Story headline

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

Complainant asserted story did not support headline

I am writing with regard to your complaint to CBC News last November 30, 2010, and the agreement December 21, 2010, for this Office to review it. Thank you for your patience in this matter.

One policy has changed since your review commenced: The identities of complainants are now made public. Since your complaint preceded that policy change, your identity will not be revealed in the public release of this review.


The complainant wrote CBC News November 30, 2010, to express concerns about an online headline: PM's troubles snagged D-Day invite: WikiLeaks. He asserted the story did not support the headline.

He argued that there was no indication French President Nicolas Sarkozy wished to help Prime Minister Stephen Harper, why or how he did, or that the invitation to D-Day ceremonies was due to alleged political troubles for the Canadian leader.

Rachel Nixon, CBC News director of digital media, wrote back December 17, 2010, to assert that the story corroborated the headline. The basis of the assertion was a diplomatic cable, reported in the CBC story, from an American chargé d'affaires who was quoting a French official's explanation of the invitation process. The cable was made public through the WikiLeaks.org site as part of a release of more than 250,000 records.

The complainant did not accept the argument and asked this Office for a review. He said the story did not explain why an invitation might be proffered or accepted.

The CBC story said the Prime Minister was invited in 2009 to French D-Day ceremonies because his government and that of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown were facing political troubles. The cable said they were invited, and others weren't, in part because of their “exceptional” nature. They “were in such political trouble at home that the survival of their governments was at stake.”

The story noted that Harper had been facing the possibility of an opposition coalition toppling him and had prorogued Parliament to thwart the crisis.

The June 8, 2009 memorandum from U.S. Chargé d'affaires Mark A. Pekala followed a June 3, 2009 meeting with Jean-David Levitte, a foreign advisor to Sarkozy.

In the memo, Pekala said Levitte “began by explaining the French decision not to invite the Germans to the June 6 D-Day commemoration. ‘It's my fault,' said Levitte, who said that President Sarkozy had initially been keen to invite German Chancellor Merkel to participate. ‘I pointed out to the President that if Merkel came, then Sarkozy would be obligated to invite the heads of state of Italy, Poland, and the Czech Republic as well.' Moreover, all of those leaders would have to be given an opportunity to speak as well, which would lengthen an already long ceremony. The cases of the UK and Canada were exceptional, he added, because both Gordon Brown and Stephen Harper were in such political trouble at home that the survival of their governments was at stake.”

Other Canadian media reported on the same cable, using the same approach that Harper was granted the invitation because his government was facing trouble.

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices address issues of accuracy: “We seek out the truth in all matters of public interest. We invest our time and our skills to learn, understand and clearly explain the facts to our audience. The production techniques we use serve to present the content in a clear and accessible manner.”

Conclusion

I have concluded the headline was sufficiently supported.

The cable was written in the context of a discussion about who to invite and who not to invite to the D-Day ceremonies and why. I clearly understood that the French official noted that certain leaders couldn't be invited because protocol would have required others to be invited, but that Canada and the U.K. represented exceptional cases because their governments were at risk.

There was no breach of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Kirk LaPointe
CBC Ombudsman