Donald Trump’s Ban on Muslims

The complainant, E. Gelb, accused CBC of bias by omission in a story that dealt with Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigration. Failure to mention the ban would be until officials “figured out” what is going on, was an attempt to discredit him, according to her. I did not agree.

COMPLAINT

You strongly objected to a reference to Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigrants entering the United States. The news story you cited was broadcast May 10, 2016 on The National. The report was about the election of a new mayor in London, who happened to be Muslim. Sadiq Khan made reference to Donald Trump and the fact that his call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States could “play into the hands of extremists”. He also noted that he would be prohibited from traveling to the U.S. You accused the reporter and CBC editors of lying by omission because the reference to Mr. Trump did not accurately represent his call for a ban:

Mr Trump never called for ‘ban on Muslims’. Period!
He was very clear on all occasions to state, “..ban on Muslims until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on.”
This is where CBC lied by omission and this is unacceptable.

You added that “there is a world of difference” between reporting on a full ban and reporting Mr. Trump’s qualifying statement that the ban would be in place until authorities figure out what is going on, as he stated in his December speech following the shootings in San Bernardino, California. You believe CBC reporters and editors deliberately present Mr. Trump in a bad light, and that this is evidence of agenda driven reporting.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Executive Producer of The National, Don Spandier, replied to your concerns. He pointed out the focus of the story was about Sadiq Khan, who had just been sworn in as London’s new, and first, Muslim mayor. He added that Mr. Khan made reference to his religion and his identity as a “south Londoner”. In that same news conference Mr. Khan pointed out that if Donald Trump were elected president, he would not be able to visit the United States. Mr. Spandier explained that to emphasize that point, the story included a clip of Mr. Trump calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Mr. Spandier pointed out that the clip of Mr. Trump was date stamped December 7, 2015. He explained the reporter then added:

Trump is now backing off that plan, if only slightly, telling The New York Times that there would be exceptions to the Muslim ban, suggesting London’s new mayor would be allowed in”. Mayor Khan “quickly rejected” the offer, Mr. Daigle added, making him “the latest British politician to denounce the brash American”. The headline in one British tabloid seen in the report said: “Sadiq goes to war on Trump”.

Mr. Spandier said the controversy over the call for the ban was thoroughly covered by The National and other CBC news platforms when he first made the statement. He explained that the focus in this piece was the election of the new Mayor and that limited the background details included in it:

Television news requires reporters to telescope a lot of information into the few minutes available in a news report. Even complex events and their significance must be conveyed quickly and clearly and, of course, fairly. Inevitably some things are left out, but that does not mean that we are lying or that the story is biased. Reporters must assume viewers bring with them some basic knowledge of continuing stories, such as this one. By definition, news is about what is new. Enough basic information about a story is included to make that clear, but reporters cannot reasonably be expected to include all the information available in every story.

REVIEW

CBC journalistic policy is based on a commitment to accuracy and impartiality which is defined as expressed in this way:

We provide professional judgment based on facts and expertise. We do not promote any particular point of view on matters of public debate.

The issue here is whether the lack of mention of the ban on Muslims as uncertain in duration is materially important or changes the understanding of a viewer. Here is what Mr. Trump initially said after the shootings in San Bernardino; he refers to himself in the third person:

Donald J. Trump is calling for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.

To characterize this as a ban in the context of this story does not distort the meaning in the way you think it does - I do not think it is a “world of difference”. Characterizing it as a temporary ban, for instance, is very imprecise. What does “until we figure it out” mean? There is no time frame provided. It is a proposal with an undefined time frame. Had this been a story focusing on Mr. Trump’s policies, I agree further explanation would be required. I note that since this story was aired in May, Mr. Trump, notably in the wake of the Orlando shootings, has modified his position in some ways. Future coverage should take that into account.

As for your contention that the omission of Mr. Trump’s full statement violates policy on balance and fairness, I will state what I have stated many times before: proving bias by omission is highly subjective. The fact that a potential president of the United States is calling for action that may well be in violation of the United States constitution, and believes it is appropriate to ban people based on their religious beliefs, whether permanently or for some undetermined period of time, is highly newsworthy in and of itself. Context matters. In this report, it was Sadiq Khan who raised the issue and implication of a ban on Muslims - that is how the piece is framed:

PETER MANSBRIDGE:
London's new Muslim mayor lashes out at Donald Trump.

SADIQ KHAN (MAYOR OF LONDON):
My concern is he's playing into the hands of extremists.

It's not only some fellow Americans and even fellow Republicans who are angry over Donald Trump's intolerant rhetoric, including his vow to ban Muslims from the U.S. London's new mayor Sadiq Khan pointed out that would include him. It all left Trump trying to explain how he'd make it work. But as Thomas Daigle tells us, the new mayor was having none of it.

The reporter then sets up the swearing in of the new mayor and reports on his concerns about Mr. Trump:

THOMAS DAIGLE :
In a centuries-old Anglican cathedral, Sadiq Khan was sworn in as London's first Muslim mayor. Before the win and ever since, he hasn't downplayed his faith.

REVIEW

CBC journalistic policy is based on a commitment to accuracy and impartiality which is defined as expressed in this way:

We provide professional judgment based on facts and expertise. We do not promote any particular point of view on matters of public debate.

SADIQ KHAN :
(London) I'm loud and proud of many things. I'm loud and proud of being of Islamic faith. I'm loud and proud of being a south Londoner.

THOMAS DAIGLE:
But after the election came a striking realization. The mayor of Britain's capital would be barred from entering the U.S., Britain's biggest ally, if Donald Trump becomes president.

DONALD TRUMP:
(December 7, 2015) Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.

THOMAS DAIGLE (REPORTER):
Trump is now backing off that plan, if only slightly, telling "The New York Times" there would be exceptions to the Muslim ban, suggesting London's new mayor would be allowed in.

In this context, the failure to mention the qualifier that it is “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on” does not imply or prove bias. It is not relevant. The mayor was, in all likelihood, correct that he would not be allowed to enter the United States. The reporter also included Mr. Trump’s response to the statement from Mr. Khan, providing the necessary balance. There was no violation of policy.

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman