A high bar for removing a story.

The reality of the permanence of online news stories leads to requests for removal of articles.

The right to control over one’s information and the right of free expression can sometimes clash. The norm in most news organizations is to resist requests to remove stories. “Unpublishing is rare.” Masse Sahar asked that a story about him published in 2015 be removed. CBC management declined, and their decision conformed to CBC policy.

COMPLAINT

In June 2015, CBC News in Calgary published a feature story about you. You had just bought a halal butcher shop in the city. Your debut as a butcher began during Ramadan. It is a short article, noting that you were learning on the job in a time of high demand. You have asked that the story be removed. You pointed out that you sold the shop and no longer work there. You said it is affecting your ability to find another job “as well as some personal privacy issues.” You stated that someone is “bullying to defame you”, based on the photo and your name being online.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

You received responses from two programmers at CBC Calgary. Christine Boyd, the senior Digital Producer in Calgary, told you that it is only in extraordinary circumstances that stories are removed from the website because “it is a matter of the public record and public trust.”

Selectively changing stories or removing them altogether diminishes transparency and trust with readers. You can read our policy, which falls under our Journalistic Standards and Practices, here under the "Requests for deletion" tab:

http://www.cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/reporting-to-canadians/acts-and-policies/programming/journalism/complaints/

I might add that although I can only speak for CBC News, I think you will find this policy is common to credible print and electronic news organizations around the world. If a story is inaccurate, we will correct it and advise readers that we have changed it.

She added if relevant new information emerges the story can be updated, or the news staff might do a follow-up story.

You also heard from Kathleen Petty, Executive Producer of CBC News in Calgary, who reiterated that your request did not meet the criteria for removal.

REVIEW

As both Ms. Petty and Ms. Boyd mentioned, CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices only allow for removal of a story under exceptional circumstances:

Because much online material remains accessible indefinitely, we receive requests to remove stories by audience members who are either principals in stories, or are affected by them.

We generally do not agree to requests to remove published material from our web pages.

Our published content is a matter of public record. To change the content of previously published material alters that record. Altering the record could undermine our credibility and the public’s trust in our journalism.

There can be exceptions to this position– where there are legal or personal safety considerations to the person named.

Requests to remove material should be referred to the Director.

In the digital age, the right to be forgotten is a challenge of competing values and principles. Individuals have at least some right to control over information about themselves, and that must be weighed against the journalistic principle of maintaining the public record. There is nothing harmful or negative about you in this article, and I am aware a similar story was published in the Calgary Herald newspaper. The story was not done surreptitiously, but with your co-operation.

It does not meet the policy criteria for its removal.

You also mentioned that you are subject to some form of bullying based on the photo in the picture. It is a sad reality of our times that social media platforms are filled with hateful comments and trolling. The remedy there is with the social media platform enabling the bully.

I also note that you have moved on and sold the store. It would not be unreasonable for the story to note that is case as an update.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman