Disagreement on dirt bikes

The complainant, Dustin Inskip, thought the Kamloops morning show gave a dirt bike enthusiast a free ride to push his point of view. The review finds that there is not always the need for two sides of the story.

COMPLAINT

You felt that an interview done on June 18, 2013, on CBC Radio One’s Kamloops morning show, Daybreak, was unfair and promoted the agenda of the interviewee without providing the full story. The interview involved the closure of dirt biking trails near Noble Creek, close to Kamloops. The host of the program, Shelley Joyce, spoke to a dirt bike enthusiast about his concerns and what he was hoping to do to create new nearby venues for his sport.

You say the trails were always illegal and the closure was not new, and the absence of this information slanted the interview. If the segment had explored the reasons you put forward for the closure, there would have been better balance. You thought closure was the wrong word and that the use of the trails should have been labelled trespass. By not doing so and by allowing the biker to explain what the loss of the trails meant to him, you felt the program was endorsing dirt bikes and giving Mr. Philcox, the biker, a forum to promote his “agenda”:

“The story made no mention that the trails that were being talked about fell mostly under privately held leases and that the trails had always been illegal. Instead of looking into the claims made by Mr. Philcox they were simply accepted and allowed to be broadcast. Daybreak allowed a completely one-sided point of view on their broadcast without having looked into the claims he was making beforehand. What was aired was a story spun to elicit sympathy for one group of people that ignored the reasons why the trails were closed. If those reasons had actually been discussed and not ignored the story would not have been able to push Mr. Philcox's agenda.”

When you called CBC Kamloops to express your concerns, you felt they were dismissed and you were treated rudely by the producer:

“When I tried to explain my concerns he told me that my concerns were not relevant to the story and he would do nothing about them. After a short conversation he began to become irate at one point raising his voice and saying ‘look it’s almost 4 o'clock on Friday and talking to you isn't going to get my work done’. When I asked if I could do an interview as Mr Philcox had I was told to ‘Call back when he was gone and leave a message.’”

You were not satisfied by the explanation given you by Lorna Haeber, the program director for CBC in British Columbia, and you rejected her apology for the interaction with the producer.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

In her response Ms. Haeber pointed out that exploring the reasons for the closure of the Noble Creek trails was not necessary in the context of this particular interview. She explained that the interviewee, Jason Philcox, was disappointed by the closure but was not arguing to have them re-opened:

“Instead the interview was about the recreational activity of dirt-biking and how the closure of Noble Creek and other bike trails in the vicinity has prompted Mr. Philcox to begin exploring the option of working with a variety of groups to find and create a legal and designated network of trails that dirt bikers could use in the future.”

She apologized that you felt you were not treated in a “respectful and welcoming” way. She has discussed the matter with the producer and emphasized the importance of being open to concerns and suggestions from audience members. She explained that there may have been a misunderstanding about what the producer meant when he asked you to call back:

“I also wanted to clarify one point that may have been the result of a miscommunication that resulted in your comment that you were told to call back and leave a message. We commonly ask people to call our "Talkback Line" and Mr. Polson was suggesting that as an option for responding to something that had been on the show. We try to broadcast as many of these comments as possible.”

REVIEW

CBC policy commits its news and current affairs programs to present a range of views on an issue, and to ensure that over a reasonable period of time, the major positions on a subject are represented in a program or online. Accuracy and fairness are part of the equation, but in this case the value and commitment to balance is the most relevant:

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.

This interview elicited the experience of one dirt biker, Justin Philcox. The program host, Shelley Joyce, explored what he planned to do now that a nearby set of trails he had been using were no longer accessible. As Ms. Haeber pointed out to you, he did not contest the decision, or question the authority of whoever had made that decision to do so. In fact there was almost no history given other than that, according to the guest, the trails had been used for quite a long time, and had been established by his father. She did ask “what kind of community support are you getting from the community or are you getting community support.” When Mr. Philcox asked for clarification she said, “Well dirt bikers are accused of tearing up natural areas with their bikes.”

The reasons why the Noble Creek trails were closed was not discussed in detail, but some of the issues raised by having dirt bikers ride anywhere were addressed. There was mention of the environmental impact.

If their use was always illegal, then it would have been better that the host ask him about that fact, but within the context of the discussion, its omission is not a sign of bias. If the trails were illegal, it is puzzling why bikers have been allowed to use them for the last 30 years. The biker would not be accountable for that, but rather those in charge of enforcing regulations.

You characterize what Mr. Philcox was saying as “claims” that should be challenged. That might have been true had he claimed a right to those Noble Creek trails, but he didn’t. It is not a claim that he and others used them, whether they were supposed to or not. It is a fact.

Ms. Joyce did challenge the guest on several points – the reputation of dirt bikers, as well as querying why there should be public support for trails exclusively for the use of dirt bikers. The interviewee also seemed to acknowledge the need for clear rules and guidelines when he cited as a model a set of authorized and managed trails developed in another location, near Ink Lake.

Even though the interview was not about whether dirt biking should be allowed at all, or if any trails should be made available, another perspective from the community was reflected in a “Talkback” segment a few days later. The caller made it very clear he considered the use of the bikes was detrimental to the environment, a danger to animals and generally a pretty bad idea. He invited Mr. Philcox to take up mountain biking if he wanted some “macho excitement.”

Allowing Mr. Philcox to share his experience and outline what he thinks is a solution to the need for trails near Kamloops does not imply an endorsement. The interviewer asked about some of the issues his proposals raise, and provided airtime through “Talkback” for others to provide alternate views, namely representing those who think providing trails in any form is not a good use of public space. The interview and follow-up did not focus on the issue you consider most important, but it is not a violation of CBC journalistic standards and practices.

You were also not satisfied with the apology you received from Ms. Haeber regarding the behaviour of the CBC employee who took your phone call. I can understand that you are unhappy with your encounter with the CBC producer. Rudeness is simply not acceptable. But there is no reason to believe that the apology is not genuine.

I am glad that Ms. Haeber spoke with the employee about his call with you because it is critical that CBC staff are accountable and open to the concerns and ideas of audience members.

I am afraid it is difficult for me to pass judgment on the nature of the misunderstanding about the suggestion you call back and leave a comment on the “Talkback” line. Even if it was not made clear to you in this instance, it remains an outlet for you to get your views reflected in the programming. It is important programmers continue to hear the widest range of views as possible.

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman