How does the CBC Ombudsman proceed when a complaint is received?
The Ombudsman receives several hundred complaints per year. S/he will start by asking those overseeing the program(s) in question to respond directly to the complainant. The Ombudsman launches a review only if it is requested by a complainant who is not satisfied with the response from the programmer. In that case, the Ombudsman conducts an investigation to establish the facts by asking questions of the complainant, CBC employees, or any other sources that could shed light on the matter. Unless specified otherwise, all interviews the Ombudsman conducts are not confidential, and may be referred to in the Ombudsman’s decision posted on his/her website. In the interest of transparency, the names of complainants and journalists concerned are also generally made public.
What mechanisms are used to guarantee that the process remains fair?
The independence of the Office is enshrined in the Ombudsman’s mandate. People from outside CBC are involved in the Ombudsman selection process. The Ombudsman is appointed for a five-year term, and can’t be fired simply because what s/he says displeases CBC. S/he can be dismissed only for dereliction of duty or gross misconduct.
Canadians sometimes ask the Ombudsman how s/he can possibly remain impartial and at arm’s length, in that CBC pays his/her salary. The Ombudsman invites anyone asking this legitimate question to read his/her many reviews and judge for themselves as to their fairness. Sometimes the Ombudsman deems the complaint justified, and sometimes not – but his/her reviews always provide a transparent explanation of what transpired.
The Ombudsman does everything s/he can to keep the process fair:
- To gather the facts, the Ombudsman agrees to listen with an open mind, without taking sides, to what all parties involved have to say.
- As needed, the Ombudsman watches / listens to interviews or other material that did not go to air.
- S/he conducts an independent investigation into allegations made by all parties.
- S/he explains to the public the journalistic process that led up to the broadcast, along with the context in which the information was aired.
- The Ombudsman determines the scope of his/her investigation based on the complexity of the complaint.
What criteria does the Ombudsman use to evaluate complaints?
The Ombudsman employs specific criteria in evaluating the merits of complaints. In short, all information that goes to air must be fair, honest and accurate, and never false, biased, dishonest, or unbalanced. These are key principles laid out in the CBC’s journalistic code, Journalistic Standards and Practices.
What’s the end result?
The Office of the Ombudsman is not a court of law. If you’d prefer that a judge rule on your complaint and impose a penalty, you’ve come to the wrong place. The Ombudsman has moral authority over CBC, and his/her reviews are made public, which lends them credibility. Should the Ombudsman recommend a correction, CBC is free to act on or disregard the suggestion. The Ombudsmen also publish an annual report that may include specific recommendations about policy and practice to senior management and the Board of Directors. The Ombudsman has no say in managing employees, and issues no recommendations in that regard. The Office of the Ombudsman therefore provides non-legal recourse available to all Canadians free of charge, so they can obtain an independent opinion on the work of CBC journalists.
What happens once the Ombudsman receives my complaint?
The Ombudsman gives CBC 20 business days to respond directly to you. If you are dissatisfied with the response you get from management, you then have three months to request that the Ombudsman look into the matter. Click here for a detailed look at what happens to your complaint upon receipt.