The complainant, Darryl Filazek, pointed out an error in a Day 6 broadcast, and in its related web material. It took a long time to get the correction, and not all the versions of the story were fixed. He also thought the clarification was not clear enough. I did not agree on that count, but the process for correction does not seem to live up to the policy’s goals.
You were concerned that a programme segment on CBC Radio’s Day 6 and its related online stories contained false information. The episode was first broadcast on September 10, 2016. The story, entitled “Facing the Change: 50% of Lennox Island, P.E.I, could be underwater in 50 years”, quoted Dr. Adam Fenech, a climate scientist who is the Director of the Climate Research Lab at the University of Prince Edward Island. It outlined the dangers low lying areas like Lennox Island face from rising sea levels.
Using the programme feedback function, you pointed out that Dr. Fenech was incorrectly described as a Nobel Prize winning scientist. When Gord Westmacott, the programme producer, said he would not change the description because of a reference to him as a Nobel prize winner in a biographical description on a University of Toronto website, you contacted this office. You pointed out that while Dr. Fenech had contributed material to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a co-recipient of a Nobel Prize in 2007, the IPCC had expressly stated it was incorrect for any individual to claim Nobel status.
You believed the scientist was described as a Nobel winner to “to lend credibility to the scientific source for the story.”
Gord Westmacott reconsidered your complaint after receiving it through this office, agreed that it was not a correct designation, and changed the articles on cbc.ca as well as issued a clarification on a subsequent edition of Day 6. You were dissatisfied with the wording of the clarification:
...the wording of the spoken and written corrections do not include an effort to retract the attribution of “Nobel prize-winning” credentials to Dr. Adam Fenech which were declared in the various CBC stories and programs. Only one word is missing from those corrections. That word may be “incorrectly”, “mistakenly”, or another similar adverb before the word “described”.
You also pointed out that the archived version of the broadcast still had the incorrect description, as did one online version of the story.
As already noted, the producer of Day 6, Gord Westmacott, responded to your concerns. He told you that he had investigated the issue after your initial exchange and agreed that “it was not the most accurate way of introducing him.” He informed you that the programme host, Brent Bambury, had issued a clarification on the October 15th edition of Day 6, and the website article had been changed and a clarification published. He shared the wording of the clarification with you:
"Last month, I spoke to Adam Fenech and described him as a Nobel-Prize-winning climate scientist. In fact, he contributed to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007."
When you wrote him again to point out that there was still another article on the web that contained the error, he told you he would pass the information on to the appropriate people to ensure that it would be similarly changed.
He also told you that this was an inadvertent error, based on the University of Toronto’s biographical information:
I want to assure you that there was absolutely no intent on the program's part to elevate Dr. Fenech's credentials on this issue and I don't believe it undermined the substance of what Dr. Fenech said on the program.
I appreciate you drawing this to our attention.
The underpinning of all of the CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices is accuracy. The error constitutes a violation of policy. It was ultimately corrected, and was duly noted as such as outlined in CBC News policy on corrections. You pointed out that one version still had the same error. I asked Brodie Fenlon, the Senior Director of Digital Media for CBC News why that might be. He told me that it was an oversight and my inquiry prompted its correction and the reference to “Nobel prize-winning” under the cutline of the photo has been changed on the article. The programmers also issued a correction on a later edition of Day 6. Brent Bambury told the audience:
Last month, I spoke to Adam Fenech and described him as a Nobel-Prize-winning climate scientist. In fact, he contributed to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
You had concerns about the wording, and thought it should have stated I “incorrectly” described him. You think that hearing or reading this still does not make it clear enough. There is nothing false in this statement, and fulfills the Corrections policy.
We make every effort to avoid errors on the air and online. In keeping with values of accuracy, integrity and fairness, we do not hesitate to correct a significant error when we have been able to establish that one has occurred. This is essential for our credibility with Canadians. When a correction is necessary, it is made promptly given the circumstances, with due regard for the reach of published error.
The fact that a situation has evolved so that information that was accurate at the time of its publication is no longer accurate does not mean that an error was committed, but we must consider the appropriateness of updating it, taking into account its importance and impact.
The form and timing of a correction will be agreed with the Director, in consultation with the Law Department where applicable.
You point out that the archived audio still has the incorrect introduction on it. It is true that when you go to that page there is no correction or clarification box alerting listeners to that error. Your complaint and its complex resolution highlights some issues with the corrections process that CBC management might want to take a closer look at. The same material exists in many formats and iterations in the digital space. The Day 6 version was corrected, but other versions were not. When you drew that to CBC’s attention, some but not all of the appropriate changes were made. There is no practice to put the correction or clarification when a segment is called up from the CBC player. It seems to me that there is a need for a more clearly delineated process for ensuring all material is flagged, corrected and annotated.
I asked Mr. Westmacott why he did not correct the description of Dr. Fenech the first time he heard from you. He explained that he had seen multiple citations of Dr. Fenech and others involved with the IPCC report described in that way, and felt that it was not a significant error. When you provided the link to the IPCC statement on the matter in a later communication, he realized the segment needed to be modified. He also told me he regretted not being more thorough in his research the first time you raised the issue. He might have also benefited from clearer guidelines and processes for tracking down potential errors, and then, as I have mentioned, ensured all the material is properly corrected.