Balance in business commentary

The complainant, Peter McGrath, felt that CBC News Network should have more than one business commentator. He felt Kevin O’Leary’s views required balance, even though the segment is labelled as commentary. CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices requires balance over time so there was no violation of policy.

COMPLAINT

Kevin O’Leary, Chair of O’Leary Funds, co-host of The Lang & O’Leary Exchange and one of the entrepreneurs on Dragon’s Den on CBC’s main network, appears regularly in a morning slot on CBC News Now. He interacts with the host to provide commentary on a business issue or story in the news. Generally the topic is business but it also strays into other areas so that Mr. O’Leary can provide a business take on the subject.

You object to the fact that he is the only business commentator on the program. You think CBC is not living up to its commitment to reflect the diverse views of Canadians. You feel the fact that he is the only business commentator on the program provides an “unbalanced view of how Canadians view Canada and business in general.” You feel that CBC News Network is leaving the impression that Mr. O’Leary’s views reflect the majority of Canadians, and you think they do not:

I find it highly offensive that CBC has Kevin O'leary on every morning expressing his greed is good, make money etc views. CBC is supposed to represent the views of the majority of Canadians and give a wide expression of these ideas to the public.

While having him on CBC is fine, where is the opposing view? Where is the commentary from environmentalists, from people who put social responsibility before the love of money? Where is the opposing view to his commentary every morning with interview with Ms Hiscock?

To allow CBC to have a one sided view every morning is not the spirit of CBC and does not represent the majority of Canadians, and as such should either be stopped or others added to the program in equal fashion.

You suggested Mr. O’Leary’s regular spot should be dropped, or other voices should be heard on a regular basis to balance his perspective.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Todd Spencer, then Executive Director of CBC News Network, replied. He said that although Mr. O’Leary is the only business commentator, News Network provides a wide range of perspectives on the issues of the day:

As a regular viewer, you will know that we routinely invite a wide range of commentators, panellists and experts to express the various shades of opinion on matters of current interest. It is the CBC’s responsibility to ensure that Canadians are given the opportunity and the information they need to make up their own minds on these matters. And I believe we are doing that.

As his title suggests, it is his opinion. But while Mr. O’Leary is the only contributor to the program to have a regular commentary, he is most certainly not the only contributor who has an opportunity to express his point of view on the program. The CBC has an obligation under the federal Broadcasting Act and CBC’s own rigorous journalistic policy to offer a range of views on matters of public interest and concern, like this one.

He pointed out that Mr. O’Leary is Chair of O’Leary Funds, and one of Canada’s most successful businessmen, and that he is “he is known for his sharp, provocative and sometimes idiosyncratic views. Something viewers tell us they find informative and, yes, entertaining.”

He added that because the segment is labelled as commentary, it is clear that the opinions commentators express are their own and do not reflect in any way opinions of the CBC or CBC News Network.

REVIEW

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices makes a commitment to a diversity of voices. On the issue of balance, there is a commitment to provide a range of views over a reasonable period of time.

We contribute to informed debate on issues that matter to Canadians by reflecting a diversity of opinion. Our content on all platforms presents a wide range of subject matter and views.

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.

It also allows for opinion if it is labeled as such, and the commentator brings an expertise to the subject. But even in this area it calls for balance over time in the range of commentary provided.

CBC, in its programming, over time, provides a wide range of comment and opinion on significant issues.

We achieve balance by featuring multiple perspectives and points of view to reflect a diversity of opinion.

It is important to mention any association, affiliation or special interest a guest or commentator may have so that the public can fully understand that person’s perspective.

O’Leary’s morning commentary on CBC News Now is just one of many business oriented spots that appear throughout the day. On the major stories, the network provides a range of perspectives and analysis on a regular basis. There are regular market updates and the network will bring in a variety of guests to explain or comment when there are significant developments in business or the economy. The National has a regular feature called The Bottom Line which provides analysis from a range of perspectives.

The O’Leary spots seem to be quite eclectic in the choice of topic – sometimes they touch on a major business story, other times they deal with issues facing a particular sector or company. Or Mr. O’Leary provides his take on a more general story of the day which might have a business or economic angle. He brings expert knowledge from a particular perspective.

Looking at the big picture of business coverage on the network, it fulfills the policy requirement. Looking strictly at the issue of commentary, there is something of a grey zone. Mr. O’Leary is the only business commentator on News Network. He also appears in an hour-long show every evening on the same network, The Lang & O’Leary Exchange.

That is a lot of exposure for one person, especially one who is very strongly associated with a very particular point of view. The Lang & O’Leary Exchange provides a range of perspectives on the topics it deals with, but Mr. O’Leary seems to be able to freely express his opinions in that forum as well. Given his role on The Lang & O’Leary Exchange and the fact that his is the only spot labeled as commentary, it appears the network has only one voice available for business comment and opinion.

It would be more in the spirit of the policy of providing a range of perspectives over time, if other commentators were given an opportunity to bring a wider range of perspectives to the network’s coverage.

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman