Radio series about economics

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

The complainant argued that the CBC Radio series, The Invisible Hand, was neither fair nor balanced. I concluded it satisfied CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices and there was no policy violation.

In the summer of 2012, CBC Radio aired The Invisible Hand, a 10-part series of half-hour examinations of economics.

The complainant, Gerri Patriquin, wrote August 6 and said the program's journalism was substandard. She focused on the third episode, Profit and Capitalism, which first aired July 11.

Timed nearly one year after the Occupy movement gained attention, the program examined who is a capitalist, where profits go and how they are pursued. Among its interviews of experts was a 92-year-old retired teacher whose income source was her professional pension.

Patriquin complained the series comprised “fallacies presented as fact”; that the episode featured selective information to support the producer's and host's theories; that its use of the pensioner as an example of a capitalist was “reprehensible”; that CBC was disserving listeners who were “ignorant of what constitutes honest research”; and that the program was “intended to make fools of us.”

Chris Straw, CBC Radio's senior director of network talk programming, wrote back August 31. He said the “audio essays” examined different elements of economic theory that, over the course of the series, showcased a variety of perspectives.

On the specific July 11 episode, Straw said the pensioner was interviewed to illustrate how “many people we admire are capitalists.” Straw added: “I regret that did not come across clearly to you.”

Patriquin wrote October 9 to request a review.

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices call for balance to be achieved by presenting a wide range of perspectives. The policy permits point-of-view documentaries and essays provided there are other perspectives presented over a reasonable period of time. The policy calls for respectful, even-handed treatment of individuals and requires CBC to avoid portrayal or language that might give rise to contempt or prejudice.

Conclusion

CONCLUSION

The complaint about quality of the episode is too subjective to be part of the framework that guides journalistic policy. Instead the principles of accuracy, fairness and balance are applied to examine what was presented — not what might have been presented.

The series of essays fulfilled policy under CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices by presenting a range of perspectives on economic theories and phenomena over the course of its episodes.

I again note the policy permits balance to be achieved over a reasonable time, not necessarily within a program nor within an episode.

I acknowledge that this policy can rankle some complainants who expect self-contained balance, but the policy rationale is that it can be untimely or artificial to require each program, episode, segment or story to achieve balance inherently.

The particular episode that launched the complaint was accurate and fair in its treatment of its interview subjects. I did not share the complainant's view that it was inappropriate to feature the pensioner as an example of capitalists in our midst.

Kirk LaPointe
CBC Ombudsman