The Third Man

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

The complainant felt CBC had unfairly condemned Aaron Yoon in reports about the young Canadians who were involved in an attack on an Algerian gas plant. The scripts did not link Yoon to the attack on the plant.

COMPLAINT

Starting April 1, 2013, a series of stories ran on all CBC News platforms about two young Canadians from London Ontario who were involved in an attack on an Algerian gas plant in January of this year. There was considerable loss of life, including some of the perpetrators.

CBC was able to identify two of the dead perpetrators as Canadians Xris Katsiroubas and Ali Medlej. On the second day of coverage, the stories revealed that a third young man had gone abroad with the other two, but it was unclear whether he was involved in the gas plant attack. That third Canadian was identified as Aaron Yoon, who turned out to be alive and incarcerated in Mauritania. CBC News eventually tracked him down and interviewed him. The story was frequently updated as new details were discovered.

You (Kevin Larson) wrote to complain because you felt CBC had unfairly condemned Yoon and had no proof to link him to the attack in Algeria: “I am upset with the extent of the conjecture, implied guilt, guilt by association, etc., of the third youth from London area who is [an] acquaintance of the two youth who were killed in the Algerian bombing. There is no evidence that is being revealed to show any connection between the third youth and the radical Islamist bombing. I find this troubling and an example of shoddy journalism.” You did not specify which stories you had heard. After hearing from Marissa Nelson, Senior Director of Digital Media, you wrote back to say that you were sorry you weren’t more specific – that the offending material was actually on network radio news broadcasts on April 4 and 5. You said that the Radio One newscast “referred to the third individual linked to the bombing in Algeria. I did not put my observation of ‘linking to the bombing in Algeria’ in quotes because I am recalling the newscast from memory. A review of the actual newscast for April 5 will show the exact wording used.”

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Marissa Nelson responded to your complaint as it was unclear your concerns were about a Radio broadcast. She gave the context of the week of CBC’s coverage and pointed out that in the online stories it was made clear that no other participants were involved in the gas plant attack. She pointed out that the stories used phrases like “A third man, Aaron Yoon, travelled to North Africa with Medlej and Katsiroubas before the attack but did not participate in it.” Her review of the online work did not support your concerns.

REVIEW

I reviewed newscasts for April 4 and 5 on Radio One. I checked the scripts for World Report, The World this Hour, and World at Six. I reviewed the hourly newscasts as well. In fact the scripts do not in any way use phrasing remotely linking Aaron Yoon to the attack on the gas plant in Algeria.

Here is the reference from Amanda Margison’s script on the World at Six from April 4: “Chris converted to Islam. So did another friend Aaron Yoon. Today that young man is in a Mauritanian jail. And has been for some time.”

The stories all talk about the three being recruited, and going overseas at the same time. They do not link Yoon to the attack in Algeria. By April 5, CBC had found Yoon and was telling his story.

Many but not all of the stories mention all three young men, so there is an association. The association is in the context of their recruitment and leaving the country. While only one script explicitly states “a third man, Aaron Yoon, travelled to North Africa with the two men, but did not participate in the attack,” it is clear in all of them that he wasn’t in the attack, as he was jailed in Mauritania long before it occurred. There was one reference that described Yoon as “a friend of the two gas plant attackers.”

A broadcast goes by so quickly, it is understandable that on one hearing, there can be a misunderstanding. I am glad to tell you that your concerns are unfounded.

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman