What’s in a Name?

The complainant, Heather Fraser, objected to being described as a former board member of Vaccine Choice Canada because she said she appeared on air as a “concerned parent.” CBC policy says it is important information to understand an interviewee’s affiliations. On this and a question of accuracy there was no violation of policy.

COMPLAINT

You had two concerns about an interview you did on Metro Morning regarding your decision to not vaccinate your children. The interview was done in the context of a new provincial policy announcement regarding childhood immunization. The government was introducing legislation which would require any parent of school-age children to attend an education seminar if he or she declined to vaccinate. The interview is now on the CBC website and you are requesting two changes to the accompanying text.

You are described as a former board member of Vaccine Choice Canada. You said you had resigned over a year ago, and was interviewed as a “concerned parent.” You have asked that the reference to you as a former board member of VCC be removed.

In fact, the interview was originally taken down from the website after it was posted, and you first wrote to inquire why that had happened. You were told CBC news staff felt they had to check some of the things you said for accuracy. Ultimately, the interview was reposted with some text. The text regarding the PENTA vaccine is the basis of your second concern. The CBC site says that “the vaccine referred to in the interview was approved by Health Canada between 1994 and 1997. It has since been replaced by a vaccine with much lower risk of side effects.” You said the vaccine was never approved in this country:

I do not know who wrote the paragraph but to say the vaccine in the discussion called PENTA was approved is incorrect. This combination vaccine was not licensed. To suggest it was approved implies that it was approved for injection. In Canada it is not legal to administer an unlicensed vaccine. Again, I have provided an email from Health Canada confirming that the vaccine was not licensed. I have suggested that CBC contact Health Canada directly for verification.

Unless CBC takes the time to do this, the caption can only state that the information in the interview has not been confirmed by CBC.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Executive Producer of CBC Radio in Toronto, Joan Melanson, explained why the interview was removed and the reasons for the text provided, along with the reposted May 16th broadcast segment.

...we realized that it included information that we were unfamiliar with and were unable to confirm independently. As a result we took it [the interview] down temporarily until we could take a closer look. As I expect you understand, while we have an obligation to carry different points of view on controversial matters of public interest and concern, such as this one, we also have an obligation to ensure that those points of view are based on fact and presented in a fair and balanced fashion.

She added that the interview was to be narrowly focused on the decision to immunize children or not in the context of the proposed government legislation. She said since you had named a specific vaccine, and cited a number of deaths as a result of its use, there was a need to check the accuracy of the facts. The decision was made to add the text about the vaccine:

We wanted some confirmation that the information we are posting on our web page has a basis in fact. Moreover, we felt it should have been presented with some context to help listeners better understand its significance...We have now reposted the interview identifying you more fully, saying that we cannot independently confirm some information in the interview, and that the vaccine you referred to was approved for use by Health Canada between 1994 and 1997. It has since been replaced by a vaccine with much lower risk of side effects.

REVIEW

When the segment was reposted, it described you as a member of the board of Vaccine Choice Canada. You wrote to say you were no longer a member; the reference was corrected. This was a factual error and the appropriate measure was taken when it was pointed out. You are still concerned that you are listed as a former board member. I asked Ms. Melanson why they chose to describe you in this way. She said that she considered it important context for listeners to assess the information provided.

I understand that it is your preference that your former affiliation not be mentioned. It is not a policy violation for programmers to choose to mention it. It is factually correct, and provides some information about your background. CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices has this to say about identification of interviewees and Ms. Melanson thought it pertained in this case:

We make every effort to disclose the identity of interviewees and to give the context and explanations necessary for the audience to judge the relevance and credibility of their statements.

There is no violation in policy in describing you in this way. Programmers should take your wishes into account, but they are not bound by them. It may not be your preference, but it is not a misrepresentation because it is true.

Your second concern was that it is false to say the PENTA vaccine was never approved for use in Canada. You provided as proof the lack of a DIN (drug information number). Your logic does not hold up to scrutiny. PENTA is a combination of five vaccines, each of which would have had DINs, and Health Canada gave approval for the combining of them. This product had a notice of compliance which indicates that is was authorized for use in Canada. I have spoken with experts in the field and found journal articles, notably one from the Canadian Medical Association published in 1995 which indicate that “there are three Hib conjugate vaccines licensed in Canada for use in infants 2 months of age and older.” PENTA was one of them.

There is no inaccuracy and no violation of journalistic policy.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman