A complainant thought CBC News Thunder Bay was irresponsible in its coverage of community reaction to a controversial Ontario election newspaper ad placed by a local Libertarian Party candidate. He also questioned the use of a child’s response.

 By Esther Enkin, CBC ombudsman

The complainant, Ed Podolaniuk, thought CBC News Thunder Bay was irresponsible in its coverage of community reaction to a controversial Ontario election newspaper ad placed by a local Libertarian Party candidate. He also questioned the use of a child’s response. I found the coverage was fair and that reflecting the voice of an Aboriginal child affected by the content of the ad was completely legitimate and in line with CBC journalistic policy on the participation of children in programming.

COMPLAINT

During the recent provincial election in Ontario, a local Thunder Bay candidate, Tamara Johnson, placed a full-page ad in the local paper, the Chronicle Journal. In it she stated, in part, that no people are “entitled to handouts or are owed a ‘debt’ by today’s taxpayers; that no group of people are above the law,” or can illegally block roads or that no “group of people ‘own’ crown lands” and that “crown lands are public lands, not native lands. We all own these lands.” Her appeal to voters concluded with “No group of people are special and deserve first class ‘super-citizen’ status.”


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There was a strong reaction in Thunder Bay to this ad – various anti-racism groups and spokespeople for the Nishnawbe Aski Nation denounced the ad as racist and criticized the newspaper for running it. The day after the provincial election the mayor of Thunder Bay called a news conference and denounced the ad, as he had earlier in the day on CBC Thunder Bay’s morning show. Johnson ran unsuccessfully as the Libertarian candidate in the Superior North riding of Thunder Bay.

You thought CBC’s coverage of the incident was biased and unfair. You said that the coverage of the mayor was one sided and his statements went unchallenged. You do not think the ad can be categorized as racist:

“This ad was purchased and run in the Chronicle Journal. while I seriously doubt that the Chronicle would have run this ad if it were indeed racist. I have read the ad and there is no mention of any race in it except a reference to native lands.”

In the course of the coverage of the mayor’s news conference, the news story and the radio feature also contained some comments from some First Nations people who were at the event. Tesa Fiddler explained why she was protesting and why she had brought her children along. Her nine year old daughter was asked about the ad, and why she was at the protest. You thought it inappropriate to feature a child: “Since when does the CBC use children as a political prop to make a point. This borders on child exploitation…”

You categorized the coverage as a “witch hunt” without any regard to Ms. Johnson’s perspective and the fact that she had received death threats and was the subject of “racial abuse” during the election campaign.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The program manager in Thunder Bay, Susan Rogers, responded to your complaint. She informed you that Tamara Johnson had been interviewed on the Thunder Bay morning show on June 20, one week after the broadcast you found objectionable. She told you that Ms. Johnson responded to the news conference, telling interviewer Jody Porter that there had been a backlash against her as a result of it. She was also able to speak on her own behalf about the controversial Chronicle Journal election ad. Ms. Rogers wrote: “Ms Johnson was given the opportunity to explain who she was referring to when she talked about ‘super citizens’ and her intentions with the ad, given that she apparently was unaware of the press conference held by the mayor and hadn't been invited to attend.”

She explained the context for the use of a child in the news conference coverage. She explained that the Fiddler family had purposely brought their daughters to the news conference because they had discussed with their children what the ad’s publication meant to them as aboriginal people living in Thunder Bay. She told you they “included the daughter with the permission and encouragement of the parents.”

REVIEW

You were concerned that CBC provided coverage of this story because you believe the ad was not racist in the first place. At the end of the day, journalism in the public interest provides facts, analysis and varying perspectives to allow citizens to make up their own minds. When the full-page ad was placed in the newspaper, there was strong reaction from the community. Whether their assessment of the ad is right or wrong, it is newsworthy that the accusations were made. Since the paper was criticized for accepting the ad, CBC News sought the views of the publisher of the paper as well as those of a spokesperson from the Anishnabek Nation. All of this occurred within days of the actual vote in Ontario.

To continue reading this review, please go to the CBC ombudsman's website where this was originally published.


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