CBC ombudsman: The contentious case of Omar Khadr
The complainant, Kathleen Ruff, felt very strongly that by leaving out key details about the treatment of Omar Khadr CBC was “hate-mongering” and biased in its coverage.
By Esther Enkin, CBC ombudsman
The complainant, Kathleen Ruff, felt very strongly that by leaving out key details about the treatment of Omar Khadr CBC was “hate-mongering” and biased in its coverage. The stories dealt with an Alberta Court of Appeal decision on where he should serve his sentence. CBC news policy makes a commitment to balance over time. The stories were accurate, and the web treatment linked to many other articles. There was no violation of policy.
You were concerned that a CBC radio news report and an online story on July 8, 2014, concerning an Alberta Court of Appeal decision about the incarceration of Omar Khadr were “unethically biased” and “hate mongering.” You thought this was the case because the radio report referred to the fact that Khadr pleaded guilty to war crime charges, but “CBC did not include the information that this plea was obtained with the use of torture. By omitting this critical information, CBC has legitimized the obtaining of information by the use of torture and treated torture as being acceptable and irrelevant.”
You were equally critical of a cbcnews.ca story that appeared later the same day. You said the story portrayed Khadr as a “heinous criminal,” but did not provide coverage of the “violation of national and international law by US and Canadian governments in their treatment of Khadr.” Khadr had been held in a federal prison since the United States transferred him back to Canada under the International Transfer of Offenders Act. In early July, the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled that Khadr should serve out the rest of his sentence in a provincial facility.
The long and complex tale of Omar Khadr has been in the headlines off and on for the last twelve years. As the Appeal Court put it:
This appeal is the latest chapter involving Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen found fighting in Afghanistan in 2002 at 15 years of age. Khadr was detained for eight years by the United States government in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba before he pled guilty to five offences and was sentenced to eight years imprisonment.
You referred to a Globe and Mail “report” that called into question the process by which he was convicted, and which referred to the military tribunal as a “kangaroo court.” You asked that CBC broadcast and publish an apology and correction.
Jack Nagler, Director of Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement, replied to your concerns. He explained that the CBC News radio report was broadcast less than an hour after the Alberta Court of Appeal decision, so it focused on what was “newsworthy,” which was that the court had ruled Mr. Khadr should be treated as a young offender. He explained that a report which was under a minute and half long could not capture the many details of this case. He explained that a great deal of information must be telescoped into a short time, and inevitably, some details are left out, but that is not an indication of bias. “In the long run, one story cannot reasonably be expected to encompass all points of view or all the information available.” He noted that this is especially true in the case of Mr. Khadr:
You are right; there is a lot to Omar Khadr’s story. What happened in 2002 in that walled compound in eastern Afghanistan is unclear and the subject of enduring controversy. His treatment following his capture is equally controversial. Practically speaking, it’s impossible to include all or even a good part of that disputed and often contradictory information in one brief radio news report.
He noted that the online story contained more details about Mr. Khadr’s background, as well as political and legal reaction to the ruling. He added that there were links to five earlier stories, which in turn linked to others. He stated that “over the years CBC News and current affairs programs have broadcast hours of thoughtful, thorough and innovative coverage about Mr. Khadr.”
Your concerns about this article raise issues that I frequently deal with in reviews. I understand the concern that a story have as much detail and context as possible to remind people of the issues at hand. The subjective question is, what is indeed adequate, and if the absence of information important to you is proof of malicious intent or bias.
To continue reading this review, please go the CBC ombudsman’s website where this was originally published.