UN Security Council

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

Reports about Canada's unsuccessful bid for a seat on the UN Security Council

Last October 12, the United Nations elected Portugal to its Security Council. Canada was unsuccessful in its bid for a Council seat for the first time in UN history.

Canada was seeking one of two available seats accorded to the Western European and Others Group. On the first ballot, Germany earned the required two-thirds of the vote and was granted one of the seats. In the second ballot, Canada finished well behind Portugal and withdrew its bid. A third ballot gave Portugal the seat. The outcome after nine years of campaigning was considered surprising and stinging to Canada.

CBC Television carried two reports on The National that night focusing on what might have gone wrong in the Canadian bid. Several other reports on CBC Radio and online chronicled the UN vote.

The National's first report by New York-based correspondent David Common spent considerable time exploring the assertion by Lawrence Cannon, the foreign affairs minister, that much of the blame for the unsuccessful bid could be attached to remarks weeks earlier by Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal leader.

Ignatieff had questioned whether Canada had earned the seat and argued that the Conservative government had not paid attention to the UN or to foreign policy in recent years. Cannon said following the vote that the remarks undermined the campaign and convinced some countries not to support Canada's bid.

But Common reported that “dozens” of interviews before and after the vote with diplomats could find “no evidence” to support that view. He said he could not find a single diplomat from another country who had even heard of Ignatieff's remarks. Instead, he reported, this country's Middle East and foreign aid policies and Portugal's appeal to smaller countries to support one like them combined to deny Canada the seat.

Its second report, by Nahlah Ayed, looked at the implications of the failure to gain the seat. Ayed asserted that Canada's policies on climate change, its shift in foreign aid to other world regions, and its shift away from neutrality on Middle East matters contributed to the unsuccessful bid.

On the Middle East issue, Common also reported on CBC Radio that a Palestinian representative said Canada had “a very terrific relationship with” Palestine.

Common filed several radio reports throughout the day for World At Six, The World This Hour and World Report. He contributed to CBC News Network in addition to his report for The National, and his contributions helped form the basis of CBCNews.ca reports.

The complainant, Michael Harwood, said CBC misrepresented the Conservative government criticism of Ignatieff. He said CBC underplayed the significance of the Liberal leader's remarks and that The National treated the Conservative assertions as “an unsubstantiated accusation.”

He said the Palestinian representative's remarks on radio were “excised” from the television report to bolster CBC's assertion that Canada's shift from neutrality on Middle East policy was a contributing factor in the vote.

“This report was an out-and-out hit piece on the Harper government,” he wrote.

Esther Enkin, the executive editor for CBC News, wrote Harwood on February 7, 2011, and disagreed with his conclusions. She said the references in the story to the foreign affairs minister's position “directly and repeatedly set out the government's position, a position — at least at that point — strongly critical of Mr. Ignatieff.”

She said nothing was “excised” from any report, but that different reports contained different information, voices and approaches. “The story you heard on radio was not ‘pieced' into The National,” she wrote. “Nothing was excised.”

Enkin added: “Some reports may be allotted more of the scarce time available in a news program and include more information, others might be shorter. But that does not mean they are partisan. That information might have been covered previously or may well be picked up in future stories, but one report cannot reasonably be expected to encompass all points of view or include all the information available.”

Harwood subsequently wrote to note that other media had reported October 6, less than a week before the vote, that Cannon had appealed to ambassadors based in Ottawa to ignore Ignatieff's remarks. Harwood asked why CBC News would even bother to ask diplomats if they were aware of those remarks when many “certainly” knew because of the foreign minister's appeal.

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices call for accurate, balanced reporting that provides “professional judgment based on facts and expertise. We do not promote any particular point of view on matters of public debate.”

Conclusion

The focus of the reports was on Canada's unsuccessful bid for the Security Council seat, the claims and counterclaims on why the bid failed, and the implications. They were accurate and anchored in primary-source interviewing. They provided ample opportunity for various views to be argued.

The complainant asserted that CBC must have been wrong in reporting that no diplomat it interviewed had heard about the Liberal leader's remarks. Other media reports indicated the foreign affairs minister earlier had told some ambassadors in Ottawa to ignore those remarks. But both matters could have been true: the foreign minister could have discussed it with some ambassadors and CBC could have found diplomats who hadn't heard of the remarks.

CBC was supporting its own research in asserting that diplomats were not citing Ignatieff's remarks as a reason for Canada's unsuccessful bid, something any news organization would have done with its first-hand newsgathering and a correspondent based in the same locale as the story.

It can be frustrating to consume media from one organization across different platforms with varying approaches and information. But that diversity is a virtue, not a problem. When everything isn't heard at once, it can give rise to doubts and hypotheses about motives in journalism. But I do not support in this instance the assertion that any efforts were made to parse significant information to convenience the journalism.

There was no violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Kirk LaPointe
CBC Ombudsman