The complainant thought that repeated use of the name of one candidate violated the need for balance and fair coverage

By Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman

The complainant, Jacqueline Bell, thought that repeated use of the name of one candidate, Michael Ford, and references to the “Ford dynasty” on the day of a municipal by-election to fill the seat formerly held by Rob Ford, violated the need for balance and fair coverage. She was concerned this focus appeared to be an endorsement of a specific candidate. I did not agree. It was the Ford name that made this by-election newsworthy.

COMPLAINT

You were concerned that CBC News coverage of the Municipal By-election in Etobicoke North gave unfair advantage to one candidate. You said:

…at every hourly CBC TORONTO newscast, there was an item outlining the fact that Michael Ford, who was running for councillor in a Toronto By-election, was the nephew of the former councillor and Mayor, Rob Ford, and was involved with Ford Nation. And the big question was asked if he would get the support to follow in the Ford Dynasty.

You felt that mentioning him gave him an unfair advantage because the other candidates were not mentioned. You said that later in the day a few were named, but there were 12 names on the ballot. You thought this was a source of “free advertising” and appeared to be an endorsement of a candidate. You asked:

Is that a fair election practice?
Does this not contravene some sort of elections act that prevents media campaigning on the day of the election
If Michael Ford was to be outlined, shouldn’t the other candidates been afforded the same courtesy?

You said you found the coverage “offensive and undemocratic.”

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Marissa Nelson, the Senior Managing Director for Ontario, responded to your complaint. She apologized for the tardiness of the reply. She told you that she did not agree with your assessment and that CBC News coverage of the by-election was “fair and accurate in all respects.” She provided you with an outline of what was carried on newscasts and local programming throughout the day. She provided the script of the segment that ran throughout the morning show, Metro Morning, up until noon on July 25:

The polls in Ward 2 – – Etobicoke-North – – are now open.
Voters are casting ballots in a by-election today…
To decide who will fill the council seat left vacant by the late Rob Ford.
There are a dozen people vying for the job – – and voting booths will be open until at 8 o’clock tonight.
For profiles on all the candidates, go to our website: CBC.ca/Toronto.

She acknowledged that in the early afternoon newscasts, a segment ran that framed the discussion around the legacy of the Ford family, and that the late councillor Rob Ford’s nephew, Michael, was a candidate. She also pointed out that the piece itself was balanced by the voice of a supporter and from someone else who would not be voting for him. She added that the piece ended with a mention of two other candidates by name.

Continue reading this story on the CBC website, where it first appeared.