Balancing Kevin O'Leary

The complainant, Dave Francis, objected to Kevin O’Leary’s role as a business commentator on CBC News Morning. He pointed out that CBC policy obliges it to provide a range of perspectives and he did not think that Mr. O’Leary’s strong views were appropriately balanced. CBC Management has indicated that they are working on bringing more voices to programming, and I strongly suggest they do so soon.

COMPLAINT

You wrote to express your concern about Mr. O’Leary’s commentaries you listen to “almost every morning” on CBC News Network. You said that it is appropriate for him to give investment advice based on his expertise but you question his suitability to give his opinions on matters of business practice and policy:

. . . most of the time he is giving opinions on things such as “teenagers should work 18 hours a day” or “If you want to stand out when applying for a job, you should offer to work for free for a year.”

Many of these opinions are not business advice, but personal, philosophic opinions that represent the beliefs of the infamous one per cent - the rich, the wealthy, the greedy. . .

I am sick and tired of hearing a multi-millionaire give his opinions on how Canadians should live, and I'm sick and tired of having Kevin O'Leary teach Canadians that they should be greedy, self-interested, self-promoting, anti-environmental money-grubbers.

You thought that CBC should be obliged to give equal time to “opposing viewpoints.”

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The managing editor of CBC News Network, Jennifer Harwood, replied to your concerns. She said that the purpose of including Mr. O’Leary as a commentator was to add a particular perspective and opinion on daily business stories. She explained that his background makes him an appropriate choice to do so:

Mr. O'Leary’s work developing and running software companies and his investment firm helps bring context around stories and topics. Although Kevin and his opinions can be controversial, he often adds value based on his background. For example, his comments recently on the changes that saw Microsoft end support for Windows XP and Office 2003.

She agreed with you that CBC is obliged to provide more than one perspective. She said that the staff at CBC News Network seek out other interviewees to counter Mr. O’Leary’s point of view. She said: “For example, we frequently feature guests such as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives economist Armine Yalnizyan.” She informed you that she is planning to “expand the range of opinion offered around business news and issues,” and that you should notice the changes in the near future.

REVIEW

There are two areas of CBC journalistic policy that pertain in this case. One deals with the commitment to balance by providing multiple perspectives over a reasonable period of time. Range of opinion and perspective are at the very heart of fairness and integrity in journalism. This is how the Journalistic Standards and Practices defines the value of balance:

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.

The other policy area to consider is the principles that govern the use of commentators and the expression of opinion. It echoes the value of balance by calling for a range of views on important issues:

CBC, in its programming, over time, provides a wide range of comment and opinion on significant issues.

We achieve balance by featuring multiple perspectives and points of view to reflect a diversity of opinion.

It is important to mention any association, affiliation or special interest a guest or commentator may have so that the public can fully understand that person's perspective.

Kevin O’Leary attracts more letters to this office than any other CBC personality. He is not a full-time employee and is engaged as a commentator. He is identified as such and is entitled to express his views, no matter how distasteful to some audience members, so long as he expresses them within the parameters of CBC policy. Because of his persona, and the nature of his views, his presence has a lot of impact. It is also true, though, that he gets a lot of air time on News Network. He is co-host of the hour-long daily business show, The Lang & O’Leary Exchange and, as you point out, frequently appears on CBC News Morning to comment on a topical business story.

I have written before that while there are other features, treatments and personalities who appear as well, there is no one close to his presence. I suggested then that CBC endeavour to find other personalities to regularly supply commentary on daily business stories so that more perspectives would be available to Canadians. Ms. Harwood indicated to you that they are working on doing just that. I strongly suggest she do so soon, and regularly evaluate and track how major business issues are covered.

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman