There’s more than one way to find balance.

The complainant, Mary MacDonald, objected to coverage on The National of the anti-Islamophobia motion. She pointed out that all three of the interviewees, including the MP who sponsored it, were in favor of the motion. The focus of the piece was to ask them all why the resolution was phrased the way it was and why it couldn’t be changed to satisfy critics. In that context, there was no violation of policy.

COMPLAINT

You wrote because you were concerned that The National’s treatment of a story about Motion M-103, a resolution condemning Islamophobia which was before the House of Commons, lacked balance. You pointed out that guest host Diana Swain interviewed three people and all of them supported the motion - there were no dissenting opinions as part of the broadcast. You added the only criticism of the motion presented was in a video clip of MP Iqra Khalid in the House of Commons reading out emails she had received, and they were extreme:

Therefore, it is evident that dissenting opinions exist with respect to Motion M-103, but for unexplained reasons the CBC chose not to interview or invite these individuals to appear on the news program. The opinions and perspectives of 3 individuals were presented, with no balance or fairness in the overall framing of the matter under consideration. The perception that was conveyed to the public by this lack of balanced and fair presentation of commentary was that those opposed to Motion M-103 were a lunatic fringe.

You said that other more temperate views and criticisms were expressed during the House debate and elsewhere, and you wanted to know why CBC News did not feature that perspective.

You also questioned the credentials of one of the panelists, Nora Loreto, who you characterized as “left-wing” based on her posts on social media. You asked what qualified a freelance writer from Quebec to speak to this issue, and why “her opinions were relevant.”

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Executive Producer of The National, Don Spandier, replied to your concerns. He explained that the host, Diana Swain, provided the balance in the discussion. He said she challenged all three guests on their views in the course of the interviews. The balance was achieved through her questioning of their positions:

The host of The National that day, Diana Swain, challenged all the people she interviewed regarding their opinions. In our efforts for fairness and balance, our CBC journalists, in this case Ms. Swain, are as vital to the information we supply to the public as are the guests we interview. Dissent was clearly evident in the questions posed to these guests.

Both Amira Elghawaby, from the National Council of Canadian Muslims, and Nora Loreto, were asked probing questions about support, and opposition to the motion.

REVIEW

The CBC Journalistic Standard and Practices addresses balance this way:

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.

There is no policy requirement to present all views and perspectives in every story. I note that The National presented several stories about the proposal and the passage of this private member’s motion, as well as the opposition and protest around it. Two nights before the broadcast you cited there was a news report which featured statements from Conservative Members of Parliament who expressed concern that the motion would ultimately lead to a challenge to freedom of speech. For example, Lisa Raitt was featured stating: “What I am hearing about from my constituents is that they are worried they will not be able to say certain things - for example, criticizing Sharia law”. Andrew Scheer echoed that by saying “I am also concerned that these types of motions can lead to bills that limit free speech. Other stories later in February quoted others who had the same criticism and concern. The reports emphasized the objection in many cases was against the use of the word “Islamophobia” in the motion. There was also analysis from the “At Issue” panel pointing out that both the Liberals and Conservatives were playing politics, citing that the Conservative party had proposed similar wording in a proposed amendment, but the Liberals rejected it. It was that issue the coverage you cited was dealing with. It was presented in that way - exploring why there was no flexibility on the inclusion of the term “Islamophobia”. Host Diana Swain clearly framed it in her introduction:

Her motion against religious intolerance unleashed a torrent of hate, but not all critics are extreme. We ask Iqra Khalid about their concerns. She wants fellow MPs to denounce religious intolerance. We ask why she wouldn't compromise by taking out the word "Islamophobia." Liberal MP Iqra Khalid on her controversial motion against Islamophobia.

In the course of the interview Ms. Swain mentioned that not all the opposition is as extreme as the emails Ms. Khalid read out in the House of Commons. She asked Ms. Khalid why she insisted in phrasing the motion the way she did and more than once to explain her thinking:

And yet, not all of the reaction has been as extreme. Still, there are others who oppose it who say that you're elevating one religion above another or that by putting it in there, you inflame a conversation in which Canadians could otherwise all support the motion. Why is it necessary to you?

You were critical that the two guests who were interviewed after Ms. Khalid were also supporters of Motion M-103. I asked the senior producer who supervised the production of the segment why critics were not included. He explained the purpose of the piece was not to rehash the political debate, but to press those who supported the motion to defend their position. The producers also thought it made sense to ask that of someone whose community was directly affected. Nora Loreto had written on the subject and was knowledgeable about the event that had sparked this motion - the massacre at the Quebec City mosque. Her responses were analytic and did not involve advocacy. Ms. Swain put the position and concern of opponents to both participants, emphasizing they should not be characterized as extreme:

But, of course, there has been a range of opinion on the opposition side, some of it very extreme but some of it not. There are others who say, Nora, for instance, this is legislation that isn't needed. Especially to isolate the word "Islamophobia," that that would elevate Islam beyond other religions. Wouldn't it be better if this just spoke to the need for religious tolerance generally?

You thought that Ms. Swain wasn’t forceful enough. Nevertheless, she questioned supporters about their position and challenged them by fairly characterizing the concerns of critics. This was one part of extensive coverage which presented a range of views. There was no violation of CBC policy.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman