The aftermath of the acquittal of George Zimmerman

The complainant caught an error in an online story, which was quickly corrected. He still thought the story was one sided though, but I thought it was an effective round up of events and reaction after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who was tried for the murder of a young black man, Trayvon Martin.

COMPLAINT

The George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight web site posted an article featuring a round-up of reaction to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who had been tried for the murder of Trayvon Martin. The case was very controversial and was intensively covered in American media. The article, entitled “After George Zimmerman’s Acquittal, Protests and Questions in the U.S.,” initially stated: “Zimmerman’s lawyers argued that he had acted in self-defence under Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law, because he believed his life to be in immediate danger. After 16 hours of deliberations, the jury accepted the argument.” You wrote to say that this was an error: “The Zimmerman defence actually waived ‘stand your ground’. Zimmerman was acquitted under the traditional standard of self- defence.”

After the show’s producer acknowledged and corrected the error, you asked for a review because you felt the piece was biased:

“And yet the rest of the story, complete with fallacious references to Stand-Your-Ground defence, remains un-retracted. Perhaps, CBC, your headline should read: "After Zimmerman's Acquittal, Two-Minute Hate Gets New Target".

Really, without the straw-man of Stand-Your-Ground, the article is nothing more than the promotion of violent acts by race-baiters, anti-gun ideologues, and social engineers.”

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

As I have already noted, there was a factual error in the piece. The Executive Producer of the program wrote you to acknowledge the error and to let you know it had been corrected, with a prominent correction notice at the bottom.

REVIEW

CBC News has specific policy on corrections. When an error is made, it is to be acknowledged and corrected:

“When a correction is necessary, it is made promptly given the circumstances, with due regard for the reach of published error.”

The procedure was followed in this case, and while it is unfortunate that a basic fact was wrong, it was dealt with in a timely way. The inaccuracy was a violation of policy. The handling of it was not.

As for your concerns about bias and promoting a point of view, I wonder if we were reading the same article. This case from the outset, when there was initially no arrest, has raised questions from many quarters on race relations in the United States. It raised issues about “stand your ground” laws, even though it was not used in this case; it raised the issue about challenges young black men experience in America. The headline accurately reflects what the story was about – reaction and questions being asked after the verdict:

“The case has generated national debates in the U.S. about race relations, civil rights, and gun control, and after the not guilty verdict, protests took place in several cities, including Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento and Chicago.”

The piece quotes reaction from the President of the United States, calling on individuals to respect the due process of the judicial system. It also provided a round-up of on-line commentary from a variety of perspectives, including support for the rightness of the verdict, and criticism for perceived politicization of the trial.

CBC journalistic policy calls for balance and multiple perspectives over time. There is no need for equivalence in every story. It was an accurate reflection of what was going on at the time. It did also supply some contrary views through significant quotes from online commentators.

There was no violation of CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman