In the review of a CBC.ca story on attitudes toward male victims of domestic violence, CBC acknowledged an error in describing the complainant’s role, thus a violation of its standards and practices. The story was otherwise fair and accurate.
On February 7, 2012, CBC Radio Calgary and CBC.ca carried reports about male victims of domestic violence. The stories followed the conviction a day earlier of a man for beating and sexually assaulting his roommate repeatedly over a period of months.
In the reports, experts were quoted as saying male victims felt stigmatized and alone. One expert questioned the accuracy of statistics on domestic violence and said men simply won’t admit they’re victims. Another expert — Earl Silverman, the complainant in this review, who heads a support group for men — said people were conditioned to think of only women as victims of domestic violence.
Silverman wrote February 8 to assert there were accurate statistics available concerning male victims of domestic violence. He also asserted there were academic studies to “demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners.” He wrote that the description of a local shelter as a men’s shelter was wrong — it was a women’s shelter, he said. He called a review of CBC journalistic policies he said were dismissive of men’s issues.
Dave Budge, the CBC Calgary news director, wrote back about the radio report February 27. But Silverman wrote CBC again in a similar vein March 9, sent several emails pursuing the matter, and suggested he appear on CBC to present his perspective.
Budge wrote again March 22. He noted that an expert — not CBC — asserted there was a challenge in finding accurate statistics. He said the shelter housed men and women. 2 But he acknowledged that the report did not describe Silverman accurately. The report identified him as running a men’s advocacy group, when in fact he ran a support group. Budge apologized for the error and said that a correction had been posted. (Inadvertently this was not done initially, but the oversight was addressed while this review was under way.) Silverman asked May 31 for a review.
CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices call for an even-handed, respectful treatment of individuals and their perspectives, accurate presentation of information, and a range of views on controversial subjects over a reasonable period of time across its platforms. The policy calls for corrections without hesitation when necessary.
The mandate of the Office of the Ombudsman confines reviews to the news and information content of segments or stories. Only if a complaint were lodged identifying a pattern of concerns in content could there be an exploration of wider issues.
The radio and online reports were produced in the context of a court case that had concluded a day earlier. They were framed to support expert views that men can be reluctant to report violence against them.
They fulfilled standards with one minor exception: CBC acknowledged an error in the reports in describing the role of an expert. He eventually became the complainant. No matter how significant an error, each is a violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices. Regrettably, there was also a delay in publishing a corrected description, but once this delay was spotted, great efforts were made to correct the content immediately.
While the complainant’s title and role might not have been accurate, the acknowledgment and eventual publication of the corrected content was in keeping with policy. Moreover, the stories themselves fulfilled policy in their accuracy and fairness.