Remembrance Day

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

Comments made during CBC's Remembrance Day program

I am writing with regard to your complaint November 12, 2010, and request January 4, 2011, for a review by this Office concerning a CBC Television special on Remembrance Day last November 11. Thank you for your patience in this matter.

A policy change in recent weeks has meant the identities of complainants are made public when reviews are released. But your review started in advance of that policy change, so your identity will be kept confidential.


CBC Television carried a news special on Remembrance Day ceremonies, November 11, live from Ottawa with host Peter Mansbridge and historian Jack Granatstein. The special covered the traditional ceremonies to honour war veterans, including an appearance by Governor-General David Johnston.

The complainant wrote CBC News and this Office to express several concerns about the telecast, particularly the live comments from Mansbridge. The complainant characterized the remarks as biased, arrogant and lacking in professionalism at a time that ought to spur patriotism and pride.

The complainant identified Mansbridge's remarks about the Governor-General, the former Governor-General and the federal Veterans Affairs Minister as unsuited for the moment.

He complained that Mansbridge noted the new Governor-General was getting used to making small talk, that he didn't note the Governor-General's (or his wife's) credentials, that he made an inappropriate remark about the former Governor-General, and that he said the current Veterans Affairs Minister was having some problems in recent times.

The executive editor of CBC News, Esther Enkin, wrote the complainant January 4, 2011, to defend the remarks and note some of the inaccuracy in the complainant's recollections of them. She noted that Mansbridge's remarks about the current Governor-General were respectful, that the event was not about the Governor-General but about the military commemoration, that Mansbridge did not make an inappropriate remark about the previous Governor-General, and that Mansbridge's remarks on the Veterans Affairs Minister were fair comment.

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices intersect with the complaint in a few ways.

On the use of language, they state: “The description of facts, however concise, must provide the nuances necessary to ensure that the account is faithful and easy to understand.”

On fairness: “In our information gathering and reporting, we treat individuals and organizations with openness and respect.”

On impartiality: “We provide professional judgment based on facts and expertise. We do not promote any particular point of view on matters of public debate.”

Conclusion

Remembrance Day ceremonies afford media an opportunity for dignified, reverent coverage of our military efforts. As a public broadcaster, CBC has been the most prominent of Canadian media to chronicle ceremonies and honours for our veterans of conflict.

I reviewed the specific examples in the complaint to measure their merit in the context of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

I found that Mansbridge's remarks about the new Governor-General, David Johnston, were respectful and insightful. He noted their recent discussion and how Johnston wasn't intending to wear a military uniform initially as the Governor-General, even though he is Canada's commander-in-chief.

When Johnston arrived at the ceremonies, he was greeted by several people and could be overheard discussing the sunny skies. I concluded that Mansbridge's remarks about Johnston's capabilities (“picking up the ability for small talk pretty quickly”) were entirely appropriate. A significant part of a Governor-General's role is to strike up a friendly, welcoming conversation with anyone about practically anything.

CBC had broadcast a news special months earlier when Johnston was invested as Governor- General. The Remembrance Day ceremony was not focused on him but on those who had fought for Canada. It wasn't at all necessary for Mansbridge to extensively comment on Johnston's career credentials, but not mentioning them didn't imply disrespect.

Granatstein noted that it would be difficult for Johnston to match the appearance of former Governor General Michaelle Jean in uniform. Mansbridge's remarks indicated she had been impressive a year earlier at the ceremonies when in uniform. I concluded it was an appropriate comment about her official presence.

Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn's department had been dealing with demonstrations by veterans seeking greater compensation and with some controversy over the non-renewal of the contract of a popular military ombudsman who had argued for greater veterans' benefits. Mansbridge said it had been “a tough run for him the last little while, many issues involving veterans and a lot of criticism being hurled back and forth.” Mansbridge wasn't taking sides in that criticism nor suggesting anything about it. He was adding context. I found those brief remarks about him fair comment.

The program did not breach CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Kirk LaPointe
CBC Ombudsman