Column on American economy

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

The complainant argued there were factual and fairness problems with a CBC.ca column on the American economy. I concluded there was no violation of policy.

On November 16, 2012, CBC.ca carried a column on the American economy from Stockwell Day, a regular contributor and former federal party leader and cabinet minister.

Day argued that U.S. President Barack Obama's economic policies, while well intentioned, were “tragically flawed” and bound to lead to a credit downgrade. He said Canada would be well advised to avoid policies that would increase the debt because it simply meant heaping problems on future generations.

He said one approach for Canada to avoid was QE, so-called quantitative easing — what Day called a debt-increasing “fleeting fix” to problems. Day said Obama's September effort to “inject debt” into the economy was designed to yield positive consequences in time for the November election. But, he concluded, many Americans saw through Obama's approach and did not support him in the recent election. A continuation of this policy would push the U.S. back into a recession, he suggested.

The complainant, Bali Randhawa, wrote later that day and said the column lacked an understanding of economics and was unclearly written. Among his complaints were that Day improperly suggested the U.S. president had influence over monetary policy, that such policy could yield quick results, and that quantitative easing increased the debt.

“It is obvious Mr. Day lacks expertise in the subject matter,” he wrote.

Jennifer McGuire, the editor in chief of CBC News, wrote back December 18. She said Day's column was one of many opinions CBC News carries online to “present differing views fairly and accurately affording Canadians the opportunity and the information they need to make up their own minds about the nature or quality of the views expressed.”

Day himself “is no novice to the world of economics,” McGuire wrote. “He was minister of finance in Alberta as well as the former head of the Treasury Board of Canada. His experience in federal and provincial government affords him knowledge and insight we feel are of interest to Canadians.”

McGuire also noted that readers were permitted to add their comments online in a “lively forum” to discuss Day's views.

Randhawa wrote back January 4, 2013, and asked for a review.

(Given that the content was produced at CBC News when the current Ombudsman was its Executive Editor, the complaint was referred to the previous Ombudsman for a review in his capacity as a Special Advisor to the Office.)

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices call for “clear and accessible” presentation of information. When presenting a single point-of-view, the policy calls for CBC not to distort competing views and to present those alternatives across its platforms over a reasonable period.

Conclusion

Quantitative easing is the purchase by the central bank of government or government-backed debt securities from commercial banks and private interests.

Many economists argue it does not necessarily lead to an increase in government debt; rather, it may lead to a reallocation of who owns such debt, with the central bank holding more and private interests less.

That being said, through this easing process the central bank is aiming to lower interest rates. That, in turn, can make it less expensive for the government to increase its debt — which is why some see it as a measure that encourages the increase of debt.

In reading the column several times, I concluded it drew a strong tie between quantitative easing and debt — stronger than several economists might make but not out of the realm of accuracy. As a clearly labeled opinion column, it was thus an acceptable viewpoint. As long as CBC News features other views on U.S. monetary policy and fiscal stimulus within a reasonable period, it fulfills its policy on fairness and balance.

CBC News noted in its response to the complainant that online comments provided an opportunity to discuss Day's views. Given that CBC News has historically argued these comments do not constitute editorial content, one must be cautious not to accept that comments can somehow provide some balance — after all, CBC News does not put them on the same plane.

There was not a violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Kirk LaPointe
Special Advisor to the Office of the CBC Ombudsman