This review follows a public complaint about the non-inclusion of information in a CBC Toronto interview segment last January on the Metro Morning radio program. I did not find there was a violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.
On January 12, 2012, CBC Toronto’s Metro Morning radio program featured an interview segment marking the 10th anniversary of the construction of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where those alleged to have associations with terrorist organizations and activities were jailed.
One prisoner was Toronto-born Omar Khadr, there since the age of 15 for almost a decade, who the program noted had pled guilty to murder, spying and supporting terrorism as part of a plea bargain. Khadr is eligible for repatriation to Canada to serve the balance of his sentence.
Host Matt Galloway noted Khadr and interviewed a Toronto Star journalist, Michelle Shephard, who has written extensively on national security matters.
The thrust of the nearly-six-minute-long interview concerned the prison: what it symbolized, what were the concerns about it, why it was built, how it has evolved, how successful it has been in advancing anti-terrorism, and whether it will stay open, among other things.
Toward the end of the interview Galloway asked about the status of Khadr’s repatriation. Shephard said it was expected to take place in coming months and was delayed by “legal uncertainty” and “bureaucratic bungling.” 2 The complainant, Anthony Nolan, wrote CBC that day to note the absence of any mention in the interview of Khadr’s murder victim, U.S. Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer.
“By not mentioning the murder victim’s name,” Nolan wrote, “the CBC is inaccurate, unfair and biased in reporting this story. The CBC’s clear intent is to disappear, obliterate the memory of the murdered.” Nolan said CBC owed the Speer family an apology and should change its editorial policy to give equal time to victims as is given to murderers.
Joan Melanson, the executive producer of CBC Radio current affairs, wrote Nolan on February 14 to explain the intent of the segment.
“The story certainly intended no disrespect to Sgt. Christopher Speer, nor do I believe it did disrespect his memory,” she wrote.
“Had the focus been on the rather confused events that took place around that house in Ayub Kheyl, Afghanistan, 10 years ago, or even on the tortuous and uncertain legal process that ended with Mr. Khadr’s plea bargain agreement, you might reasonably expect to hear that Sgt. Speer had been killed in the firefight, a death for which Mr.
Khadr later admitted responsibility,” she wrote.
“But the story’s focus was rather different — it was on the prison itself.” Nolan wrote April 10 to request a review of the matter and express the view that the only way to pay a small debt to military service is to remember those who sacrifice.
CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices policy counsels respectful, considerate, evenhanded treatment of subjects and individuals, particularly victims of crime. It encourages clear language, accuracy and impartial presentation of information.
Concern for crime victims is understandable and laudable and CBC News recognizes there are many instances in which information about victims is relevant and significant to a story. Its policies compel sensitive treatment of crime victims and those close to them.
But in this instance I am satisfied that the non-inclusion of information about the murder victim did not leave the journalism deficient — specifically, that the nonmention might have rendered content inaccurate, imbalanced or unfair. There was a focus on the prison and on the process to return a confessed murderer to Canada — not 3 on the crimes themselves that led Omar Khadr to prison — so the content fit the framework.
On the basis of reviewing earlier CBC content about this issue that featured extensive information about the victim, I cannot share any concern there might be any sort of deliberate connection between the news organization and the non-mention in this instance.
It is important not to lose sight of criminal victims, and it is true that there are often fainter references to them as time passes, but the absence of an automatic mention of a victim any time there is a mention of the criminal does not constitute a violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.
Kirk LaPointe CBC Ombudsman