wrote November 4, 2011, to say his phoned-in recordings had often been used but were no longer. He said the program was now censoring his perspectives and similar ones from others. He supplied three such commentaries he said were phoned into the program and never used.

“If the broadcast is allowed to favour the commentary of one group over another, or project one particular philosophical take on our industry, as it is now doing, then in my opinion the program has lost its credibility and integrity,” he wrote.

He was critical of host John Furlong’s recent direction with the program and was particularly focused on a November 2 remark Furlong made in a discussion on the sealing industry.

In that discussion Furlong asserted that it was less important to focus on the past problems of the fishery through an inquiry than to focus on what to do about it.

“People call for an inquiry into the fishery,” Furlong said. “I mean, who cares what went wrong? The question is what do we do now with what we have left.” Earle said such remarks were irresponsible, permitted continued mismanagement of the fishery, and had a “serious negative influence” on listeners who value the program’s leadership. Marc Riddell, the managing editor of news and talk programming for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, wrote Earle on November 16 to say his calls “have often hit the mark” and that since January the program had used at least 15 of them.

Riddell said that in the recent provincial election campaign the program refrained from running his comments because he was a candidate for the Liberal Party. “We also felt that after the election your comments had a sameness to them and didn’t reflect the editorial direction of the show on those days.” As for the November 2 comment by Furlong, Riddell said he crafted his statement on the basis of the three political parties all saying they “wanted an inquiry but saw no value in finger pointing about the past.” A review of that and other broadcasts indicated Furlong was not favouring one view over others on how to fix the many problems the fishery was facing, Riddell wrote.

Earle wrote again November 23 to request a review by this Office. He said other candidates were included in the program during the election and that his comments had no political overtones to them. He also said the concern about a “sameness” of his comments is “the only way that truth can be expressed.” He made clear he was less concerned with the fact his commentaries weren’t being used than with the fact that like-minded commentaries weren’t.

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices allow “for the expression of a particular perspective or point of view.” The policy applies to listener-generated content when it is integrated in programming. It calls for balance “by featuring multiple perspectives and points of view to reflect a diversity of opinion” in programming.

The policy calls for CBC staff to refrain from expressing their personal opinions. CBC is also to refrain from taking positions in matters of public debate.

Conclusion

Certainly the complainant has made a valuable contribution to the program over the years, and the commentaries he submitted were indicative of that. I am satisfied there is nothing to exclude him from further contributing to the Fishline segment, only that the program is looking for content distinct from some of his earlier material.

Naturally, though, there is no obligation to continue to feature his contributions. The program has the freedom to choose as it wishes to work within policy that requires a range of views.

Indeed, it is important to introduce new contributors regularly. I am satisfied the program makes a consistent, conscious effort to provide the broadest possible commentary on issues involving the fishery, and in so doing that it adheres to CBC journalistic policy.3 I concluded that the complaint about Furlong’s statement needed to take into account the context in which it was made. I found he was keeping the conversation going by summarizing and reflecting the views of political parties that there was little point to a review of past practices in the fishery. The important context here was that he was in conversation with a guest and trying to further prod him to discuss his views, not endeavouring to take a stand and use the platform to express it.

Another element of the complaint was the program’s treatment of the complainant during the election campaign. At that time the program had to be cognizant of journalistic policy to provide equitable treatment of political parties and candidates. It featured discussions with representatives of the parties during the election on the fishery and with the leaders of the parties on related issues. Given this equitability requirement, the program would have been imbalanced and likely breached policy had it featured the complainant’s commentary during that time. It wisely steered clear of this.

There was no violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Kirk LaPointe
CBC Ombudsman