After a very long time I received a response to a complaint I lodged against the CBC's Don Newman. And it was written by a person who doesn't even know how to use apostrophes. Perhaps she's part of a Grade 10 Journalism Intern program they have running?! If you wish to read in chronological order then start from the bottom.
Dear Ms. Kinch,
I am not remotely satisfied with your response. You are simply stating the CBC "company line". I understand your situation though because failure to do so would eliminate your employment there. Sadly, my tax dollars just paid for your time to write me a completely worthless letter. I will refrain from making future legitimate complaints for it is purely a waste of time, energy, and money.
February 3, 2009
Vancouver, British Columbia
Dear Mr. Werner:
Thank you for your e-mail of December 5 addressed to Vince Carlin, CBC Ombudsman. Since CBC Newsworld is part of my remit, I would like to reply. Please accept my apologies for the delay in doing so.
You wrote to draw our attention to interviews done by Don Newman, CBC News Senior Parliamentary Editor, over the preceding week. They are highly partisan …despicable, divisive and downright dangerous, you wrote.
Let me begin by saying that I sincerely regret that you are disappointed in CBC. I can assure you that the CBC prides itself on the excellence of its journalism. We take very seriously any assertion that our journalism is inaccurate, biased or unfair, or in any way fails to meet the rigorous criteria set out in the CBCs Journalistic Standards and Practices. Where criticisms are justified, we take immediate corrective action.
However, in this case - and I say this with respect - I strongly disagree with your assessment of our coverage and of Mr. Newman. Let me respond first to the several examples of the shortcomings you found.
In an interview with Transport Minister John Baird, you wrote, Mr. Newman was antagonistic, rude and utterly dismissive …objecting to most everything he said. Although you did not say so, I expect you are referring to an interview broadcast at about 6:30am PT (9:30am ET), on Thursday, December 4.
Regrettably you were not specific about the shortcomings you found, so it is difficult for me to reply in any detail.
It is fair to say that John Baird is a respected Conservative cabinet minister. He is articulate, outspoken, a skilled debater and a staunch defender of the government. Within minutes of the Prime Ministers arrival at the Governor Generals residence Thursday morning, Mr. Baird was in the foyer of the House of Commons making himself available to reporters, including Mr. Newman. He was there to sell the governments point of view and he put the case skillfully and in unmistakable language.
But Mr. Newman or any other CBC journalist would fail in his responsibility if he simply offered Mr. Baird a platform to express his views. Of course, he encouraged Mr. Baird to explain his point of view, clearly Canadians are interested, and it is CBCs obligation to give them the opportunity to hear it. But it is also an interviewers responsibility to test those views and that is what Mr. Newman did. That is part of the give and take of an interview: politicians understandably want to present (spin) their point of view in the most favorable way, while it is a journalists task to question assumptions, to challenge, to point out there are other views.
Of course, that is not always easy to do. Politicians in this age of communication understand the media like never before. They are practiced and usually trained in how to focus their message, convey it succinctly and skirt difficult questions until time runs out. A journalist who persists may be seen as rude, arrogant or disrespectful when that is certainly not his intention.
Nor do I believe it was the case here. I can tell you that a careful viewing will find the two men smiling at each other on a number of occasions during the interview, including at the end when they exchanged pleasantries and shared a laugh. Mr. Baird certainly appeared to take no offence, nor, as I said, did Mr. Newman intend any.
You contrasted Mr. Newmans objections to Mr. Baird with the fact that he did not object to the outrageous comment by Liberal MP Derek Lee comparing the Prime Ministers request to prorogue Parliament to the burning of the Reichstag in 1933.
Just after 8am PT (11am ET) that morning, Mr. Newman interviewed Mr. Lee, the Liberal MP from Scarborough - Rouge River and chair of the Liberal Partys Toronto caucus. Mr. Newman introduced him as an expert on Parliamentary procedure and committee procedure and asked what he made of the extraordinary events of the previous few days.
Mr. Lee replied:
…the main issue is confidence of the House. That runs through everything. In history youve had other governments that have tried to turn out the lights in Parliament. I think it happened in Germany once when somebody tried to burn down the Bundestag [sic].
A hyperbolic comparison, no doubt. But as I am sure you will recall, it was a time of hyperbole on all sides. Mr. Lee went on to explain that in his view the Prime Minister is essentially asking the Governor General to adjourn Parliament, not something that she does. The Governor General can accede to a request to prorogue, he added, but it would be tantamount to shutting off the lights in Parliament and shutting down Parliament. Although he couched it in inflated language, Parliamentary experts argue the distinction is a significant one. Rather than asking for prorogation, he suggested the Governor General take the Prime Ministers request under advisement until the following Tuesday, the day after the scheduled vote of no-confidence. That is Mr. Lees opinion, of course.
It is CBCs mandate, part of its obligation under the federal Broadcasting Act, to carry different points of view on controversial matters of public interest and concern like this one. Indeed, allowing the expression of the widest possible range of views is at the heart of the notion of fairness and balance in journalism. However, it is not the CBCs obligation to determine what views are acceptable (a truly dangerous notion for any broadcaster), but only to present differing views fairly and accurately affording Canadians the opportunity and the information they need to make up their own minds about the nature or quality of the views expressed. No doubt Canadians would draw their own conclusions about Mr. Lees comparison as the writer of the National Post article you drew to our attention did (Losers and bigger losers on Parliament Hill: A week in which nobody impressed the public - December 4).
You also pointed to what you feel is Mr. Newmans very one-sided diatribe initially posted on December 5 on CBC NEWS.CA under the headline, The coalition crisis and the lessons learned.
Again, it is difficult for me to reply in any detail, since you were not specific about the partisanship you found. However - although CBC NEWS.CA is not part of my remit - I can tell you that in this case Mr. Newman, an award-winning journalist and host of CBC Newsworlds POLITICS, widely regarded as a must-watch program in Ottawa, offered his analysis and insight into the extraordinary events that took place over the first week of December. Under CBCs Journalistic Standards and Practices journalists are free to reach conclusions on their own based on facts. As Mr. Newman did here.
Finally, you suggested that Mr. Newman does not meet the criteria for fair and balanced reporting, set out by former CBC News Publisher John Cruickshank in a letter posted on September 29 under the headline, We erred in our judgment. While Mr. Cruickshanks letter emphasized the importance to every news organization of including opinions, it focused on the reasons a recent opinion column by writer Heather Mallick was inappropriate and should not have been posted on the CBC News site. He was not referring to reporting. Again with respect, I can assure you that there is nothing in Mr. Newmans work that would even remotely match Mr. Cruickshanks description of Ms. Mallicks column.
On a broader front, I can also assure you that by any measure, the CBCs journalistic code of ethics is considered to be rigorous, comprehensive, and detailed. It is formulated in our own handbook of Journalistic Standards and Practices, which stresses lack of bias in reporting. It is distributed to our journalists, producers, editors and managers at all levels of the Corporation in Canada and abroad. We expect them to be familiar with and follow it scrupulously. If you wish to read it, it is also publicly available on the CBC website.
Thank you again for your e-mail. I hope my reply has reassured you of the continuing integrity of CBC News.
It is also my responsibility to inform you that if you are not satisfied with this response, you may wish to submit the matter for review by Vince Carlin, CBC Ombudsman. The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent and impartial body reporting directly to the President, is responsible for evaluating program compliance with the CBC's journalistic policies. Mr. Carlin may be reached by mail at the address shown below, or by fax at (416) 205-2825, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Director, CBC Newsworld
P.O. Box 500, Station A,
Toronto, Ontario M5W 1E6
cc. Vince Carlin, CBC Ombudsman
Director, CBC Newsworld
Please note my email address has changed to email@example.com
>>> CBC Ombudsman 07-Dec-08 4:33 PM >>>
Dear Robert Werner:
I write to acknowledge your e-mail which I am sharing with Jennifer McGuire, interim Publisher of CBC News, along with the request that your concerns be addressed.
Dear Mr. Carlin:
As you very well know, our great country has gone through the most
significant constitutional crisis of our lifetime. To say that it was, and
still is, an extremely serious situation would be the understatement of the
millennium. The actions of Don Newman throughout all of this have been
nothing short of despicable, divisive, and downright dangerous. If he were
merely an editorial pundit then I could offer little objection. But a major
portion of his role at the taxpayer supported CBC is to be a fair & balanced
moderator. In this capacity he earns an 'F'.
His behaviour has been nothing short of highly partisan in support of the
Coalition and against the Conservatives. Examples are aplenty. Let me
provide you two. On the one hand he was antagonistic, rude, and utterly
dismissive of Conservative MP John Baird in the recent interview with him.
On the other hand, here's a description of what transpired when he
interviewed Liberal MP Derek Lee:
Big Loser: Derek Lee. CBC was desperate to fill air time as they waited for
Stephen Harper to finish his chat with Michaelle Jean, so they made the
mistake of interviewing Lee, who promptly compared Harper's request to
suspend Parliament to the burning of the German Reichstag by the Nazis in
1933. Yeah Derek, they're exactly alike: a party of murderous thugs burning
Parliament to the ground is just like the Prime Minister driving to Rideau
Hall to request a temporary halt in proceedings while he prepares a budget.
How astute of you to spot the similarities.
It is imperative to note that Mr. Newman did not object to this outrageous
comment whatsoever. Yet, he seemed to have no problem objecting to most
everything said by MP Baird. Would viewers be wrong to conclude that Mr.
Newman actually shares a similar view as MP Lee that Stephen Harper's recent
actions are comparable to those of Adolf Hitler's Nazis in 1933? I ask this
question not flippantly but absolutely literally.
To end this momentous week on a sour note, we get this very one-sided
diatribe from Don Newman:
In the realm of Journalistic Ethics at the CBC, is there not a basic
requirement for your on-air staff to publicly disclose their clear biases
before engaging in an interview? If I'm not mistaken, on every business
program it is a mandatory requirement for all involved to fully disclose any
stocks they own and/or other company interests they may have related to the
discussion at hand. Let me assure you that in Mr. Newman's case, it is a
widely held belief of many CBC viewers I've spoken with that he has direct
loyalties to the Liberal Party of Canada.
To resolve this complaint to my satisfaction, any of the following would be
- Move Don Newman into a role solely as a pundit and clearly have the
words "Liberal Party Strategist" appear underneath his name each time he
- Require that all interviews he undertakes be done with a
conservative-leaning journalist as well, somewhat in the format of "Hannity
& Colmes" on Fox News in the U.S.
Finally, please note that my insistence for fair & balanced reporting from
Mr. Newman is in no way different from what your past head of CBC News, John
Cruickshank, publicly stated a little over two months ago:
I eagerly and respectfully await your response.