Greek national election

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

The complainant asserted remarks on CBC Radio about the Greek national election suggested bias. CBC News acknowledged a violation of policy and said the remarks could have been better phrased.

On June 18, 2012, CBC Radio's World Report carried a report from correspondent Margaret Evans on the results of the Greek national election of a day earlier.

The report was introduced: “We begin this week once again with serious and growing concerns about Europe's economy. In Greece, some good news, as the pro-bailout New Democracy party won the election there. It now has to try to form a government.”

In her report, Evans said Greece remained divided over those who supported the party's bailout plan and “those who back parties wanting to tear it up regardless of the consequences.”

The complainant, Arthur Milner, wrote later that day and suggested the introduction and report were indications of bias.

Jack Nagler, the managing editor of CBC Radio News, wrote back July 6.

He said the phrasing in the introduction did not demonstrate bias. “But I do agree with you to the extent that a sentence in the introduction was not written as clearly as it might have been.”

He added: “The sentence was not (his emphasis) intended to suggest that CBC News in some way favoured the New Democracy party. It does not. CBC is prohibited by federal regulation and corporate policy from advocating or supporting any particular view on controversial issues. It was intended to suggest that a conclusive result — in this instance a win by the ‘pro-bailout New Democracy party' — would reduce uncertainty and offer the financial world some needed reassurance.”

Nagler said Evans was “not implying that she supports one option over the other, but only suggesting that the immediate consequences of rejection could be severe.”

Nagler said the austerity plan was widely expected to return the Greek economy to better health within a few years, although he acknowledged there were other views. A rejection of a bailout plan would quickly lead to the Greek government defaulting on debt, harming investors and destabilizing euro-zone countries.

Milner wrote again July 7. He noted Nagler had acknowledged error but not its seriousness or bias. He said Evans' characterization of the opponents of the Greek election victor as anti-bailout was wrong — they simply wanted it renegotiated.

Milner said no matter that bias was not intended, that was the result.

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices call for accurate, even-handed presentation of information free of bias.

It adds: “Our value of impartiality precludes our news and current affairs staff from expressing their personal opinions on matters of controversy on all our platforms.”

Conclusion

The wording in the report and its introduction could have been better phrased.

I concluded the introduction — noting the “good news” about the Greek election result — could have left the impression that CBC News favoured the outcome. Even if the intention was to indicate the result might propel economic recovery, that wasn't the best way to frame it. CBC News acknowledged the introduction was in error and thus a policy violation.

I concluded the report — noting that opponents of the winner wanted to tear up the bailout agreement “regardless of the consequences” — was not in violation of policy, although there might have been better wording. Opponents wanted the bailout agreement to be renegotiated and were prepared to risk their political capital to do so.

Kirk LaPointe
CBC Ombudsman