Using YouTube - verify verify verify

The complainant, Alain Ducharme, noted that a report on a the local Ottawa newscast concerning an incident involving an airline and a drone also included discredited footage of an alleged drone-aircraft collision. He said it brought the whole story into question. He was right about the footage. The error was quickly caught and corrected, but it never should have happened.

COMPLAINT

You complained about a story which aired on the supper hour newscast on CBC News in Ottawa. You pointed out it contained falsified video footage of a drone damaging an airplane wing, an event that never occurred. You said the video had been “completely fabricated.”

CBC News did not verify its sources, fabricated the claim that this "was reported by a passenger", ignored common sense physics, and is misleading everyone with erroneous false information.

I would appreciate it if measures could be put in place to prevent reckless false reporting such as this from occurring in the future.

The footage purporting to be a video taken by a passenger on a New York bound flight being hit by a drone was used in the context of a story about the air crew on a Montreal-to-Ottawa flight, reporting they had to avoid a drone on approach.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Managing Editor of CBC News in Ottawa, Ruth Zowdu, replied to your complaint. She agreed with you that the reporter had used fake video as part of the story - that was the part that was not accurate. However, the broader story, the one about the Air Canada pilot reporting the need to avoid a drone when landing in Ottawa, was correct. She agreed that using the footage from the internet was “sloppy journalism and did not meet CBC standards and practices.” She acknowledged this undermined the credibility of the entire story.

She explained that the error was noted shortly after broadcast, and that that particular version of the broadcast was removed from the internet. She told you the entire CBC News system was alerted and the recording was pulled. Given the magnitude of the error, an on-air apology was broadcast on the supper-hour newscast the next day. She also mentioned that the executive producer of the programme met with both the reporter and the producer who did the story to review the correct process and procedures for verifying found video. She told you:

There is no excuse for this mistake. We apologize for it unreservedly and have taken steps to ensure this kind of mistake never happens again. We have been open with the audience about it. We hope that by being clear about our error we can maintain the trust the audience has placed in us.

REVIEW

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices puts accuracy as the first guiding principle. No one is disputing that it was breached in this case. The story was not actually about the incident in New York, but about a verifiable one which occurred in Ottawa. A version of the story, entitled Flight crew spots drone flying near Ottawa airport reported, based on air traffic chatter, that a crew had to take action to avoid a drone spotted as they were on final approach to land. The offending television version added a mention of an alleged event involving a plane and a drone near New York City. The television story began with the events of the day:

Air Canada flight 8975 out of Montreal was making its final approach to the Ottawa runway at 5:15 pm yesterday when the pilot made this report to the airport's air traffic controllers:

TOWER WE JUST HAD TO AVOID A DRONE HERE - FINAL JUST WENT PAST OUR WEST WING.

Although the plane landed safely, just minutes later, with no passenger injuries - the incident with the drone or UAV was too close for comfort for airport officials.

Marc Laroche, President & CEO, Ottawa International Airport Authority:

ONCE IS TOO OFTEN - AND IT IS BEING INCREASED BECAUSE MORE AND MORE RECREATIONAL UAVS ARE BEING SOLD AND BOUGHT.

One of the reasons this was newsworthy is because transportation safety officials are concerned about the growing use of these unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. To that end, the reporter chose to add the discredited video and this line:

And incidents such as this one, recorded by a passenger flying into New York City - have officials coming up with rules to make the sky safer.

With the removal of the line, there is no issue with the story. I completely agree with Ms. Zowdu that this was unacceptably sloppy. There is policy that outlines best practice in the use of user-generated content:

CBC is responsible for all content on its news sites. This policy covers text, image, video or audio contributions from the public which are incorporated into news coverage on any platform.

Material that originates from a non-CBC source is clearly identified as such.

Before text, image, video or audio is published, its provenance and accuracy is verified.

In exceptional circumstances, it may be difficult to authenticate a contribution. There may be times where, because of timeliness or if it is in the public interest, we decide to publish without full verification. We are clear with the audience about what we know. The decision to publish material without full authentication must be referred to the Director.

The story was assigned late in the day, and there was a major breach in the inclusion of this video. As one senior staff member said to me, there was a lapse in judgement for which there is no excuse. The reporter and producer forgot to check - she added that it was a painful reminder and the news team are being careful.

The error was spotted quickly and the news staff followed policy around correction of errors, including an on-air acknowledgement the next day.

You expressed concern that it was not clear what had been done to prevent this from happening again. Ms. Zowdu told you the incident was carefully reviewed with staff. I have no doubt this reporter will not take images from the internet without very carefully scrutinizing them. Having said that, CBC News managers might want to ensure that all news staff is familiar with the process for using unverified video to avoid this sort of error. They might consider some guidelines of a checklist that could be consulted for consistency.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman