Women in the military

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

The complainant asserted bias in an interview segment on CBC Radio's The Current. I did not find a violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

On December 10, 2012, CBC Radio's The Current featured a segment on the involvement of U.S. servicewomen in military combat roles.

Three interviews were featured: one with U.S. Major Mary Jennings Hegar, a plaintiff in a case fighting the exclusion of women from certain roles; one with Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, an organization which believes there are valid reasons for the military to exclude women from some ground combat roles; and one with Karen Davis, a defence scientist with the Canadian Forces Leadership Institute.

The complainant, Pero Despotovic, wrote December 15 to say host Anna Maria Tremonti was “cosying up” to Hegar and was “rudely interrupting” Donnelly in what he termed a reflection of “continued disrespect for guests who do not follow her ideological view on issues.”

The executive producer for The Current, Jennifer Moroz, wrote back December 18. She said it is never the intention of the program or its host to disrespect its guests. In this instance, she said Tremonti was attempting to get the guest to clarify her position in a short timeframe.

“Listening back, I realize that in doing so, Ms. Tremonti may have come across as brusque,” Moroz wrote. “If so, I'm sorry. I'm also sorry the conversation ended as abruptly as it did.”

She continued: “Again, we try to manage our time on air as best we can, but it's not an exact science. We will continue to work at getting better in this department in order to avoid cutting guests off too suddenly.” Despotovic wrote again December 21 to seek a review.

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices call for even-handed, respectful treatment of guests and for its journalists not to take sides in matters of public debate. The policy calls for a range of perspectives across CBC platforms over a reasonable period.

Conclusion

Donnelly was able to praise the courage of women in the military and to identify specific concerns for her organization's stand against women in certain ground combat situations. She cited constitutional, physiological, psychological, sexual and logistical reasons.

Tremonti, not surprisingly, wanted to have a greater understanding behind those reasons. She was particularly persistent on Donnelly's arguments about sexual grounds for exclusion and whether women were being improperly blamed. It is true that when she pressed Donnelly for specifics, Donnelly indicated she felt interrupted and noted Hegar had not been. But I concluded Tremonti was simply pursuing a relevant line of inquiry, not getting an answer, and unfortunately running out of time in the live segment.

In hindsight, it would have been preferable to structure the segment to provide more discussion of the American policy. Instead, the Donnelly interview ended with an eye on the clock in order to involve Davis to discuss the Canadian policy. I agree with CBC News that the interview ended abruptly; that being said, there was adequate presentation of Donnelly's views to understand her position.

I did not find a violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Kirk LaPointe
CBC Ombudsman