The complainants, Nelia Rodrigues and Sandra Bento, who are relatives, objected to an interview on the London Morning Show with Marco Rodrigues. He had publicly ended his relationship with his parents due to the fact that he said they had rejected him because he was gay.
The relatives disputed his version of events and the way some family members were portrayed. Their views were not sought before publication. This was a breach of journalistic standards. First-person narratives are acceptable - in this case, since it involved others, they should have been given a chance to respond before airing and publishing an article on the website.
You objected to an airing of an interview with your brother Marco Rodrigues on the London morning show on September 8, 2017. Your concerns also pertain to an article based on the interview which is on cbcnews.ca. Your brother had publicly posted on Facebook regarding his feelings about your parents and their treatment of him because he is gay. In the article, he said he was ending any relationship with them due to their refusal to attend a family wedding because Mr. Rodrigues, his partner and son were going to be there. He also asked people to message or write his mother to support him. You thought the article was filled with inaccuracies, and only had his point of view and version of events going back 17 years when he first came out to the family. You said “the one-sided story is misleading and based on false allegations to make Mr. Rodrigues’ story more compelling.”
The problem with CBC’s story is Mr. Rodrigues was dishonest, his claims were not verified prior to airing, and the family was not contacted. The story was imbalanced and unfair.
You provided detail about an earlier post which gave your mother’s address and tagged the church your family attends. This was very stressful for your mother, and led to her being harassed on line. In response to that development, she blocked your brother from her Facebook account. Mr. Rodrigues deleted the church tag and the family address, but left the request that people reach out to your mother to provide other perspectives and to support him.
You are concerned that by leaving in that request, CBC is furthering your mother’s harassment and vulnerability to online trolling.
Your cousin also contributed to the correspondence with this office, and both of you were involved in conversations with staff at CBC London:
In your story, CBC informed their audience to reach out to Mr. Rodrigues’ mother through his Facebook at his request. After the story aired and was posted, we reached out to notify CBC that Mr. Rodrigues’ mother, Laura Rodrigues, does not speak, read and write in English. Your story negatively impacted our parents and added to the online backlash targeting our mother originating from Mr. Rodrigues’ Facebook post.
You contacted the host of London Morning, Rebecca Zandbergen, after the airing of the interview. You pointed out to her what you said were discrepancies and inaccuracies. You provided alternate versions of Mr. Rodrigues’ account of leaving home because of his parents’ reaction to his coming out. You asked why your mother was not given a chance to present her version of the relationship. You provided photos and messages showing positive interaction between Mr. Rodrigues and his mother. You felt that she did not believe you:
On the phone with myself, Ms. Zandbergen did emphasize that Marco’s parents by not going to our family wedding because he is gay was the story. She did not fact-check or do her due diligence measuring up to CBC’s journalistic standards. If Mr. Rodrigues was a straight man lashing out against his parents through a public Facebook post would it amount to a CBC story? She did not seem interested in anything else that did not agree with Mr. Rodrigues’ version because if it did there would be no story for her.
The Executive Producer at CBC London, Bernard Graham, responded to your concerns. He told you that the team at CBC London decided to interview your brother because it was a compelling personal story of a gay man who felt rejected by his family. He said there was a public interest to let the citizens of London know and understand “the forces and events that are affecting our community.” He pointed out that the use of the first-person narrative, telling one person’s view of their experience, was a legitimate way to tell that story. He reminded you that Mr. Rodrigues’ post on Facebook was public:
Ms. Zandbergen contacted Mr. Rodrigues to ask more about his experience. He told her that he attended his nephew's wedding that past weekend with his partner and his partner's son. But, he said, his parents had refused to come because he and his partner were planning to be there. As a result, he said, he had decided to say goodbye to his parents.
It was one man’s experience, a personal story that we thought might reflect the experiences of others. On the strength of that, we asked Mr. Rodrigues to come into the London Morning studio on Friday, Sept. 8, for an interview. Later that day, we posted a story based on the interview on the CBC News London page.
He told you that the earlier post you said was on Mr. Rodrigues’ Facebook account written in Portuguese was not mentioned in the reporting, nor was it seen by CBC staff. He understood that you were concerned about online harassment of your mother. He pointed out that there is no link to any Facebook stories, and there is only the mention that your brother asked people to reach out to your mother to show her one could accept gay family members. She was not named, nor was her church identified.
He confirmed that you and your cousin spoke to Ms. Zandbergen at some length. He also mentioned that when she asked if you would go on record and be interviewed to bring your perspective on the issues, you declined. He said that in this case the story was laid out for people to draw their own conclusions. He told you that in hindsight, it would have been useful to acknowledge the family’s view in some way:
I think the story should have acknowledged that some members of Mr. Rodrigues’ family do not share his view of the way he was treated. We propose adding a note at the end of the online story. In it, we would state that family members have a different view of events and the relationship with Mr. Rodrigues.
CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices lays out expectations of balance and fairness:
In our information gathering and reporting, we treat individuals and organizations with openness and respect. We are mindful of their rights. We treat them even-handedly.
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.
Embedded in these values - and expressed elsewhere in the JSP - is the obligation to allow those whose actions or reputation are being called into question the right to give their view and perspective.
Ms. Zandbergen told me she uses public Facebook posts as a source for stories. This one struck her as compelling and relevant. Using Facebook in this fashion is entirely legitimate. It is also legitimate to explore a particular issue or experience from the point of view of one of the people involved. Asking Mr. Rodrigues about his experience with his family and exploring the feelings of rejection was acceptable. In reporting, truth is iterative - and, in most cases, and certainly within families, there is more than one truth. Having said that, there was a failure to live up to the standards laid out in the JSP. Mr. Rodrigues was talking about his feelings, but he also said things about other members of his family. While Mr. Graham is right, it is not necessary or an obligation to come to some perfect truth, there is an obligation to ensure those other views are represented. I acknowledge you declined to be interviewed or quoted, and that is entirely your choice, but it does make it more difficult to fully present your perspective. A phone call to the family before airing would have made it possible to note that some members dispute Mr. Rodrigues’ interpretation of events. Mr. Graham mentioned he regretted not doing so. It’s never too late - I strongly recommend that the story be amended to reflect that fact. I also want to emphasize that the story from Mr. Rodrigues’ perspective was a legitimate thing to publish, but it lacked the necessary balance, and the rigor to have sought those other views before publication. It would not be possible to verify every detail, but to have taken a Facebook post at face value is not good journalistic practice.
As for the other issues you raised about an earlier Facebook post, it was not seen by the radio host, nor was it referenced in any way. Your dispute with Mr. Rodrigues about it or how it came to be is not relevant to this review.
Ms. Zandbergen explained why the reference to Mr. Rodrigues’ call to reach out to his mother was included. She did not see it as a call to harass her, but rather a way to reach out:
Afterward, Rodrigues wrote a passionate Facebook plea asking people to reach out to his mother. "To kind of see if other people could convince her that it's not so horrible to be gay anymore. You're not going to compromise your own beliefs or your own cultural background or religion, just because you're accepting your son."
The on-air interview also explored his reasoning. It provided no encouragement:
What were you asking people to tell your mother, to message your mother?
Just you know, to try and kind of see if other people could convince her that, you know, it’s not so horrible to be gay anymore, right? You’re not going to compromise your own beliefs or your own cultural background or religion just because you’re accepting your son, and my hope was that if enough people messaged, especially other parents of gay children who do accept them, it might change her point of view a little and make these situations a little easier in the future.
I already stated that it was not necessary to challenge Mr. Rodrigues’ narrative about his life. I would add that some critical questioning about his statement that he was asking people to write his mother to “message her support for us and our beautiful family” - and that “hateful people have to understand that there is more love in the world than hatred” - might have provided some balance. CBC London may want to ensure that even with personal stories, when others are touched or mentioned, normal journalistic practice is followed.