Balance and Tone.

The complainant, Roger Lagassé, thought an article about the imminent reinstatement of Russia at the close of the winter Olympics was biased and anti-Russian. The article featured the negative reactions from members of the Canadian delegation and laid out the Russian infractions and the IOC response. Coverage of the issue has been extensive, and balance is achieved over time. The lack of a Russian voice does not constitute a violation.

COMPLAINT

You were concerned about a “russophobic tone” in an article written about the reinstatement of Russian athletes for the closing ceremonies of the recent Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games. You found the anti-Russia tone of the article “disturbing” and lacking in balance.

… the article seems to lament the fact that exclusions have been lifted upon appeal. Also the article does not clearly indicate why the IOC, on the evidence and after a thorough investigation, would reinstate the Russians for the closing ceremony. As a follower of CBC I want to know how the nullified exclusions were brought about in the first place.

You called the article “unsportsmanlike” and inappropriate for CBC “to get on the bandwagon by publishing every defamatory remark of Pound and company.”

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Jack Nagler, the Director for Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement, replied to your complaint. He agreed the article had some deficiencies, but was basically a “straight-up account of what had happened to that point, while looking ahead to the possibility that Russia would be reinstated.” He wondered if you were reacting to the article’s “colour and analysis.” He noted that there was a “cheekiness” to the tone, especially at the start of the article, which may have led to the perception of bias. He pointed out that wry approach was not directed at Russia, and “its cheekiness is quite even-handed.”

He told you it was appropriate to have Canadian athletes and officials comment on the story as it is written from a Canadian perspective, and it included other voices as well:

… it describes some of the infighting within the IOC movement over how to handle the situation with Russia. It describes the performance of Russian athletes who had performed at the 2018 Games in spite of the ban, and it noted that a couple of those athletes had tested positive during the Games.

He noted that there was no “pro-Russian” voice in the piece, and that it was a reasonable critique to make. He added that balance is achieved over time and directed you to a piece published about a week later regarding the IOC’s reinstatement of Russia to Olympic membership.

REVIEW

The article in question focused on the imminent decision to reinstate Russia for the closing ceremony of the games. Other than the speculative and colorful opening paragraph, it lays out facts which have been well documented. The opening paragraph Mr. Nagler referenced is this:

With the 2018 Winter Olympics closing ceremony set for Sunday in Pyeongchang, one wonders if somewhere nearby there aren't boxes of new Russian uniforms waiting to be opened, each stamped with RUSSIA and in the country's full colours, along with Russian flags waiting to be unfurled.

This article is a feature, not a straight news report, and since there is no opinion it is not a violation to indulge in an unusual opening paragraph. The article goes on to lay out the consideration for reinstatement and features Canadian reaction to it - largely negative. Dick Pound is a senior Canadian IOC member. There is sound journalistic reason to include his comments. It also states that several IOC members have filed complaints against him. It makes journalistic sense to focus on Canadian reaction - including that of the president of the Canadian Olympic Committee who did not criticize the decision to reinstate, but rather said it would be up to individual athletes “whether to boycott the closing ceremony, should Russia be reinstated.”

The article also features luge athlete Sam Edney, who was highly critical of reinstatement. Again, there is a journalistic logic to seek his views as he and his team mates were directly affected by the doping scandal at the last Olympics in Sochi. The writers provided that background so his statements might be judged in that context.

The writers also pointed out that there had been two doping infractions by "Russians competing under the banner Olympic Athletes" at the Pyeongchang games, and that made reinstatement a topic of some discussion there. It is reasonable to critically question the thinking behind the reason to reinstate, given the conditions laid out to do so. Reporters use their knowledge and expertise to frame an article.

You noted there was information you considered important which was absent from this story. You said you wanted to know how the “nullified exclusions were brought about in the first place.” Reporting is iterative - to expect this article to go back over the history of the doping scandal is not realistic, given the extensive coverage at the time. I note the article also provided a link to a report on the extent of the scandal. You also said you wanted to know the reasons for lifting the ban. There is reference to the payment of a fine and a promise to live up to the letter of the agreement, but this article was published before the ban was actually officially lifted so it would not be possible to report on the details of the decision. It does very clearly lay out what the conditions for reinstatement would be:

In punishing the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), the IOC also set out terms for reinstatement to the Olympic movement, including rules for good behaviour, adherence to anti-doping and a $15-million US fine.

In return for meeting the "letter and spirit' of those conditions, the IOC spelled out that it "may partially or fully lift the suspension of the ROC from the commencement of the closing ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018."

On Saturday, the IOC executive board meets to hear the findings of a panel investigating the OAR conduct during these Games.

When the announcement was made, CBC News published another article, one that also provided a Russian perspective.

Mr. Nagler noted that there was no Russian voice in this article, and while it is preferable to have a range of perspectives, CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices indicates it is acceptable to provide a range of perspectives and voices over a reasonable period of time. CBC’s body of work on this subject has been extensive. There was no violation of policy.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman