Beware of Generalizations.

The complainant, Mr. Marco Mura, objected to the characterization of the government of Turkey as “fundamentalist.” I agree that the term is too broad to be accurate in this context. Adjectives are seldom a news writer’s friend.

COMPLAINT

On December 7, 2016, The World at Six ran a feature about women fighting for their rights and protection under the law in Turkey. You had concerns about the piece. I note the length of time it has taken to come to review due to an unfortunate set of circumstances. You first sent your complaint to another CBC department for response, and when you were not given a satisfactory answer, in April you submitted your concern through the CRTC, who forwarded it to my office. I regret the difficulty.

You stated that the introduction of the piece, presented by The World at Six host Susan Bonner, contained “false and misleading” information when it described the Turkish government as “fundamentalist.” You said “defining the Turkish government as "fundamentalist" is grotesque and baseless.” This raised concerns for you that CBC was “responding to a political agenda by vilifying another country without proven reasons.”

Definitely CBC could express its disagreement or concern about any political choice of a foreign country, but without calling it with vilifying and misleading names. We all know what "fundamentalist" means in the current lexicon. This is even more concerning, as this is a radio funded by taxpayers.

You noted the Turkish government is elected democratically every five years, has been taking a leading role in the fight against ISIS and has the largest refugee population in the world. You asked that the statement be retracted.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Managing Editor of Radio and Television News, Paul Hambleton, replied to your complaint. He gave some context that arose from the story being broadcast. He told you that by December 2016, 220 women had been murdered that year in Turkey and there was evidence of other erosion of women’s position in society. The segment profiled an initiative to train thousands of lawyers to fight for women’s existing rights. He added that there have been concerns about human rights violations in the country since the attempted coup of 2016 and the more recent referendum:

The story was done in the wider context of Erdoğan's moves over time to follow a more religious direction in Turkey. While I agree it may be using too wide a brush to call the government fully fundamentalist, there is little doubt that it has moved in a direction more in line with traditional values for women, values associated typically with fundamentalism.

He said the use of the term “fundamentalist” was not meant to be pejorative, it “was meant merely to describe the shifts going on under his [President Erdoğan] rule.” He appreciated your feedback about the use of the word and how it can be interpreted and would take it into consideration moving forward.

REVIEW

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices calls for “quality and precision” in language.” One of the principles governing language use is the following:

The use of certain highly charged words can undermine credibility and merits special consideration. Language is constantly evolving. We will be attentive to shifts in the meaning of words. We consult language resources and editorial management as needed to grasp the impact of expressions that are open to multiple interpretations and capable of offending some audience members.

The feature on The World at Six documented a shift in the treatment and attitudes about women in a country whose laws provide equality, but whose practice is changing. The piece was introduced this way:

In Turkey, it’s women who are feeling vulnerable. More than 220 women have been killed since the start of the year. It’s a country where women were once treated as equals but that has changed since the election of the fundamentalist government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan more than a decade ago. Now a bold new initiative is pushing back with thousands of lawyers being trained to fight for the rights of Turkish women. More on that from Nil Koksal in Istanbul.

The report makes the case in a factual manner that practice is shifting in ways that are associated with a more fundamentalist view of women, although not only with Islamic fundamentalists. That is the scope of the piece. It is far beyond the scope of this review to provide a detailed analysis of what is occurring in Turkey. Mr. Hambleton is backed up by the facts when he says there is growing concern for human rights in that country. The tension between secularists and traditionalists is an ongoing one in Turkey, and its form of government and society are undergoing some major shifts. The shorthand use of the word in this introduction is far too broad and the meaning of the term far too imprecise to meet the standards set out in the policy, nor does it accurately capture the shifting political reality. While I don’t think it “vilifies” the country or its government, it reinforces something I have stated many times before - descriptors of this sort, along with words like “left and right wing,” are too broad and imprecise to convey any useful information. In the absence of any explanation, its use was inappropriate in this case. Mr. Hambleton said your complaint made them more mindful of the pitfalls. That is a good thing - and CBC News management might want to provide further guidance on the use of imprecise words.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman