Opinion.

The complainant, Norman Swan, objected to an Opinion column critical of people having large families. He found it “disrespectful of family planning choices,” and he rejected the writer’s arguments for advocating for small families. It was a clearly-marked opinion piece on a contentious issue. Balance was provided by another article presenting a different point of view. Its tone does not constitute a violation of policy.

COMPLAINT

In January of this year cbcnews.ca published an essay in their Opinion section entitled: It shouldn’t be taboo to criticize parents for having too many kids.” Celebrity couple Chip and Joanna Gaines, who have a TV show called “Fixer Upper,” had announced they were expecting their fifth child. They were criticized by some for having such a large family. In her article, Kristen Pyszczyk defended those critics and gave a critique of her own. She stated that while a decision to have a child is a private matter, the impact of population size has global implications.

You strongly objected to the article. You said “we don’t need to talk about eugenics.”

I want to call out “callout” culture for the absolutely cancerous, annoying, spiteful, and hate-filled rhetoric that it is. This editorial is to me as hateful as a neo-Nazi advocating for genocide of Jewish peoples, gays, trans, Roma, and whosoever remains in their scope of victimization. I believe the author should do some self-reflection, and consider how hateful she comes across to parents.

You said Ms. Pyszczyk was the one being irresponsible, labelling the Gaines in that way for having five children. You pointed out raising children is an enormous responsibility:

People who have five children have a huge level of responsibility, and just because some millennial university student has been manipulated into thinking that she shouldn’t procreate to “save the planet” (as insane as the proposition is), doesn’t mean she should advocate for shaming others for their personal choices.

You questioned her invoking the notion that having more children could have an impact on climate change, and how this could, as the author asserted, have an impact on "everyone who inhabits our planet." You called that notion “insane.”

I would like to see actual evidence that relates a newborn child with climate change. This doesn’t exist as far as I know. If I have 1 kid right now, how much faster has the climate changed? Curious, as no evidence is given in this article.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Steve Ladurantaye, the Managing Editor of @cbcnews, responded to your complaint. He told you he did not agree that this article was “hateful.” The comparison to eugenics and Nazi activities is also wrong, he explained, because there is no talk of coercion or forcing her views on anyone else. She added that she herself refers to the fact that past policies that tried to control population through eugenics were “nasty.” However, she did advocate a discussion about the impact of population growth because it is a personal choice that affects everyone in some way.

He added that this article appeared in the Opinion section of the website. He explained that the mandate of this section is to seek out a wide range of views, and to ensure that they balance out over time:

The section’s mandate is to seek out a variety of perspectives on any number of issues, and most of the articles are pitched to us from writers who have something they want to share.

One of the things we look for when approving a pitch is newsworthiness – and in this case there had been a great deal of debate following a social media brouhaha about an HGTV couple.

Our other commitment on the Opinion site is to present alternate views on controversial subjects. We did this with a recent follow-up column, which I suspect some (may) find more to their taste.

REVIEW

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices has policy governing Opinion. There are two primary principles:

Our programs and platforms allow for the expression of a particular perspective or point of view. This content adds public understanding and debate on the issues of the day.

When presenting content (programs, program segments, or digital content) where a single opinion or point of view is featured, we ensure that a diversity of perspective is provided across a network or platform and in an appropriate time frame.

This was one particular take on the question of large families and the impact of overpopulation. Ms. Pyszczyk stated that there is an environmental impact of large population growth. Opinion should be based on facts. You questioned whether your, or anyone else’s, decision to have one more child has an impact on climate change. Her point is broader and a bit more nuanced than that and is backed up by a great deal of scientific evidence. She links to an article that paints a stark view of the future to make her point. There is ample evidence that human population has an impact on environment, some of which contributes to causes of global warming. You can reject the evidence or the link, but it does not make it an invalid point in putting this argument. I note that Ms. Pyszczyk also acknowledged that while population growth is a challenge, public policy to deal with it is fraught.

The fact you disagree and believe that the size of families is an individual choice to be honored is as valid as this one. That is the whole point of presenting a range of views and opinions - and, as Mr. Ladurantaye pointed out, there is another column presenting that point of view. Marni Soupcoff rebutts the previous column and clearly states:

Pyszczyk seems to be speaking in earnest when she declares, "It's not OK to have five kids without considering adoption." I hope it's clear I bring an equally sincere intent in declaring, "It's not OK to dictate how many kids other people should have."

The point of op-ed sections is to provide a range of perspectives so that individuals are exposed to views they may not agree with and have an opportunity to understand how others arrived at the opinions they hold. There was no violation of policy.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman