Balance achieved: CBC got it right covering local demonstration about Egypt

The complainant, Molly Samuel, accused CBC of siding with the supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in its coverage of demonstrations in Toronto. She felt overall CBC News had ignored the protests of the plight of Egypt’s Christian community. During the height of the unrest in Egypt, she thought only a pro-Morsi rally had been covered in Toronto when a group of Coptic Christians held a rally the same week end. In fact, CBC had a story about the Coptic demonstration on The National, and all platforms had provided coverage of the concerns of the community here as well as stories about attacks on churches in Egypt.

COMPLAINT

You were troubled by the fact that on the weekend of August 17-18, CBC News in Toronto chose to feature a “pro-Morsi” rally and not another one “by those who were protesting against senseless killings of Christians by the Muslim Brotherhood.” There was a second rally in Toronto that weekend. Coptic Christians protested outside the American consulate to draw attention to the plight of their co-religionists in Egypt. You did not see any coverage of this rally and this seemed to you evidence of taking sides:

“As a Canadian who is NOT (sic) an Egyptian, I am shocked by CBC’s one sided NEWS (sic) coverage. I am incensed that the pro-Morsi people were given preferential treatment by CBC.”

CBC News provided extensive coverage of events in Egypt over the last several months: the demonstrations against the Morsi government and the calls for his resignation, the growing role of the military, Morsi’s overthrow and the violent clashes that ensued, pitting his opponents against his Muslim Brotherhood supporters. The violence escalated and was at its peak around the middle of August – the period when Egyptian Canadians held demonstrations in many Canadian cities to show support either for the army and Morsi’s opponents, or for the ousted President and his Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Executive Director of News Content, Jonathan Whitten, replied to your concerns. He stated that it is unfair to say that the instance you cite – covering one rally but not another on the same weekend – could be taken as an accurate “reflection of our overall coverage, as we have consistently represented the views of Coptic Christians with respect to the events in Egypt.”

He pointed to a story run on Toronto’s News at Six, and again on the late night news, that included the view of a Coptic Christian woman as part of a package on reaction of local Egyptian Canadians to events in their former country. He also referenced an interview with a Coptic Christian living in Canada which ran on Metro Morning. Segments of that interview continued to run through the morning newscasts on CBL. He gave other examples of overall balance in coverage:

“And while it is true that we did send a camera to the pro-Morsi demonstration in Toronto on Saturday, all of the coverage I was able to see was balanced. So for example News Network interviewed a protestor, but that interview aired immediately after an interview with someone from the Egyptian consulate who declared the pro-Morsi protestors as ‘terrorists.’”

He also said that CBC News had given events unfolding in Egypt comprehensive coverage, encompassing a variety of opinions and perspectives.

REVIEW

There seems to have been a misunderstanding along the way. Perhaps Mr. Whitten thought you were complaining about the lack of coverage of the Coptic rally on local television. In fact, reporter Steven D’Souza attended the rally and it featured third in the line-up on The National on Sunday, August 18th. The intro to the piece stated:

“Around 60-thousand Canadians claim Egyptian heritage and today hundreds of them took to the streets of Toronto, calling for an end to the bloodshed in Egypt and, in particular, violence which they say targets that country's biggest Christian faith. Steven D'Souza has that story.”

The piece goes on to interview a number of Canadians who are Copts, and emphasizes their concern for the violence perpetrated against them and their institutions in Egypt.

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices calls for balance over time:

“On issues of controversy, we ensure that divergent views are reflected respectfully, taking into account their relevance to the debate and how widely held these views are. We also ensure that they are represented over a reasonable period of time.”

In the course of the weekend, a range of views and perspectives were represented in CBC’s extensive reporting on the ongoing strife in Egypt. It was and continues to be a complex and highly charged situation. CBC policy demands that a range of voices and views, opinions and perspectives are presented over the course of the coverage. I note that As It Happens, The Current, Metro Morning and The National have addressed the issue of Christian persecution in Egypt.

By allowing those you disagree with a chance to express their views, CBC is not endorsing that view or taking sides. There is nothing against policy or practice to interview members of the Muslim Brotherhood or to cover demonstrations supporting the ousted Egyptian president.

Mr. Whitten pointed out there was balance within the piece you cited. He is correct. In fact, in the closing on-camera segment, reporter Ivy Cuervo mentions foreign affairs minister John Baird’s condemnation of attacks on Coptic Churches. And while on the weekend in question, the demonstrations on both sides were covered, there is no requirement for equivalency. There is a requirement for context and balance over time.

CBC News did its job appropriately and there was no violation of CBC policy.

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman