Public figures get public scrutiny.

The complainant, Nimra Amjad, asked that articles about her be de-indexed. She thought that this would protect her from harassment that she said arose from them, but still maintain the record. Ms. Amjad was a candidate for school board trustee in Calgary. She is still in the public eye related to that campaign. The material is accurate and the public interest would not be served by hiding the stories which involve a complicated tale of alleged threats against her.

COMPLAINT

You were the subject of several articles published on cbcnews.ca last August and October. The stories dealt with allegations that you had received death threats and racist attacks when running for a position as a school board trustee in Calgary.

You stated that there were inaccuracies in the stories, and that your attempts to correct them had been ignored by news staff at CBC Calgary:

Ms. Amjad was a victim, and she continues to be victimized by the misrepresentation of facts and reality, causing others to contact her making demeaning, racist, anti-Muslim comments via any avenue they can find.

There were three stories - one published on August 17th which recounted the threats and reaction to them. All of this was occurring in the midst of an election for school board trustees. The second story ran a day later, featuring a response from the Mayor of Calgary. Two months later, a story was published stating that the police were ending the investigation into racist death threats. The complaint had been withdrawn. The man who was accused of making the threats had denied them and information came to light that you actually knew him. The details were somewhat complex and reporter Meghan Grant interviewed you to get your view of the story and its development. This was the story you said was inaccurate and that your attempts to correct it were ignored.

You requested that the articles be de-indexed - which means no longer searchable - in order to forestall further “de-meaning, racist, anti-Muslim comments” you had been receiving as a result of the coverage. You pointed out that de-indexing would leave the record intact, but the stories would not be searchable by your name. You believed the threats you had been receiving met the criteria set out in CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Senior Director for Journalism and Programming in Calgary, Helen Henderson, replied to your complaint. She told you that she considered your request to take the stories down and consulted with senior journalists. Their conclusion was that since you are “a public figure in a very public story during a major political event”, it would not be in accordance with CBC journalistic standards to alter the stories.

She reminded you that the reporter on this story, Meghan Grant, spoke with you and your husband at some length to get your perspectives on the police dropping the investigation and to comment on texts provided by the alleged perpetrator which showed that you knew each other:

This is a complex and sometimes troubling story, and having read and listened to the details again, I believe our reporter wrote a very fair and balanced story. During her interview with Ms. Grant, Ms. Amjad contradicted herself or revised her comments on several occasions, as she did in the follow-up emails. I could find no new facts, pertinent details or verifiable information in any of the post-interview correspondence.

She said that Ms. Grant did follow up on emails and did reply on several occasions but stopped doing so when the correspondence no longer presented new facts or information.

She told you if there were new facts that were relevant to the published stories, she would be happy to review them and take appropriate action.

REVIEW

CBC Journalistic Standards are based on a commitment to accuracy and fairness. There were three stories published between August 17th and October 14th. The first two reported that a candidate for school trustee had been the recipient of racist threats. The stories reported the threats and the reaction from politicians and others who denounced the threatened violence, especially against a woman of colour. The third story reported that you had dropped the complaint, and the police had ended the investigation. It also stated the alleged perpetrator denied sending the threats, and that the comments were sent from a cloned Facebook account, and not his primary one. He also stated that you had dated and provided text messages from you. The story is complex, but it includes not only your views and perspectives, but also those of Shawn Street and the police. It is left to readers to form their own conclusions about what transpired. I have listened to the recording of the interview, and the story reflects your remarks. There is no violation of policy in the story.

As for your request to de-index the articles - you are a public figure who sought elective office. There is a very high threshold of accountability to the public. The policy is quite clear that it is in very exceptional circumstances that material would be altered. I acknowledge the fallout and the attacks on social media are reprehensible - and women, especially women of colour, are frequently singled out. There are always competing values in making this kind of decision. In this case, the public nature of the events and the fact that they occurred during an election must be the primary consideration. That was true in the context of the stories published in the summer and fall. It is even more compelling, as you have been in the news again. At the end of January, you were charged under the Local Authorities Election Act. According to police, “It is alleged that the candidate filed both a notice of intent to run and a nomination acceptance form, swearing or affirming she had read the eligibility requirements and was legally eligible to run." The police base the charge on their belief you were not eligible to run in the election because you may not have been a Canadian citizen. These are only charges, and they have not yet been proven, but you are still very much in the public eye, and it is an important part of the public record to maintain those earlier reports.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman